PITTSBURGH -- This is the next in a series that takes a post-free agency, post-draft look at the all of the positions with the exception of quarterback.
Our fourth look is at an offensive line that returns every starter and should get Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey back from a torn ACL.
Who is new: Wesley Johnson. The second of the Steelers' two fifth-round picks, Johnson started 51 career games at Vanderbilt, and the 6-foot-5, 297-pounder is athletic and versatile. Johnson started at least two games at every position along the offensive line except for right guard. The Steelers should know plenty about Johnson considering coach Mike Tomlin is good friends with James Franklin, who coached Johnson at Vanderbilt.
Who is gone: Fernando Velasco. One of the unsung players of last season started 11 games at center before rupturing his Achilles tendon. Velasco remains unsigned as he works his way back from that injury.
Returning starters: Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert. Beachum goes into offseason practice as the starter at left tackle after stabilizing the position last season and playing well in 11 starts there. He could face competition from Mike Adams, whom Beachum replaced at left tackle after the fourth game of 2013. Adams could also challenge Marcus Gilbert at right tackle. The Steelers are set at guard with Foster and DeCastro, who is already a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Pouncey returns at center, barring a setback, after tearing his right ACL in the 2013 season opener. Pouncey is the only center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons.
Most significant addition: Mike Munchak. The former Titans head coach joined Tomlin’s staff and he could be coach who brings everything together for a promising offensive line. Munchak is a Pro Football Hall of Fame guard, and he coached the offensive line for more than a decade before becoming the head coach in Tennessee. His credentials as an offensive line coach are impeccable, and Munchak is not lacking for talent to mold.
Most significant loss: Velasco. He probably would have signed elsewhere as a free agent after playing well at center last season. With Velasco hurt the Steelers opted to re-sign Cody Wallace to provide depth along the interior of the line. They could re-sign Velasco once he is close to full strength and bring him to training camp to compete with Wallace.
On outside looking in: Johnson. Assuming the Steelers keep eight offensive linemen when they finalize their 53-man roster, Johnson will probably have to beat out veteran Guy Whimper to make the team.
Hidden number: Nine different offensive linemen started at least one game last season as injuries again scrambled the offensive line.
Outlook: The Steelers have yet to field an offensive line that consistently controls the line of scrimmage under Tomlin. That could change this year, especially if the Steelers can stay relatively healthy up front. The Steelers invested heavily in their line from 2010-12 spending two first-round picks and a pair of second-round selections on offensive linemen. Now they have a position coach who can get the most out of a young but experienced group that also has good depth. “I’m excited to work with them,” Munchak said. “I think we can have a special group here.”