Monday, January 13, 2014

The O-Line Coach Conundrum

It's been nearly two weeks since the Steelers fired offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, Jr., and they still haven't named a successor. Offensive assistant Shaun Starrett has already interviewed for the position, according to the Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac, who also has reported that Sarrett basically assumed many of Bicknell's duties even before the season ended.

Bicknell said he was stunned by the move, but "obviously" Mike Tomlin had his reasons. Speculation abounds, and we may never know Tomlin's reasons, but it appears the Steelers are waiting for the playoffs to play out before announcing Bicknell's replacement.

Why was Bicknell let go? Considering the degree to which the patchwork offensive line improved during the season, one would have thought Bicknell's job might have been safe. The running game never really got any serious traction, however, even considering the last two games, when Le'Veon Bell put up decent numbers.

Still, as Dulac noted, the team's overall numbers for rushing yardage and sacks allowed in 2013 were not good:
"The Steelers regressed statistically in Bicknell's one season as the team's offensive line coach. They finished 27th in the league in rushing and averaged 3.5 yards per carry. Only the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars averaged fewer yards per carry. Last season, the Steelers were ranked 26th in rushing and averaged 3.7 yards per carry. The Steelers also allowed 43 sacks this season, six more than last season (2012), when Sean Kugler coached the offensive linemen." 
It may be that the Steelers want to interview one of the coaches from one of the playoff teams still playing. For all the sentiment that the importance of the running game in the NFL has diminished, the 49ers, Seahawks and Patriots rely heavily on the run. On Sunday, New England racked up 234 yards rushing, as the Patriots' ran roughshod over the Indianpolis Colts, with LeGarrette Blount running for four touchdowns.

No matter who the Steelers name as their next offensive line coach, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls have to wonder if the Steelers will ditch the zone blocking scheme that never took hold last season -- and which Bicknell was supposedly hired to implement. For the players they have, the zone blocking scheme just may not work.

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