Another in a position-by-position series in advance of the start of free agency on March 13.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE (6)
David DeCastro, B.J. Finney, Ramon Foster, Patrick Morris, Maurkice Pouncey, R.J. Prince
(Free Agent Scorecard: 2; 1 unrestricted – Ramon Foster; 1 restricted – B.J. Finney)
A LAST LOOK AT 2018
As far as the starters, Maurkice Pouncey put together another solid season and was voted second-team All-Pro behind Philadelphia's Jason Kelce, which labels him the second-best center in the NFL for the 2018 season. David DeCastro was voted to his fourth Pro Bowl, and Ramon Foster started all 16 games for the third time in his 10 seasons with the Steelers.
Even though the Steelers finished near the bottom of the league in rushing yards per game and rushing average, that seemed to have more to do with what they chose to do offensively as opposed to ineffectiveness. The lone exception, and it was a costly one, was the game against the Raiders, who showed up that afternoon with a porous run defense and still held the Steelers to 40 yards on 19 attempts (2.1 average). Also to their credit, the whole offensive line adapted nicely to the change in style from Le'Veon Bell's pick-and-patience to James Conner's tendency to attack the line of scrimmage.
And as was pointed out in the installment on the offensive tackles, Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in attempts last season with 675, and he was sacked 24 times, for an average of one sack per 28.1 attempts. That represented the lowest sack-per-attempt total of Roethlisberger's career in any regular season in which he played all 16 games.
ONE STAT THAT STANDS OUT
Maurkice Pouncey just completed his ninth season with the Steelers, and he has put together quite the resume. He has been voted to seven Pro Bowls, and he also has finished a season as either the first-team All-Pro center (twice) or second-team All-Pro center (three times) a combined five times. And it's worth noting that two other of Pouncey's nine seasons ended before they even had a chance to get started. In 2014 he was injured eight plays into the opener and spent the rest of the season on injured reserve, and in 2015 he was injured in the preseason home opener and spent the rest of that season on injured reserve. Besides those two lost years, Pouncey has missed only three other regular season games because of injury.
A LOOK AHEAD AT 2019
The primary offseason issue facing this unit likely involves Foster and whether his Steelers career will extend to an 11th season. An unrestricted free agent, Foster is respected by his teammates and coaches and also serves as the team's union rep, but B.J. Finney, himself a restricted free agent this offseason, and Matt Feiler have been pushing for a regular spot in the lineup after turning in solid play when called upon to fill in because of injuries.
One thing that possibly could be working against Finney is that he also serves as the backup center on game days, and teams can be reluctant to put the guy who serves as the backup center into the starting lineup at a different position because of a concern over an injury leaving it with just one guy capable of playing center on a game day.
Pouncey, who will be 30 in July, is entering the final season of his contract, and the Steelers knew they wanted to come to agreement on an extension for him even before Ben Roethlisberger raised the issue in public as the regular season ended. Once that gets done, the team has a nice group here, a blend of youth, experience, and some valuable versatility.
NEXT: Tight ends