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Let Us Never Forget The 2015-2020 Steelers O-Line

An end of an era. Unfortunately this Friday I have to write an obituary of sorts. One remembering some of the best, most badass Steelers of all time, all playing together on one cohesive unit. 

The Steelers offensive line from 2015 - to 2020. 

It's funny how it works, really. The Steelers that won the Super Bowl in 2008 featured statistically one of, if not the, worst offensive line in the league. They were "misfits" who were able to band together and put together a championship season capped off by a historic final drive. 

That's not what this O-line group was. After the Super Bowl 43 win and the 2009 season it was obvious that Ben Roethlisberger could not keep getting hit the way he was - no matter how big he was. So the Steelers began to re-invest upfront. Maurkice Pouncey in the first round. David DeCastro in the first round. Marcus Gilbert in the 2nd round. All of a sudden 2014-2015 rolls around and Big Ben went from backyard football to one of the most protected QBs in the league. 

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It was nice. It was refreshing. It felt safe. Not only did the investment in the O-line just help Big Ben, but it transformed the offense into a juggernaut. All of a sudden the Steelers were lighting up scoreboards with Big Ben slinging it and Lev Bell running it and this offensive line group making it possible. 

LT - Al Villanueva: Undrafted free agent. A tight end in college. I remember him being honored during the Monday Night Football game against the Titans in Nashville because it was military month in the NFL. He was an honorary captain and I remember thinking "this is nice. cool story. doubt I ever see him suit up, really, but this is really cool." Then less than a year later I'm at Heinz Field in October when the Arizona Cardinals were in town. Kelvin Beachum goes down with an ACL injury and in comes big Al Villanueva. "Ohhhh shit". A super tall converted TE to tackle now protecting Big Ben the rest of the way (after he came back from injury). Could get ugly. 

He then went on to not just fill in for Beachum, but to take the job completely and allow the Steelers to let Beachum walk. I remember two months later in 2015 when the future Super Bowl champ Broncos came to Pittsburgh with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware blazing off the edges. Villanueva didn't give up one sack. Held it down at left tackle for the next five years extending Big Ben's career. 

LG - Ramon Foster:  Ohhh Ramon. The best. Another undrafted guy on the left side of the line. But what a career he had. One of those diamond in the rough guys you see your team sign then of course ends up spending a decade with them. What a personality. A leader on the line and in the locker room. The lineman who got handed the ball from the skill positions to spike after a touchdown. And of course the ol' get up from your stance, look back at Ben, hit Pounce, and off we go. 

C - Maurkice Pouncey: The pick that made it clear the Steelers were investing back into their offensive line. First round pick. Can't miss. And didn't. Starter from day one. One of the most uniquely physically gifted centers. Still mind-blown how in his prime he would snap it to Ben in the gun, then sprint to his right pulling and leading the way for Le'Veon Bell. Unreal. Mike Webster. Dermontti Dawson. Maurkice Pouncey. Carried the legacy of Steelers legacy and then some. 

RG - David DeCastro: Another first round pick to the O-line in 2012. You just knew there was really no way Pouncey or DeCastro would be busts. DeCastro always felt like the ideal offensive lineman to me. He came in, wore the 66, played the same position as another Steelers legend Alan Faneca and made him proud. Sometimes when I'm feeling down I'll throw on the highlights from the Steelers-Bengals game in Cincy in December 2014 when we ran counter approximately 250 times that day for about 1,000 yards all with DeCastro leading the way. A true thing of beauty and when it was run right, it was unstoppable. 

DeCastro and Pouncey are on the all-time "i want that guy on my side" team. 

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RT - Marcus Gilbert: Injuries always felt like they caught up to Marcus, but when he was healthy he completed one of the best lines in the league at right tackle. When you think of offensive tackle, you think of a dude like Marcus Gilbert. Second rounder out of Florida. Taking a lineman, tackle especially, that high can't be a bust. 

Together these dudes, along with Matt Feiler and BJ Finney at times, kept Big Ben around for this long. They allowed the most explosive offenses in Steelers history to thrive. The sad part, of course, is that unlike that '08 group, circumstances didn't allow for this bunch to get a ring. Pouncey was close his rookie season, but the closest they got after was the AFC title debacle in Foxboro in 2017. Very sad, indeed. 

But the circumstances never fell on them. The "Killer B's" will be remembered as mostly a disappointment in my mind, sure, but this group of offensive lineman was never what was holding this era of Steelers back from going to and winning a Super Bowl. In fact, it was one of the ingredients that always had them in the conversation. Let's not forget that. When we look back this year, five years, or even 20 years from now at this era of Steelers football we can point the finger at Tomlin, AB-Bell drama, lack of a secondary when we needed it, hell even Big Ben. But let us never forget the greatness that was Big Al, Ramon, Pounce, DeCastro, and Gilbert.