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Preseason valuable for Steelers' offensive line

| Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, 9:45 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers offensive guard David DeCastro (left) lines up against the Carolina Panthers on Thurday, Aug. 28, 2014, at Heinz Field.

Preseason games are meaningless, right?

Well, it depends on who you ask.

The 22,000 no-shows at Heinz Field Thursday for the Steelers preseason finale against Carolina say they are.

Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak disagrees, especially when he's trying to implement different blocking schemes including dusting off one that takes advantage of right guard David DeCastro's strength — pulling.

“People always say that the preseason isn't important, and I have always disagreed with that as a player and a coach,” Munchak said. “You want to win everything you do, but technique and communication with offensive linemen is important, and we need all the work we can get.”

Especially when you are adding to the blocking schemes to try to revitalize the struggling run game that averaged a franchise-low 86.4 yards last year.

The outside zone has gotten the most publicity, but Munchak has quietly brought back a power run game that features a pulling guard for the first time since Alan Faneca left seven years ago.

“Misdirection is a great compliment for what you do well,” Munchak said. “If you do things like that, it really has defenses guessing. It creates big gaps and can create big runs.”

The Steelers have the man to do it, too.

DeCastro was known for his pulling capabilities at Stanford that made him a first-round pick in 2012.

“It seemed like almost every play in college I pulled,” DeCastro said.

The Steelers have practiced it a lot with DeCastro pulling this training camp and have been successful when they used it in the preseason as well.

The Steelers first team offensive line ran 33 runs plays in four preseason games.

Five of those called for DeCastro to pull that resulted in 23 yards (4.6 yards per carry). Going into the preseason finale, the Steelers had an NFL-worst 54.3 yards rushing per game.

Against the Panthers, the first-team offensive line played only 12 snaps and ran the ball three times.

They did not ask DeCastro to pull, but when the regular season kicks off Sept. 7 against the Browns, the Steelers plan to use DeCastro's pulling ability a lot.

“He's athletic,” tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “Getting him on the edge, getting him on backers and using him in different schemes that Coach Munchak has put defenses in tough situations. We always (have) been a gap scheme, but the pulling has really added another level to our run game.”

The Steelers run game hit rock bottom last year.

Their 1,383 yards were their worst in a 16-game season.

So was their 24.6 carries per game.

Ben Roethlisberger was getting sacked at a record pace earlier in the season until the team went to their no-huddle/quick passing game over the second half of the season.

One of the issues was line coach Jack Bicknell Jr, who lost the offensive line room almost immediately into his first year. He was fired not long after the season ended, so there was no urgency to take advantage of DeCastro's strength last year.

DeCastro missed most of his rookie year with a knee injury, but it didn't affect his ability to pull.

“You have to be able to move in space, react, read blocks and breakdown” he said. “Hey, I enjoy so let's keep doing it.”

That's what they plan to do.

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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