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Health-conscious Steelers tackle Gilbert seeks lengthy career

| Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, 8:30 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert celebrates a touchdown against the Broncos on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert plays against the Colts Dec. 2015 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert plays against the Broncos on Jan. 16, 2016, at Sprots Authority Field at Mile High.

Marcus Gilbert's contract with the Steelers has him tied to the team until he will be 31 years old and finishing his ninth NFL season in 2019.

A long way off? Maybe. But Gilbert doesn't see that as any sort of end point. As the Steelers right tackle takes appropriate steps to enter his prime, he envisions a longer career than he'd even considered prior.

“Twelve, 15 years, that's the plan,” Gilbert said. “Still got a lot of ball left, but this has been by far my healthiest season as of yet.”

It was — by not only his own admission, but by the evaluations of teammates and outside observers — also his best season yet. That's not a coincidence: Gilbert's health and his performance are linked.

A slimmer, nimbler and less injury-prone Gilbert in 2015 played 99.5 percent of the Steelers' offensive snaps and was one of the key cogs on an offensive line that propelled the NFL's No. 3 offense.

“It's the work that you put in in the offseason that makes you what you want to become,” Gilbert said last week. “And I knew what I wanted to become.

“I had a goal — I didn't get there yet, but I would say that it was a pretty good year for me.”

Gilbert didn't say what his goal was, but it might have been being named to the Pro Bowl roster. He wasn't — but several teammates said he should have been, and a cursory Internet search shows Gilbert was on more than a few of the ubiquitous “snubs” lists out there.

Using statistics provided by the NFL, the Steelers' average yards per rushing play behind Gilbert was 4.58, second-best of offensive line position on the team. According to Pro Football Focus, Gilbert was responsible for just one sack this season after he'd allowed 17 over the previous two seasons. The website rated him as the league's No. 3 right tackle.

Making it through a full season for the second time in a five-year career was part of the improvement, as was better stamina and athleticism. All can be traced back to an offseason in which he committed to better health.

“I've really improved in getting my body fat down and am doing yoga and working on my flexibility,” Gilbert said. “And I have some other plans that I can try to do to help better myself and my health and my longevity of my career.”

As a 6-foot-5 man who weighed 340 pounds and at one point in his life lived by the credo that bigger is better, did Gilbert ever think yoga would be a primary tenet of his offseason program?

“Not at all,” he said with a deep chuckle a man of that size tends to make. “But I see what it takes to stay in the league for a long time, and I watch these guys that are the greats on our team and how they work. Antonio Brown, nobody works as hard as him, and I try to take what he does and I try to apply it to my offseason program to help better myself.”

Gilbert's season showed not only that he had taken another step in his game, but with his durability.

“I'm feeling great,” Gilbert said, “but I've still got a lot of things that I want to improve on to get where I want to be next year.”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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