Commitment by Steelers' Gilbert pays off
Marcus Gilbert ignored the naysayers who predicted he would have to fight for his job at right tackle despite being an anchor at the position last season.
Amid the whispers of negativism, Gilbert spent the offseason working on his footwork and technique. He pushed himself to strengthen an oft-fragile right ankle that was surgically repaired after playing five games in 2012.
Mostly, Gilbert and right guard David DeCastro invested the necessary time to develop chemistry.
On Tuesday, the Steelers invested in Gilbert, providing him with the job security he sought since the end of last season. The fourth-year veteran signed a six-year, $30 million extension that will keep him with the organization through the 2019 season. The deal includes a $7.65 million signing bonus.
“It means a lot to me to have the organization commit to me because it's one of the best in the NFL,” Gilbert said. “I have great teammates. It's something you cherish, and I want to be a part of it. So I'll do everything possible to be around.
“You get paid to win, so my teammates relied on me to play. I had to make a commitment to put aside the issues with my ankle and play football.
“In the NFL, you're going to be challenged every year and every day for your job because that's how things work. I never had any doubts about holding onto my job because I know what kind of player I am. I took the initiative to strengthen my weaknesses.”
Entering Thursday's third exhibition game at Philadelphia, Gilbert has played as if his job is at stake this preseason.
“He has his own personal goals, and I hope he achieves everything he's been working for,” center Maurkice Pouncey said.
Gilbert, a second-round pick in 2011, has started 34 of 35 regular-season games and one postseason game.
He was part of an offensive line that helped the Steelers total 337.5 yards per game last season. The ground game was most effective behind Gilbert and DeCastro during the second half of the season.
“Your time is limited in the NFL, so you want to maximize your opportunities,” Gilbert said. “It was a big key for me to improve in all areas.
“Everybody is watching you. I wasn't thinking about my contract or competing for my job. I was just focusing on being better than I was last season.”
However, guard Ramon Foster said contracts and money matter. And it matters, he said, that the Steelers have made a commitment to keep many of their key players.
Pouncey signed a $48 million, six-year deal in June, and Foster inked a three-year deal in 2013. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum and right DeCastro are signed through 2015.
“Things have changed, and the big part of that is the amount of money guys are getting paid,” Foster said. “Marcus has become an all-around professional, especially with his knowledge of the game. He has really stepped up his game over the last 18 months.”
Gilbert said he wasn't put off by being pushed by third-year tackle Mike Adams.
“It's been a really solid preseason, but when you're playing next to a really good guard (DeCastro) it makes things a little easier,” Gilbert said. “We've been working together for a long time, so we've made a commitment to grow on the right side.”
“We've become almost like one player,” DeCastro said. “We complement each other really well, and we trust each other.”
Gilbert's commitment began last season as he played all 16 games on a still-healing right ankle. He was never at full strength, but the absence of Pouncey inspired him to play through the pain.
A confident and healthy Gilbert is a big reason the offensive line appears more cohesive than past seasons.
“We've got everybody back on the offensive line, so they'll help us get the ball into the second level,” running back LeGarrette Blount said. “I saw it when I first got here how they mesh together. Everything is going to be rolling this season.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.