There was once a time when the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line was viewed as a punch line. The team invested heavily in the position with several first and second round picks, and with the acquisition of Mike Munchak, the unit is finally starting to gel. But that hasn't happened with some losses along the way.
Let's take a look at who has departed, and who remains in the fold for the 2016 season.
The Steelers mainly ignored the offensive line in the 2016 NFL Draft, but did select a future offensive tackle in Jerald Hawkins from LSU, but the biggest discussion piece isn't Hawkins' ability or whether he will play, but more importantly the players who were lost or added via free agency, and one which was recently released.
The biggest loss for the Steelers offensive line was the departure of Kelvin Beachum to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Many will suggest Beachum was too small to play left tackle, and was more suited to play guard, but Beachum proved when he was healthy he could handle the bigger pass rushers in the league with perfect form and hand placement. A torn ACL in Week 7 of the 2015 season ended his season, and gave backup tackle Alejandro Villanueva an opportunity, and he seized it.
Villanueva has the size and build of a typical left offensive tackle, and got better by the week in 2015 once finally inserted into the starting lineup, and will be the starting left tackle heading into training camp, but such a statement won't come without a camp battle.
The competition will be Ryan Harris, a free agent who is coming off a Super Bowl victory with the Denver Broncos. Harris, like Villanueva, was inserted into the lineup at tackle after injury promoted him to starter. Harris has the pedigree of a left tackle, and could very well be the team's primary backup tackle if he doesn't beat out Villanueva at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.
It is hard to believe how well Marcus Gilbert played in 2015. He was the rock at the right tackle position, and more than did his job against some of the premiere pass rushers in the league. Once viewed in the "bust" category, after being a 2nd round pick who didn't live up to the left tackle billing, he has found a permanent home on the right side of the offensive line.
Speaking of backup swing tackles, the team let second round bust Mike Adams walk after the NFL Draft, which points to a genuine lack of patience with the player, as well as the acquisitions of both Hawkins and Harris. To be honest, outside of the tackle position, there isn't much debate about the team headed into 2016.
David DeCastro and Ramon Foster will be the starting guards, with Chris Hubbard and Cody Wallace backing up the interior of the line. Maurkice Pouncey is still one of the best centers in the league, when healthy, and he is prepared to return to his normal position next season.
It is a good feeling knowing the team's offensive line isn't an annual detriment like it once was. Now, under the tutelage of Munchak, this weakness has turned into an anchor and strength of the Steelers offense. Deployed with the job of keeping Ben Roethlisberger healthy and opening running lanes for Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams, the team's offensive line seems built for success in 2016 and beyond.
Full list of offensive linemen on the team's 90-man roster: