Call Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak the team's project manager.
The investment in the team's offensive line over the last few years has been substantial - first round picks in 2010 (Maurkice Pouncey) and 2012 (David DeCastro), second round picks in 2011 (Marcus Gilbert) and 2012 (Mike Adams). Throw in a contract extension for Ramon Foster and one for Pouncey this offseason as well as a late-round jewel in Kelvin Beachum, as well as a blue-chip second-round running back, Le'Veon Bell.
Project Running Game has not yearned for support from the team. All it needs now is the fuel provided by continuity. In an ironic way, the main reasons for optimism in 2014 are based in bringing continuity together by injecting new blood.
So to speak.
Pouncey returns fully healthy after missing basically all of 2013 with a torn ACL. The third offensive line coach in three years, Munchak, looks to bring everything together. If the same players Bell ran behind in 2013, with the exception of Pouncey replacing Fernando Velasco and Cody Wallace, Bell feels confident in the group's ability to return the ground game to prominence under Munchak.
He told Tribune Review reporter Ralph N. Paulk in an interview, "I think around Week 13, there was more chemistry. We got comfortable because there weren't as many injuries. I'm coming into camp with the same guys I finished last season with. So we're starting where we left off."
Incidentally, Bell is currently nursing a tight hamstring, and with Alvester Alexander currently on the PUP list, the team signed running back Josh Harris, an undrafted free agent out of Wake Forest. The team also signed LeGarrette Blount, looking to provide a strong dual-running back presence.
As Bell says, though, much of this will key on whether the line can keep the same players on the field the majority of their snaps. That's been the most difficult part of putting this project together, and perhaps there isn't much Munchak can do about limiting injuries, outside of tactical changes, such as not cutting on their outside zone runs (something Pouncey admitted they would do this year).
Still, banking on the Law of Averages isn't a terrible notion either. At some point, they all have to remain healthy for an extended period of time. It happened last year over the final few games, minus a missed start from Beachum (Adams filled in against Miami in Week 14, and performed well). But even those setbacks can be viewed optimistically. It showed the line had depth - Pittsburgh ran well against the Dolphins, one of the better run defenses in the NFL.
Munchak may have been brought in to get more out of the talented but until now, inexperienced line. Going off his track record, it seems reasonable to expect him to improve each of them. But the continuity piece is what's been missing. If all those things come together this year, the Steelers' offensive line will be what fans expect it to be; one of the biggest strengths on this team.