Offensive line is one of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest strengths, but they are apparently interested in upgrading the unit if possible.
A day after offensive guard Geoffrey Schwartz visited the Steelers, the NFL’s Ian Rapoport is reporting that veteran offensive lineman Stefan Wisniewski recently visited the team.
Interior OL Stefen Wisniewski recently visited the #Steelers, source said. Maurkice Pouncey, of course, battled injury all year...— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 25, 2016
Pouncey, who was named to the All-Pro First Team for the second time in his career in 2014, has reportedly been a full go in off-season training, but the Pittsburgh Tribune reports that head coach Mike Tomlin may not allow the 26-year old to participate in the team’s OTA’s. Pouncey missed all of last season due to a broken fibula.
“What he’s capable of doing and what I allow him to do may be two different things,” Tomlin said. “I haven’t had those discussions or thoughts at this juncture.”
Right now, the only other center the Steelers have under contract is Cody Wallace. Wallace, who started last season at center in place of Pouncey, was considered the weak link of the offensive line, and isn’t considered a good option at either guard spots. Pittsburgh allowed 33 sacks (a 10-year low), but permitted its quarterbacks to get hit just 60 times last season – second fewest in the NFL. The Steelers also ranked eighth in yards per carry with 4.4 yards per carry.
Wisniewski, a Pittsburgh native, has started has started every game in which he’s played since entering the league in 2011. He made 16 starts for the Jacksonville Jaguars at center last year, grading out as the 19th best center last season by Pro Football Focus. The 27-year-old also has the ability to play both guard positions. Cleveland was also reportedly interested in Wisniewski at the start of free agency but it is unknown if they are still pursuing the sixth year pro.
Schwartz is very versatile, though he has only appeared in 13 games in the past two seasons while with the New York Giants, including 11 last year. The 29-year-old can play both guard positions, as well as right tackle.
If the Steelers sign either player, they will likely be role players as their line is pretty set. Pouncey, if healthy, will start at center and will be flanked by Ramon Foster and Dave DeCastro at the guard positions. Foster, who re-signed with the team for three years this off-season, and DeCastro were the only two offensive players to play every offensive snap. DeCastro was named to the Pro Bowl in 2015.
Marcus Gilbert is entrenched as the starter at right tackle while former Denver Bronco Ryan Harris and Alejandro Villanueva are expected to battle for the left tackle starting position. Harris, who signed with the team for $2 million a year, has started 70 games in his eight NFL seasons.
Villanueva, 27, is still equating himself at left tackle, though he did a pretty good job replacing injured starter Kevin Beechum last year. 2012 second round draft pick Mike Adams may be the team’s No. 8 offensive linemen this season behind the loser of the Villanueva/Harris battle and Wallace.
Pittsburgh has the fifth-largest payroll for 2016 at $33.3 million for their linemen, according to overthecap.com.
In other news, the Steelers signed former Tennessee Titan linebacker Steven Johnson to a one-year contract according to the Washington Observer-Reporter. Johnson is expected to solidify Pittsburgh’ special teams after the team lost special teams stalwarts Terence Garvin, Sean Spence and Antwon Blake in free agency. The fifth-year pro made had seven special teams tackles and recovered a pair of fumbles for the Titans.
Pittsburgh’s special teams in 2015 finished 10th and 18th covering kickoffs and punts, respectively.
Johnson has plenty of experience on the defensive side as well. The 27-year old has appeared in 57 career games, making seven starts, and has totaled 57 tackles and a half-sack. He is expected to backup Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons on the inside this season.
[photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images]