By Jeremy Hritz
Turns out there was fire after all.
After 9 decorated seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the All Pro, Pro Bowl offensive guard, David DeCastro has been released, to the shock and sadness of fans worldwide. Like Maurkice Pouncey, DeCastro was a staple of the O-Line for several seasons, and his work as a road grader and a Ben Roethlisberger-bodyguard were the stuff of legend. With pedigree as a first-round draft selection in 2012, DeCastro also possessed a quiet nastiness that emerged in his punishing blocks and propensity and talent to pull and open running lanes for a roll call of Steelers running backs.
As it turns out, former Stanford standout had continued troubles with his ankle, with no progression in healing; unfortunately, another surgery would be needed, impacting his timeline to play this season, and forcing a seemingly harsh but understandable business decision by the Pittsburgh Steelers. While DeCastro’s contributions to the organization are apparent, no one player is larger than the organization itself, and his release keeps the momentum of the 2021 season moving forward and allows for additional moves to be made due to roster and cap space.
Nearly immediately following DeCastro’s release, it was announced that the Steelers had signed guard Trai Turner for a 1-year deal worth $3 million dollars. Another new face is inserted into the offensive line starting lineup, and the many questions surrounding this unit have now increased significantly. In a matter of months since the Cleveland playoff loss, the line went from being one of the most veteran positions on the team, to Chuks Okorafor now being the most seasoned starter among the top 5. Scary, isn’t it?
Encouragingly, Turner has built an impressive resume in his career with the Panthers and the Chargers, making 5 straight Pro Bowls in Carolina, before experiencing a decline in his play in 2020 with Chargers due to injuries. Known more for his physical run blocking more than his pass protection (though he is capable enough here as well), the Steelers will now count on Turner’s experience and success to guide a very young group as they learn a new offensive system, adapt to a new running back, and protect an aging franchise quarterback.
The amount of change to the OL prior to DeCastro’s release and Turner’s signing was significant, and now, the position has been blown up, taken apart, and now, it is being put back together with some inexperienced carryovers, and multiple new parts, potentially including a rookie center in addition to Turner at guard. Whether or not other pieces to the OL puzzle will be added remains to be seen.
There is one area here that has not been discussed as much following DeCastro’s release, and that is his organizational knowledge, familiarity with Ben, and his leadership by example. With the amount of change that was occurring on the offensive line, there was some solace in knowing that DeCastro would be there to guide and direct the new players, and help them acclimatize to the expectations of the Steelers and the OL. With his knowledge not only of the game, but also the team, and the offensive standards led by Roethlisberger, he was slated, by default, to be the mentor/leader of the rebuilt offensive line. With him now gone, there is no leader, and there is tremendous pressure of the starting 5 to step and emerge in such a role.
Can it get any more uncertain for the offensive line? I’d hate to so no, but we are all aware of Murphy’s Law, and I’m not about to tempt fate.
What was already set up as a significant challenge for the coaching staff has intensified exponentially, and now, direction and leadership from Mike Tomlin and Adrian Klemm will be needed in its most effective form ever.