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The Short and the Long: Munchak, drafting success and back-up Bell-ringers

A year anniversary for Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak, a lesson in masked draft analysis and role-expansion for a defensive lineman...that's the short and the long with Neal Coolong.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
STEELERS FLASHBACK: Munchak hired during '14 Senior Bowl

After a rough 2013 season, the Steelers parted ways with offensive line coach Jack Bicknell. Names of replacements started flying immediately. The most alluring was Mike Munchak, former head coach of the Titans. When Hall of Fame offensive linemen become excellent offensive line coaches, teams tend to want to hire them.

The story of the Steelers hiring Munchak to replace Bicknell broke right around this time last year, as practices for the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., were underway, and I quickly banged out the story.

When I checked the website for hits on the story, I was surprised to find 14 readers centralized in one area of Mobile, Ala. A quick check of the IP address revealed a certain hotel at which players and coaches were staying during the week leading up to the Senior Bowl.

This suggested that NFL coaches and draft prospects were tuning in. Maybe it wasn't on the magnitude of "Dick LeBeau resigns from Steelers," but knowing coaches and players were interested in a position coach hire has always stuck with me.

That's the kind of reputation Munchak carried into his job with the Steelers, and after one season with the team, with ups and downs, it should have gotten nothing but better. Especially considering he straightened out and settled down an offensive line that was a glaring weakness of the 2013 Steelers. With essentially the same personnel, he turned it into a unit that was widely regarded as one of the best in the league, one that managed to keep their franchise quarterback upright more often than in any previous year of his career.

So why weren't there any reports of interest in Munchak for any of the head coaching vacancies that began popping up before the season was even over? I'll be exploring that in next week's Two Minute Drill.

A Tale of Drafting Success

Wide Receiver #1: 67 catches, 113 targets, 740 yards, six touchdowns
Wide Receiver #2: 53 catches,   86 targets, 644 yards, two touchdowns

Would you pay WR#1 $2.5 million if you had WR#2 making $450,000 and able to play the same position? Neither would the Steelers. After having to rent Emmanuel Sanders (WR#1) for one year, Markus Wheaton (WR#2) took over his split end position and nearly duplicated his production on essentially two fewer targets a game.

Add in Martavis Bryant (WRAwesome), who could be the team's starting split end next season - the fourth starting split end in four seasons - the Steelers have been among the most productive drafting teams at the wide receiver position in the NFL during the big-time passing era.

Versatility and Variation

Remember the whole "Monster 'Backer" bit around the mid-to-late 2000s, when big Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel would stand up and rush off the edge on long passing downs? He did it last year as well. To some degree, new defensive coordinator Keith Butler was a part of implementing that feature. If he feels the need to use it again, Stephon Tuitt would be just the man for the job.

Tuitt is perhaps not the athlete Keisel was in his prime, but he's big and he's stronger than raw horseradish. Get the 305-pound Tuitt a step or two start on a tackle, and he'll cause damage.

Better yet, stand Tuitt up on the strong side between the tight end and tackle and if the tight end releases, the inside linebacker to that side can pick him up in the route. If he stays home to help block on the edge, have Tuitt work between them, and have the inside linebacker shoot that gap.

In that scenario, you've either removed the tackle by pulling him inside to take the fast linebacker, or you've opened up room for Tuitt to be blocked 1-on-1 with a guy probably 60 pounds lighter and far less accomplished in pass protection. Basically, it's a reaction tackle-end stunt. And either way it goes down, it's a likely win for the defense.

This isn't to suggest the Steelers can't find players who can create their own pressure, but with more strength on their defensive line than in their outside linebackers, one of Butler's main tasks is going to be devising new ways to generate pressure. Expect Tuitt to be a big part of that next season.

Hey, Dan, Matt, Welcome Aboard!

You've probably noticed the byline of BTSC's newest writer - Dan Sager. Dan signed on while the Steelers were making their playoff run. A journalism graduate student at Point Park University, He's a solid writer who is thorough and fair. We're happy to have him on board.

Right along with him is our new social media manager, Matt Latimer. Coming from deep in the heart of Yankees territory, Matt works seasonally for, produces some excellent graphic art, and has already made a gigantic impact on the site's Facebook and Twitter efforts - Antonio Brown appears to be his biggest fan, judging by the amount of re-tweets he's given Matt's graphics.

Great stories ahead!

Skinny Post

Ringing the Bell Too Often?

Your Take: .....they should stop with the idea that Bell will play 100% of the snaps until he is injured. In
this league, running backs get injured. You have to expect it to happen and have your 2nd/3rd string guys
ready and prepared to step in when it does. If they are not prepared, then you will get exactly what you
saw in the playoff game against the Ravens.

-Toronto Steeler Fan

My Take: Too much of a good thing is no good. The only cure for the Steelers' fever is less Bell cow. Or another bell cow. Tomlin is a fan of the "Ride ‘em until the wheels fall off," which is what happened at the end of 2014. Without the team's most dynamic player, the offense sputtered, pass protection eroded and the running game never left the locker room.

Any single play can have the same results as the one that ended Bell's season in Week 17, and there isn't any direct evidence suggesting a player is more prone to injury because of the amount of touches he's had that season. It does, however, increase the likelihood of injury, simply through opportunity. Bringing in a back-up and actually planning for that back-up to have more of a Mewelde Moore role as opposed to a Bruce Gradkowski role is a smart idea.