Steelers fire offensive line coach

January 3, 2014
The Steelers lost one of their best offensive linemen when center Maurkice Pouncey suffered an ACL injury in Week 1 against the Titans. The Steelers fired offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. Friday. - Associated Press

Steelers offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. and Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinkski have something in common.

Each lasted just one season at their job.

The Steelers announced Friday head coach Mike Tomlin fired Bicknell after just one season, despite the fact the offensive line appeared to be among its most improved units by the conclusion of an 8-8 season.

“I have decided to go in a different direction with respect to the coaching of our offensive line,” Tomlin said. “I want to thank Jack for his contributions during the 2013 season, and I wish him well in the future.”

Bicknell joined the Steelers Jan. 29, 2013 as the replacement for Kugler, who took the head coaching position at the University of Texas-El Paso. He was brought in to help implement an outside zone blocking scheme, but the Steelers rarely used that technique.

As they had in the previous three seasons, the Steelers dealt with a number of injuries on their offensive line, most notably losing Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey just eight plays into the regular season opener against Tennessee.

Because of injuries and ineffectiveness, the Steelers used eight different starting lineups, including three different starting centers as the player signed to replace Pouncey, Fernando Velasco was lost for the season Nov. 28 at Baltimore to an Achilles’ tendon injury.

The Steelers averaged just 84.2 yards rushing per game, their lowest total since the 1970 NFL merger. But rookie running back Le’Veon Bell had 578 yards rushing in the second half of the season, and the Steelers had more than 100 yards rushing in their final three games after breaking that barrier just three times in their first 13 games.

The pass blocking also got better. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 35 times in the first nine games, but the Steelers allowed just seven sacks in the final seven games.

Guards David DeCastro and Ramon Foster each had stellar seasons. Both allowed just two sacks apiece, and DeCastro was called for just two penalties.

But the tackle position was a different matter.

The Steelers opened training camp with former second-round draft picks Marcus Gilbert at left tackle and Mike Adams on the right side, but flip-flopped them just a week into camp. After four games, Adams was benched and replaced by Kelvin Beachum, a seventh-round pick in 2012.

In other news Friday, wide receiver Antonio Brown was named as the Steelers only representative on the Associated Press All-Pro team. Brown, who caught 110 passes for a team-record 1,499 yards, was named to the second team, despite finishing second in the league in receptions and yardage.

The Steelers also signed a pair of specialists to Reserve/Future contracts, punter Brad Wing and long-snapper Bryce Davis.

Wing, a former LSU standout, was with Philadelphia in training camp this season, and Davis was on Cincinnati’s practice squad for the 2012 season before being released at the end of training camp in 2013.

Steelers punter Mat McBriar and long-snapper Greg Warren are can become unrestricted free agents in March.

The signing of Wing is interesting in that he was considered the best punter available in last year’s draft but also came with some baggage.

The Australian reportedly failed multiple drug tests while at LSU and was also arrested for simple battery following an incident in which he allegedly punched and kicked an 18-year-old man during a conflict involving his former girlfriend.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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