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Steelers O-line satisfied with performance, but has more work to do

| Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013, 6:48 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers offensive lineman David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey block for Ben Roethlisberger against the Giants, Saturday, August 10, 2013 at Heinz Field.

The Steelers offensive linemen were mostly pleased with their overall performance during the preseason opener against the Giants on Saturday night at Heinz Field.

However, they conceded there's room for improvement, particularly with the newly installed zone-blocking scheme. They tossed out the numbers and focused primarily on how well they executed.

Yet if numbers matter, the offensive front made inroads from a relatively inconsistent 8-8 season in 2012.

The first-string line cleared the way for 81 of the Steelers' 94 rushing yards in the first half — including a game-high 40 on seven carries by LaRod Stephens-Howling. It allowed only one sack but couldn't capitalize on its only red-zone opportunity.

“We had a lot of productive plays,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “It's an awesome start for us, and we just need to keep building throughout camp.”

The offensive line will have more than a week to iron out the kinks before taking on the Redskins on “Monday Night Football” on Aug. 19 at FedEx Field. It'll evaluate the effectiveness of the zone blocking, particularly on short-yardage downs.

“It's tough to evaluate, especially during training camp when you're not scouting an opponent,” guard David DeCastro said. “We ran the ball pretty well and had a couple of good zone-blocking runs.”

The Steelers used the zone blocking nearly 10 times, most in their base offense. Stephens-Howling had much of his success between the tackles.

The Steelers had 42 negative run plays last season. While Stephens-Howling had some space to run, the Steelers had six run plays stopped at the line of scrimmage — four for losses, including two on third-and-1, and two for no gain.

“You don't want to have that many stalemates,” guard Ramon Foster said. “We will attack that issue in short yardage because the ability to move the ball on shortage-yardage plays defines an offensive line.

“We did some good things and some bad things, too. We have to recognize what didn't go well. We have to critique ourselves real hard. I think the zone blocking worked effectively, but we still need to get on the same page.

“There were some spurts of it being good,” Foster added. “The outside zone can be dangerous for a defense to stop if we block it well. There was a leak here or there that caused a stalemate or caused a linebacker to slip through. We are new to the run-blocking scheme, which is no excuse, but there are a few things we have to get better on.”

For an offensive line trying to establish itself as one of the deepest in the NFL, the backups didn't distinguish themselves in the waning minutes with an opportunity to win. Quarterback John Parker Wilson was sacked twice before throwing a floater that missed its mark on third-and-20.

Still, tackle Mike Adams is convinced the offensive line is ahead of where it was a year ago. He, too, believes offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. is building an offensive front that will help improve the run game.

“I think we have a pretty good foundation,” Adams said. “I definitely think the zone blocking worked well. A lot of teams are doing it and doing it well. I think we will be one of those teams.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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