Sean Kugler Finally Has The Talent To Do His Coaching Justice

By Cian Fahey

Prior to the Pittsburgh Steelers\’ last appearance in the Super Bowl, that loss to the Green Bay Packers in Dallas two years ago, I expressed my overwhelming admiration for the work of the Steelers\’ new offensive line coach that year.

Leading up to the season finale in Dallas, I wrote that Sean Kugler was in fact the most important Steeler.

Ahead of his hiring, I was one of many onlookers who didn\’t like the idea of bringing in a line coach whose last team had given up 46 sacks in 16 games the year before. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin, as they so often do, had a better understanding of Kugler than us average folk because they realized that Kugler had been working with a severe dearth of talent in Buffalo with the Bills.

Just like he did in Detroit in 2005, Kugler got the best out of a bad bunch with the Bills for two years before moving on to do the same in Pittsburgh with the Steelers for the past two seasons.

Throughout his career in the NFL, discounting his brief stint with Boise State, Kugler has worked with a bunch of misfit offensive linemen who he motivated and taught as well as possible. The players at his disposal weren\’t scrubs, but they were limited for the most part.

He did have some bright spots such as Jeff Backus in Detroit and Jason Peters in Buffalo, but never has he had an offensive line with talent across the depth chart…until now.

The Steelers hired Kugler because of his ability to get the best out of a bad bunch. When they initially hired him, the Steelers\’ line started out with Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig, Trai Essex and Willie Colon.

Even during his first season with the Steelers, Kugler faced adversity and more turnover than any coach should with only Kemoeatu from his original starting five starting in the Super Bowl that year. That first season, Kugler showed that he could handle adversity and do enough to allow the Steelers to win. However, he also showed what he could do with some real, natural talent.

Hartwig may have entered training camp as the team\’s starting center, but rookie Maurkice Pouncey quickly dispelled notions that he was going to be a guard before moving to center. Pouncey started every regular season game as a rookie.

Pouncey is naturally brilliant and very intelligent, however you cannot overlook the contributions of his line coach to guide him to such an outstanding debut year as a professional. While Pouncey severely struggled during his second year, that can arguably be attributed to his injury issues which carried over from the year before.

The rookie center wasn\’t the only example of Kugler at work however.

Last year\’s rookie tackle Marcus Gilbert arrived in Pittsburgh with some question marks over his conditioning and commitment. By the end of the year, and after Colon\’s injury, Gilbert had one of the best seasons of any rookie as the Steelers\’ starting right tackle.

Gilbert and Pouncey both had elite level talent last season, they still do, and Kugler was able to instantly install them on his line because of his quality coaching and mentoring. Now that David DeCastro and Mike Adams have been drafted combined with the potential for Colon to return from yet another injury, Kugler has more talent to work with than at any previous time during his career. Let\’s not forget that Max Starks also could be brought back as well.

DeCastro should instantly become a starter while Adams may not be forced into the lineup, unless he excels early on as a tackle. With Kugler leading the group, you cannot rule out Adams from potentially being a starting left tackle next year simply because of his track record so far.

Injuries may have derailed the Steelers\’ line from being a strength last season, but this year things look incredibly bright from a unit that was once a black hole, or multiple holes in many cases, for the Steelers\’ Super Bowl chances.

You can follow Cian on Twitter at @Cianaf

  • zbluez1

    When you add in the talent that Coach K. has been fortunate enough to get in UDFA’s , ex. Ryan Lee in 2012 to the stable guys from 2011 Foster, Gilbert, Pouncey, Legursky, to the 2012 draft Picks in DeCastro and Adams, and the best of the remaining Vets, Coach K. finally has some tools in his tool box that are shiny and functional and in need of just a bit of organizing before they become one of the best units on the Steelers. Add grandpa Starks and he’ll have just about the perfect mix of youth and experience for dominance in the AFC North. I am excited to see it finally happen !!! Here’s to coach K. and the O-line, gentlemen start knocking people on their respective asses !!!!!

  • Jprankster2005

    I love this O line and if our Offense can produce like last yr. and our Defense be almost the same we should be there battling for a Super Bowl……..

  • mokhkw

    Kugler is obviously a good coach, but the amount of injuries that players on OLine suffer when he is the coach is worrying.

    Not saying he’s the cause of this, hopefully it’s just some bad luck that has finally ended.

  • zbluez1

    A Coach can only cause injuries IF he is teaching poor or improper techniques. Coach K doesn’t do that. Pouncey has a tendency to get his pad level up on strong bull rushes, which over-leverages his ankles, that and he gets his base wide which is why his ankles and feet get stepped on. Shoulder injuries like Legursky and Gilbert had are impact injuries, two large men crashing into each other at forces equal to 25-30 MPH. Try riding a bike half fast into a wall and using your shoulder, even in pads, to absorb the blow and you’ll have some idea what it feels like, trust me, not fun. Knee injuries are usually lateral force injuries, twisting in nature. Try pivoting as fast as you can with 300lbs on your foot, body parts give way under those conditions, I know, it happened to me when I was much much younger, sometimes they never reassemble quite the same, hence Kemo’s constant swelling issues. None of the above are Coach K.’s fault, but they do add up in a hurry and line-men go down fast when it happens. Bad luck ? yeah there is some of that. Repetitive injuries? some of that too! Bad coaching? none of that. Players playing with all their heart? A TON of that! or they wouldn’t be Steeler line-men !

