Offensive linemen embracing new Steelers assistant Munchak
By Alan Robinson
Published: Wednesday, May 28, 2014, 9:30 p.m.
Updated 12 hours ago
The Steelers are convinced their offensive line didn't need reconstruction as much as it did different instruction.
That's why new assistant coach Mike Munchak — you might have heard the name — isn't overhauling the only Steelers unit that returns every starter from last season. He also isn't putting in his system and totally junking the one used during the brief Jack Bicknell Jr. tenure.
“The terminology is somewhat staying the same,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “He is just tweaking a thing here or there.”
What Munchak wants to tweak most during the four weeks of offseason workouts that began this week are the intangibles that fans don't see when David DeCastro pulls to block for Le'Veon Bell or Beachum positions himself to block for Ben Roethlisberger.
Munchak, the Tennessee Titans coach from 2011-13 following a long run as their line coach, thinks he has “a special group here” — and he wants them to believe the same thing.
Munchak is implementing the zone-blocking scheme that was shelved following center Maurkice Pouncey's season-ending injury in Week 1. Munchak is considered one of the best teachers of it and is convinced the Steelers will benefit from it.
He also is learning about this group — starters Beachum, Ramon Foster, Pouncey, DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert and backups Mike Adams, Cody Wallace, Guy Whimper, Wesley Johnson and others — and what makes it tick. He is working to build trust, confidence and continuity, elements that weren't always present last season.
Munchak told the linemen he is a coach who adjusts to them rather than being one who insists the linemen adjust to him.
“He understands each player is different. He understands how to cater to everyone,” Ramon Foster said of Munchak, a Pro Football Hall of Fame guard. “The respect factor is very high. … It's a joy right now to be taking advice and coaching from him.”
“He knows what you're going through,” Beachum said. “He knows that you're going to get beat sometimes, which is part of the National Football League. He also knows how to excel.”
There also appears to be more attention to detail.
“He's really big on technique,” Foster said. “He keeps saying, ‘Technique is what's going to get you there.' Sometimes as pros, coaches may not do the small things, like working on feet separation or the hands, but he's big on that.”
Having new personnel such as rookie speedster Dri Archer and power runner LeGarrette Blount will require additional blocking schematics that Munchak will draw up and implement.
“(We're not going to be) devoted to just one thing and that being the only thing that we live by,” Beachum said.
Doing so will require the full installation of that much-discussed outside zone-blocking package the Steelers worked on last season but utilized only briefly.
Several linemen said having the line moving and blocking in tandem rather than just gap-blocking creates more preparation for defenses, is more difficult to decipher at the line and plays to the strengths of a relatively young and mobile Steelers unit.
“He has knowledge of it, and we're getting more practice reps with it,” Foster said. “It's not like it's a big deal, like it's the whole offense, but him being able to coach it and having done it for years, I think that's one of the biggest things right there.
“We should succeed with it, but it's all dependent on us.”
With Pouncey in tow, where does Marcus Gilbert fit in Steelers' plans?
by Ray Fittipaldo
June 13, 2014
Last August, I was working on a story at training camp on the growing number of NFL teams using analytics and how Pro Football Focus was providing teams with the information they compile.
I had read several items from Pro Football Focus on Maurkice Pouncey. In short, they did not believe the hype on the only center in NFL history to make three consecutive Pro Bowls to begin his career. They ranked him in the middle of the pack among centers in the league and did not believe his play warranted the accolades he received from his peers. They labeled him a “media darling.”
So I asked Pouncey about the criticism and he provided a memorable response: “I don't care. People will say what they say. As long as my team likes me, I don't care what anyone thinks, to be honest with you. That's a writer sitting back, probably never played football before in his life. I never heard of a team listening to what a writer had to say. You should ask other guys, people in the NFL. That dude don't know nothing. Tell him to come out here and I'll block him.”
Pouncey was right. The only thing that mattered was what the Steelers thought of him.
We found out Thursday how much value they placed on Pouncey when they awarded him with a new $48 million dollar contract that runs through the 2019 season.
It should be noted Pro Football Focus is not the only Pouncey critic. Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders penned several tweets Thursday, including: “Maurkice Pouncey being an elite center is one of the NFL’s biggest myths.”
