Earlier this offseason, Mike Tomlin said his offense could be the best in the NFL this season.
His offensive line will get a chance to show him whether that unit is up to the task early in 2015.
With commissioner Roger Goodell's announcement that Le'Veon Bell will be suspended for the first three games of the season, the onus now falls on the offensive line to keep Tomlin's words prophetic.
Of course, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will have to elevate his game with the absence of the NFL's total yardage leader and All-Pro back from 2014. So too will the play of receivers Antonio Brown, Makus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant and tight end Heath Miller. Obviously, newly acquired running back DeAngelo Williams will need to be at his best to help the keep the Steelers running game ticking. While these players will need to raise their game, the brunt of the slack will need to be picked up by an offensive line that has the chance to prove they can still pave the way for a successful running game without No. 26 behind them.
The Steelers offense line, consisting of by Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, right guard David DeCastro, right tackle Marcus Gilbert, left tackle Kelvin Beachum and left guard Ramon Foster, should look at this challenge as an opportunity to show what they're made of. They should have plenty of motivation to do well after the running game struggled to just 68 yards in 19 carries in the team's Wild Card loss to Baltimore Bell missed due to the injury suffered the week earlier against the Cincinnati Bengals.
That lack of success on the ground without Bell was a consistent theme in 2014. LeGarrette Blount averaged over 4.0 yards a carry, but the majority of Blount's strong runs coming late in the Steelers decisive win over the Panthers in Week 3. Take away Blount's 10 carry, 118-yard effort in that game and Blount rushed for a mere 2.69 yards per carry.
One can't put Pittsburgh's lack of a strong rushing attack without Bell squarely on the offensive line. The Steelers brass didn't have a strong backup plan if Bell was to get hurt after letting Blount go with five games to go in the 2014 campaign, and had to rely on free agent Ben Tate at the last minute to provide a formidable running attack against one of the best run defenses in football.
With the addition of Williams, the Steelers have already strengthened the running back position, as Williams is a former Pro Bowl back with a similar running style as Bell's. Add to the equation a young athletic group of offensive linemen and there is no reason why the offensive line as a unit shouldn't be more than ready to make strides not just in Bell's absence, but in the running game as a whole.