  • Andrew

    Could you do a breakdown of all of the OL drafted during the Kugler years? From a statistics standpoint, it’s hard to only look at the high pedigree guys who were drafted and not look at some of the others. Tony Hills, Chris Scott, et al. (not sure which were drafted in the Kugler reign)

    Also, too early to read into Mike Adams being put at LT in minicamp?

  • mokhkw

    Like the Reply. 🙂

    Personally, I think a lot of this can be attributed to the Player themselves & their lack of conditioning.

    Kemo, Essex, Starks all either were overweight when they go hurt or put on too much after they got injured. Pouncey was just unlucky, as was Colon.

    If a player is unfit they stand a much better chance of being injured, no matter what position they play.

    I’ve played OL myself & can see nothing wrong with what Kugler has the OL doing. I’m also inclined to believe that when you pass block a substantial amount more than you run-block you’re inclined to lose some of your hardness & even get bored at times. Maybe that’s a factor here as well?

  • I truly think that Adams has the desire and the potential to become a great left tackle. DeCastro should easily be a candidate for rookie of the year and will have many pro bowls in his future. Toss in Pouncey and Gilbert and we have four young and very good linemen. Next year if we add one more talented guard then we have the making of one of the best lines in the league. I would love to see them draft someone like Cooper, Warmack, Uzzi, Warford or Taylor.

  • zbluez1

    “The NFL where Bigger and faster is always better” Kemo, Essex, & Starks all tried to conform to that model without thinking it all the way through. Bulk is not equal to muscle which doesn’t equal faster. You hear “Bulk up” a lot in the NFL, some guys take the easy way and add fat not muscle.’Nuff said

  • zbluez1

    Way too early to get a real read on anything, No Vets in at the moment. No hitting, just basic drills in shorts, sort of “This is what work will be composed of Rookie” orientation. Just like any job orientation.

  • zbluez1

    Think they have a very talented rookie guard in camp as an UDFA, Rooney JR, junior, found him at Furman college of all places, not that some of the guys you mentioned wouldn’t be a good add, but next year should be a defense heavy draft and if they draft offense it’ll probably be another receiver in the higher rounds.

  • I agree that we will most likely go with a player like ILB Manti Te’o and would not rule out having to move up into the early teens to draft him. Another possible player might be SS Kenny Vaccaro in round one. I do also agree they have some rookie guards with a lot of talent and potential like Lee and Beachum whom they will move from LT to LG though I expect both to be sent to the practice squad this coming season. If one of the four guards I mention falls to round 3 or 4 then I think they will snag him.

  • zbluez1

    Here’s to hoping that they won’t have to or want to, between Foster, Lee, and Beachum. I believe that they already have the talent pool to find a starting caliber left guard that is better then ” average ” and that the O-line as a whole becomes not just above ” average ” but approach excellent on a regular basis.

  • I really hope this is the case, and by most opinions, it is. I just hope it isn’t the reverse, and the lack of talent has been a crutch.

  • zbluez1

    A crutch? HHhmmmmmm ? Lets review-2010, 7 different linemen injured, 4 different starting line combinations. 2011, 9 different linemen injured, 2 IR’d for the season, 6 different starting line combinations. Talent pool in house decimated to the point that there was no one from either years practice squads talented enough to call up to start, took bodies off the street to start. (Adams, Starks, etc…)

    Okay, lack of DEVELOPED talent is why the practice squad guys were not called up to start, that might be a crutch. Until you factor in that the practice squad guys were UDFA rookies that do not and did not have the physical measurables of even our 7th round pick Beachum has this year. None of them even approached the physical measurables that our UDFA Ryan Lee has this year ( see my other posts comparing his measurables to D. DeCastro ). That and we had an UDFA named Foster already starting and one named Legursky starting with almost none or zero experience.

    So a crutch, not having talented guys ready to play. Okay, maybe, after all they had…….ooopppsss in 2011… they didn’t have mini camps, rookie camps or OTA’s because of that CBA thing.

    For 2009/2010/2011 O-line performance/personnel inadequacies I have to put the blame squarely where it belongs, with the FRONT OFFICE Management. They didn’t look ahead at all, they didn’t address the O-line needs except as a late round, if at all, draft choice, the UDFA’s they brought in were horribly short on measurable talent, and despite that 2 of them still ended up starting, and both started in a Superbowl ( XLV ) , the guys they did draft were either ineffective or inactive and/or injured. Those vets that remained healthy at that time have since been cut. And Like a lot of league front offices they would have gone on ignoring it until that nationally televised debacle in San Francisco happened. Their alarm finally went off. The lights may have gone off in Candlestick Park a couple of times, but the light finally went on in the Burgh.

    If you are getting the opinion/hint that I don’t think “lack of talent” was/is a viable crutch then or now, you are getting it right. Players play and Coaches coach, combine physically untalented players with a talented coach and you will get the mixed results we have seen for over the past three years. Combine physically talented players even with an untalented coach, PLEASE NOTE I DO NOT BELIEVE OR SAY COACH K. IS UNTALENTED, and you’d still get better results then the Steelers had ( ie Cleveland over the same time period ) .

    The Steelers now have physically gifted talent, they have an extremely gifted coach in Coach K. , They have the developmental period of time in the rookie camps, mini camps, OTA’s, training camp, and preseason to “get it to gel together” . The phantom crutch is no longer available for use, but, it really was never there in the first place either.