And this one: “I’d sign Fernando Velasco to the vet minimum before I ever make Maurkice Pouncey the highest paid center in the league.”
It was clear then and it is clear now the Steelers have a higher opinion of Pouncey than many football analysts. The critiques won’t stop now. They’ll only get louder, especially if Pouncey fails to live up to the contract.
*One important aspect of the Pouncey deal, I believe, is new offensive line coach Mike Munchak. There is no way the man who was brought in to fix an ailing offensive line did not sign off on that contract. Munchak got an up-close look at Pouncey for the past month and apparently liked what he saw.
I talked with several former Tennessee Titans for a story I wrote earlier this year on Munchak and all of them thought Pouncey was an ideal center for Munchak’s zone blocking scheme because of his athleticism and his ability to diagnose defenses.
*Pouncey’s extension means only one starting offensive lineman is likely to enter the 2014 season in the final year of his contract. Marcus Gilbert was the team’s second-round pick in 2011 and is in the last year of his four-year rookie deal.
Gilbert said his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has approached the Steelers about a contract extension. A source described the contact as preliminary in nature. With Ben Roethlisberger, Cortez Allen and Jason Worilds also candidates for extensions before the season, it’s unclear at the moment where Gilbert fits in the team’s plans.
The market was set for Gilbert earlier this winter when some very average to below average right tackles signed free agent contracts worth between $ 4-6 million per season. if Michael Oher is worth $5 million a year then what is Gilbert worth?
Guys and gals,
If you play fantasy football, go to the FF forum here and read my thread. I'd appreciate some feedback on it.
Segments of Steelers offensive line are connecting
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With the makings of what could be their best offensive line in years, those manning it for the Steelers have developed a motto.
"Stay consistent, keep our heads down and work like we're in last place," said guard Ramon Foster, the veteran of the bunch at 28.
That motto might be easy to adopt after consecutive 8-8 seasons, and because the linemen have had to keep their heads down to avoid all the brickbats hurled their way over the years.
No area of the football team has carried more blame for more things over the past decade than the offensive line. Even when they made it to their past two Super Bowls, they were ripped.
The signs this spring, which officially ended for the Steelers with their last day of minicamp Thursday, are different. The unit in which the Steelers have invested so many high draft picks the past several years suddenly looks as if it can be their best since the days when Alan Faneca, Marvel Smith and Jeff Hartings were dominant Pro Bowl players. You have to go back a few years.
Darnell Stapleton has been here this week helping out with the offensive line as an intern coach. There's a trivia question with Stapleton as the answer: Who was the starting right guard in the Steelers' most recent Super Bowl-winning season?
It was the only year he played in the NFL.
The Steelers wanted to pump up the volume in their line. After drafting two linemen in the first round and two in the second over the past several years, they look to have accomplished their goal.
There is a dichotomy in all of this, however, because 40 percent of their starting line, their left side, were afterthoughts. Foster wasn't drafted and starting left tackle Kelvin Beachum was a seventh-round pick in 2012. Other starters are center Maurkice Pouncey and guard David DeCastro, both first-round picks, and second-rounder Marcus Gilbert at right tackle.
"We are the non-pedigree side,'' Foster said. "That's the pedigree side and we're the hard-working side. There's a lot of stuff we joke about. We always say that the screens go to their side, but the protection, he can trust us on the left side. It's in good fun."
The "he" is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who benefits most from having a good line. Many NFL coaches and personnel will proclaim that after the quarterback, the next most important position is the left tackle, who protects the quarterback's blind side when he drops back to pass.
You usually do not find those players in the draft's seventh round and they usually are much bigger than 6 feet 3, 300 pounds, but that is what Beachum is. And make no mistake, the Steelers ended spring activities with Beachum having a solid grip on the left tackle job.
"Beach has done very well, I'm proud of the kid,'' Foster said.
Beachum is a modern-day Tunch Ilkin. For those who know Ilkin only as part of the Steelers broadcast crew, he was a Pro Bowl right tackle who played at 265 pounds. Even in his days in the 1980s and early 1990s that was light.
Ilkin was a technique guru even after his playing days. He was in demand for a number of years by NFL and college teams to teach the art of hand work. He has consistently stated that size is overrated for offensive linemen and that technique is more important.
