Mike Munchak has spent 32 seasons in the NFL, first as a Hall of Fame player and then as a coach, and he has never experienced anything like he did this year with losing the two key components on the offensive line for the season.
First, it was center Maurkice Pouncey and then left tackle Kelvin Beachum, both on injured reserve for the year and leaving voids at the two most important spots on the line.
"We've had injuries but never like this to your 'two best guys,' the left tackle and the center, especially someone like Pouncey," said Munchak. "To lose someone like that who meant so much to the football team, not just to the offensive line, but the team was tough."
Lucky for Munchak the Steelers had a veteran center waiting in the wings in Cody Wallace, who had experience as a starter and was able to step right in.
"Cody has done a great job," said Munchak. "His experience has been a big plus. But it's hard. I think this team has done a great job this year with losing numerous players and by stepping up and making plays. I have had numerous injuries, but never your top two guys."
Replacing Beachum has been put upon Alejandro Villanueva, a converted college defensive lineman who is now responsible for protecting Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.
Photos of Offensive Line Coach Mike Munchak.
"I think the guys had a really big influence on him as far as his development," said Munchak. "I thought he worked hard all last year on the practice squad. Obviously we didn't expect him to start this year, but it shows you the guy prepared and has confidence in himself. Every Sunday is a new experience for him. He sees something that he hasn't seen. You can only practice so much. He is going against some very good football players and has done a very good job.
"Ramon Foster has done a great job with him. I think having Ramon next to him has been a huge plus because Ramon knows the offense so well. He has been in the league so long. Every play they are talking. So it puts a lot on Ramon, too. He's been a big part of his development. Al doesn't want to let anyone down. He wants to be the best he can be. That's how he is wired. That's in his DNA. You want players like that. The guys are confident in him. Ben Roethlisberger is confident in him. He will continue to get better. He will continue to have his moments. He found out in the last four games that you could be having a great game and one play can change that perception real fast. That's how you grow in this league as an offensive lineman. It's all about consistency. And he's a great worker. You can't ask for anything more."