Can the O-line become a strength?

They lost center Maurkice Pouncey eight snaps into the season, and they lost his replacement – Fernando Velasco – on Thanksgiving night in Baltimore. By the time it came to the regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 29, they had used four different players at center.

But as they headed into the offseason the Steelers' offensive line did so with confidence.

You'll get that when an offense scores at least 20 points for nine consecutive games, as the Steelers did from their 55-31 loss on Nov. 3 at New England through their regular season ending 20-7 victory over Cleveland.

You'll have that when an offensive line allows seven sacks over the final seven games, as the Steelers did.

You'll develop that when a running back rumbles for 214 yards and averages 4.7 yards per carry over the final two games, as Le'Veon Bell did.

And you'll believe that because of the way guys such as Velasco and Guy Whimper and Cody Wallace and Mike Adams overcame some individual obstacles and adversities to make positive contributions to the group when called upon.

"I think the way we finished this season was the way we could have started, but for whatever reason didn't," left guard Ramon Foster observed. "I think we see now what this line is capable of doing.

"We've seen it, we've shown everybody. Now, everybody's going to be asking for more. We have to work at it, that's going to be the biggest thing. We can't just expect we're going to do this. We have to make it happen."

Foster, a fifth-year pro, is the veteran of the group, and he maintains the pieces are now in place up front. Once Pouncey returns next season, the former All-Pro would rejoin a group that became battle-tested over the course of the 2013 campaign.

Foster assessed the progress made by the Steelers' youngsters:

  • About Kelvin Beachum (11 starts at left tackle in 2013, five career starts previously): "Beachum has been preparing for this since he came in. I haven't met a young guy like him who has sought out details about the history of this sport, the history of his position and worked at it the way he has. He's talked to Tunch (Ilkin) a whole lot. He's talked to a bunch of guys outside of this team who have really given him a lot of expertise on how to play left tackle, how to play at his size, also. He has a very long resume of guys who have helped him."
  • About David DeCastro (15 starts at right guard in 2013, three career starts previously): "He was good, really good. You knew he had it in him. It takes a little time sometimes for young guys to catch a groove. I think he caught his now, and he's going to be fine for years to come."
  • About Marcus Gilbert (16 starts at right tackle in 2013, 18 career starts previously); "He played through a lot this year. I was proud to see him finish out the season healthy. His leg was two different sizes and he never moaned about it, complained about it. He just finished. My hat's off to him."
  • Foster (15 starts at left guard in 2013, 42 starts previously) even did a little self-scouting: "Same old game, I just try to stay consistent, be the glue to this group and keep everybody sane."

Perhaps the number that best sums up what the offensive line contributed this season is: 16, which is the number of starts made by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the first time he's done that since 2008 and the second time it has happened in Roethlisberger's career.

"I thought we've always been solid in years past," Foster said. "That's just the way I feel about this O-line. I don't think we get enough credit for the work that we do around here, but it's up to us to change the whole mentality. It's up to us to carry the offense. We can't be middle-of-the-road guys. We have to lead the entire length of the season."

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