Beachum has been one of his students. Ilkin has worked with him using mitts on their hands and they talk often about technique.
"It's more the punching aspect,'' Beachum says.
Beachum, Foster and the rest of them are thrilled with their new line coach, Mike Munchak, who made the Hall of Fame as a guard and has coached the line most years since then.
Munchak is big on technique, so that is right up Beachum's alley. Unlike some coaches who might let jealousy get in the way, Munchak welcomes all input from Ilkin, who was from his playing era.
"He's even mentioned having Tunch come in if we have extra time to do some extra work,'' Beachum said. "He's referred to it multiple times. Munch is about using every single resource possible to better you as a player and finding a way to succeed."
That's kind of how Beachum and Foster approach the game, doing everything they can because, after all, they never sniffed the penthouse that is the top of the draft. Foster said it's used as motivation.
"Absolutely, because you get less money than everybody else,'' Foster said. "It's easier to let you go. And once you get your position, you know you can be replaced at a quicker rate than a high draft pick.
"There's definitely a sense of urgency with Beach and myself until this day. We always want to hold onto it as long as we can. That's one thing I noticed Beach picked up early in his career. He won the position and he's not looked back at all. I admire that about him."
The Steelers might have an offensive line everyone can soon admire, those with the pedigrees and those who work hard.
■ Mike Tomlin said he excused linebacker Jason Worilds from Thursday's final minicamp practice after he went through the first two this week.
■ The Steelers officially ended their organized practices but some players say they will continue to stay in town to work on things, including second-year quarterback Landry Jones.
■ Tomlin said linebacker Sean Spence, trying to come back from a terrible knee injury that has put him on the shelf the past two seasons, showed no reason through spring practices that he cannot go through a full training camp.
Tunch and Munch
Not hearing much on the outlook of Mike Adams
Mike Munchak embraces fresh start
July, 1, 2014
By Scott Brown | ESPN.com
PITTSBURGH -- Mike Munchak will take expansively about a lot of things, from what the return of Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey means to the Steelers’ offensive line to the competition at tackle that will take place at training camp.
Just don’t ask the Pro Football Hall of Fame guard and highly respected offensive line coach if he is the most significant free agent signing for the Steelers since the end of the 2013 season.
“I don’t know,” said Munchak, who joined coach Mike Tomlin’s staff in January in what was widely viewed as a coup for the Steelers. “I just think it’s exciting for all of us. We have a fresh start for me, a fresh start for the linemen, a new way of looking at things (and) fresh eyes on what they’ve been doing and they’ve been successful. These guys are very prideful. They’re very excited about the opportunities.
“I think they’re seeing the skill around them, the plays that we can make down the field and they’re excited knowing that our big play is giving Ben (Roethlisberger) an extra second to throw a football or opening a hole. So I think together it’s going to be fun. It’s been fun for me so far me and I’m hoping that they’re enjoying it, too.”
No one is more qualified than Munchak to help an offensive line that is young and has shown promise get to the next level. He will be entering his 33rd season in the NFL as a player or a coach, and he has excelled as both an offensive lineman and an offensive line coach.
Munchak spent the previous three seasons as the Tennessee Titans’ head coach. When the Titans organization removed him from that position the Steelers moved quickly to bring the Scranton native and former Penn State All-American back to Pennsylvania.
His new players have raved about Munchak and they seemed to hang on his every word during offseason practices. Here are three observations Munchak made near the end of offseason practices:
•On Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro: “They’re smart football players and they adjust to things quickly. They have great vision, and that’s the things I’m learning now is what they are good at. What can they see when their hand is on the ground (and) under stress? Those type of things. I inherited a really good young group that wants to be the best, and that’s very fun to be part of.”
•On the competition at tackle: “I think the best thing an offensive coach can have is competition, and I think we have that. We have Kelvin Beachum and Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert. I think you got some guys that can really do some good things, and again I’m asking them to do different things than they’ve done in the past. They’ve had three line coaches in three years so everything is not going to change overnight and what we want to do.”
•On the Steelers’ depth at tackle: “Mike has been playing both sides. He’s been the one pushing on both sides, so we’ll see. Guy Whimper has been, obviously, the fourth guy. We’ve got four veteran tackles. We’re going to have some good football players and some tough decisions.”