Ask any National Football League position coach and they’ll tell you that draft day can be one filled with extreme highs and extreme lows. If you’re the running backs coach for example and your team doesn’t draft a running back it makes for a long three days. If you’re the offensive line coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers then you just had Christmas and a birthday on the same day and now you get to play with your presents.
Sean Kugler must have felt like a kid with a $500 gift card to Toys R Us when the Steelers drafted guard David DeCastro in the first round and then tackle Mike Adams in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft back in April.
Considered a weakness of the Steelers for the last five years plus, the offensive line is about to look very different when the team arrives for training camp later this summer in the rolling hills of Latrobe. Kugler is the man tasked with taking these two rookies and adding them to a mix of veterans to produce a new and seriously improved offensive line.
Kugler, a native of Lockport, New York, is not exactly a newbie when comes to putting together offensive lines. He has had stints at his alma mater UTEP as a line coach and also coached the offensive line for the undefeated 2006 Boise State team that defeated Oklahoma in that memorable Fiesta Bowl.
His NFL stops include the Detroit Lions and most recently, the Buffalo Bills which is where he was prior to joining the Steelers in 2010. While not known as one of the older guys of the coaching staff, according to his linemen he is a bit ‘old school’ when it comes to playbooks and getting after it in practice. One lineman recently commented that Kugler prefers ‘paper and pencil over computers.’
Kugler’s old style apporach may be just what the Steelers need as they enter the 2012 season with potentially one of the youngest offensive lines in the league. If DeCastro starts as many believe he will and if Adams surprises and makes himself a starter then that would give the Steelers two rookies, a three-year man in Maurkice Pouncey at center, a second-year man in Marcus Gilbert at a tackle spot and the ‘old man’ of the bunch would be Willie Colon who moves to guard.
Some might argue that would be too much inexperience on the line while others would say a shot of youth and athleticism is just what the doctor ordered. Regardless of who the starting five are on that opening night in Denver, Sean Kugler is now clearly under the microscope.
Known as a guy who likes his lineman to be versatile and be able to play multiple positions, Kugler knows the offensive line must play well early and often as the team learns the new offensive system under Todd Haley. While the guys who handle the ball must also learn the new offense, much of the trials and tribulations of the learning curve can be softened by a solid offensive line. Limiting penalties and mental errors will be vital in getting this offense some early season success and that falls on the shoulders of Kugler.
Often in professional and college football, the fans and pundits think only of the difficulties for players when learning a new offense or defense. What we often fail to consider is the impact on assistant coaches who must also learn new terminology, new formations and then develop drills to teach the linemen the best way to adapt.
As of right now, everything is just rosy during the Steelers’ mini-camp, but we all know that will change once the team arrives for training camp and ultimately when it starts to see different colored jerseys line up across from it.
Kugler must demonstrate that he is on board with the Haley system and be able to prove that he has these guys ready to perform at a high level. If the wheels come off the offensive line train first then it could be a long season, but let’s give Kugler the benefit of the doubt. This is a guy that made players like Ramon Foster, Trai Essex and even Jonathan Scott into better and in Scott’s case, more serviceable players.
Steeler Nation is giddy quite honsetly over what this offensive line could look like this fall and we are all focused on Kugler and his ability to mold these guys into one aggressive, talented and bad-ass unit that could be the anchor of of successful Steelers’ teams for years to come.
Who says Christmas doesn’t come in April?