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Steelers offensive lineman DeCastro has guarded optimism

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 7:06 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers guard David DeCastro plays against the Ravens on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, at Heinz Field.

The Steelers aren't quite ready to compare David DeCastro to Alan Faneca, the best offensive guard in team history and a nine-time Pro Bowl selection.

In a few weeks? Maybe.

The Steelers' running game is being revived because of Le'Veon Bell's post-injury breakout and a rapidly improving blocking unit led by DeCastro.

In less than a full season as a starter, DeCastro already is the NFL's fourth highest-ranked guard in Pro Football Focus' player grading.

According to his teammates, DeCastro is only beginning to tap the talent, internal databank and wealth of resources that, center Fernando Velasco said, are “going to make him a very good player for a long time.”

“He's definitely had some efforts, some plays that showed on film, ‘Hey, this guy is going to work,' ” said Bell, who gained 51 of his 93 yards Sunday against the Ravens running behind DeCastro. The Steelers ran for 141 yards, their most in nearly a year.

A major preseason knee injury last year kept DeCastro from starting all but three games, so 2013 is effectively an extension of his rookie year.

He's only now learning many of the nuances, tricks and skills needed to excel as a quarterback's lone line of protection, a running back's only source of open ground.

Velasco, in his fifth NFL season, hasn't seen anyone pick it up as quickly as DeCastro, the Steelers' 2012 first-round pick from Stanford.

“He's so smart as far as the game goes, he knows everything that's going on out there,” Velasco said. “He watches a lot of film, so he knows what to expect, and he uses it to his advantage.

“Being as smart as he is, it gives him an advantage over a lot of guys.”

DeCastro's early-season play might have been affected by the cut block he threw eight plays into the Sept. 8 opener against Tennessee that accidentally put teammate Maurkice Pouncey out for the season.

Since then, according to longtime NFL lineman Jamie Dukes, “He's playing with a chip on his shoulder.”

“He's good at knowing how to position his body,” left guard Ramon Foster said. “Those are the guys that know how to not lose a battle, how to counter a guy, and he's doing it really good.”

The 6-foot-5, 316-pound DeCastro also excels in his pre-snap preparations, when he must quickly calculate who he is blocking and who will be blitzing.

“The game slows down to where you just see things and notice things, and you don't have to think about as long. It doesn't take as long to process things,” DeCastro said. “You just see it, and that's that. The mind already knows before you even have to think about it. Those are the real little things, subtle things, that make a difference.”

DeCastro has played in only 10 NFL games — four last season — yet he is the Steelers' highest-ranked guard since Faneca. He is sixth among run blockers and 20th among pass blockers. He has yet to be penalized and has been beaten for only two sacks and two quarterback hits.

DeCastro cautions, he's not close to being a finished product.

“I played well the last game, but there are still some plays where I'm like, ‘What am I doing?' ” DeCastro said. “There are always things you can clean up. That's what the great players do, they always try to fix those things and be perfect.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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