By Jeremy Hritz
The sentiment last year was that the Pittsburgh Steelers hit the lottery when guard David DeCastro fell to them at pick # 24 in the NFL Draft. At Stanford, DeCastro was heralded as one of the best guard prospects in years, and he was projected to be a week one starter for the Steelers against the Denver Broncos. Unfortunately, DeCastro suffered what appeared to be a horrific knee injury in the third preseason game against the Buffalo Bills that ended his rookie season before it began. Thankfully, for DeCastro and the Steelers, he was able to rehab and work himself back into the starting lineup in week 15 against the Dallas Cowboys. DeCastro went on to start the following week against the Bengals, but a hamstring injury kept him out of the season finale against the Cleveland Browns.
In the two games that DeCastro started, his play was uneven, with strokes of genius mixed with missed assignments. The missed time and lack of live-game experience resulted in three surrendered sacks, though in his defense in his start against the Bengals, he was battling a hamstring injury.
In Dave Bryan’s Steelers offensive line breakdown in which he grades the performance of each individual offensive lineman (these grades are calculated based on the number of successful and unsuccessful plays), he scored DeCastro as a 93% overall against the Cowboys and an 81% overall against the Bengals. Overall, in those two games, DeCastro was graded as a better pass protector than a run blocker, though the three sacks speak otherwise. While not performances predictive of an All-Pro career, it is the experience that he gained that will prove most important this season.
In an article by Tribune Review’s Alan Robinson published at the end of May, DeCastro interpreted the adversity from his rookie season as a positive and talked about his greatest discernment from last season being the importance of actively using his hands. DeCastro said, “The NFL is a lot different game than it is in college, just technique-wise, using your hands.” In the same article, his teammate Steve McLendon emphasized the same concept: “He came in last year and I would tell him, ‘Hey, man, get your hands on me. This is a physical game. If you let somebody push you around, they\'re going to push you around every day.\'” Now, as he is preparing for his sophomore campaign, DeCastro feels that he is operating on “instinct” and that his challenging rookie season was a “good learning experience.”
For a player to overcome a speculated season-ending knee injury to return to start two games speaks to their perseverance. Fully healthy and familiar with the offense, the expectations that were in place for DeCastro as a rookie are now even higher, and he will be looked to assert himself as a leader on potentially stellar Steelers offensive line.
If DeCastro can live up to his college billing and stay healthy, he could help to better what has been an underwhelming Steelers’ offensive line over the past couple of seasons. And because regenerating an anemic and keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright will be keys to success in 2013, it is critical that he does.