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Steelers

Munchak's influence making a difference with Steelers offensive line

| Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, 9:03 p.m.
The Steelers offensive line lines up against the 49ers on Sunday Sept. 20, 2015, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
The Steelers offensive line lines up against the 49ers on Sunday Sept. 20, 2015, at Heinz Field.
Steelers offensive linemen Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster block against the Patriots Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Ma.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers offensive linemen Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster block against the Patriots Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Ma.

With seven years in the league, Ramon Foster is the Steelers' most tenured offensive lineman.

In that span, he has had four offensive line coaches — two of whom were fired.

Is it any wonder the offensive line was the butt of jokes? Forget the coaching carousel that went from Larry Zierlein to Sean Kugler to Jack Bicknell Jr. in four seasons. The unit was downright bad as well.

“Yeah, I remember,” Foster said. “It was always like, ‘You guys are on pace to give up the most sacks ever. You can't run the ball ...' ”

That's not the case anymore, and the Steelers have Mike Munchak to thank.

“He's been awesome,” guard David DeCastro said. “It is just a great atmosphere. We are very loose but very focused at the same time. But first and foremost, he knows what he is doing.”

Hall of Famers usually do.

Munchak was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001 after a 12-year career on the offensive line with the Houston Oilers. He went on to coach for 14 years in Houston and Tennessee under current Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who the Steelers face Sunday.

After a three-year stint as Titans coach that ended with his firing in 2014, Munchak was courted to take over a Steelers offensive line that was talented but lacked direction and structure.

Munchak has provided that and much more in the 19 games he has coached with the Steelers.

“He never forgets anything, any good play or bad play that you make,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “He is so detailed. What gives him such a big advantage over other coaches is that he played and played at a high level.”

The attention to detail is what has turned the line around so quickly. Even without injured All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey, the unit has allowed the offense to average 109 yards rushing per game, given up only three sacks and is coming off a game in which Ben Roethlisberger was knocked to the ground only once.

Munchak's philosophy has been simple: Be prepared.

“There is no confusion anymore,” DeCastro said. “There is never confusion. A coach's job is to put you in the best position so you are not getting beat by scheme and you aren't thinking too much but just out there playing.”

Munchak works during the week to make sure the group is prepared come Sunday. If it is providing, as Foster put it, “crappy looks” during practice or a detailed-oriented individual period or quizzing every offensive lineman during their early-morning meeting every Friday, then that's what he is going to do.

“My job is to make sure that by the end of the week that they feel confident on playing and how we are going to attack the team,” Munchak said. “There are always things that are going to happen, but my job is make them comfortable. If a defense makes a play, you want to at least feel like they earned it.”

Fisher said he has watched a lot of Steelers games while preparing for other teams and is impressed.

“They don't make mistakes,” Fisher said.

“Going into a game knowing that you haven't missed a look that they've given, that's a separator right there,” Foster said.

The Steelers have allowed the fewest quarterback hits in the league (five). By comparison, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has been hit 54 times. The Colts, who went 11-5 last year and were a game from playing the Super Bowl, are 0-2.

“Munch won't yell at you. That's not his thing,” Foster said. “He is passive aggressive. He will say, ‘The left side would've got that,' or ‘The right side would've picked that up.' He pokes at you, and it irks at you because you want to be better.”

The Steelers invested a considerable amount of resources in the offensive line recently, using first-round picks on Pouncey and DeCastro and second-round picks on Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams. But with Pouncey and Adams hurt, the unit includes an undrafted free agent (Foster), a seventh-rounder (Beachum) and a guy who had two career starts at center (Cody Wallace).

Still, the group has been successful, and Foster has a theory why.

“This time we found the right guy,” he said.

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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