Steelers Need To Grow Like Hogs

The Steelers share a common thread with the last winless preseason team to gather itself in time to win a Super Bowl.

It was 1981 when Joe Gibbs and Joe Bugel became coach and offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins, and they lost their first five games before rallying to finish 8-8.

The key to the rally was probably the coming together of an offensive line that included "basically four rookies," as Bugel put it.

They had drafted tackle Mark May in the first round and center Russ Grimm in the third round that year, and those two, and undrafted tackle Joe Jacoby, and the previous year's rookie long-snapper, Jeff Bostic, were put on a line with veteran right tackle George Starke.

Of course, Bugel and Gibbs moved those guys around some in '81. May was even benched initially to make room for Jacoby. May eventually moved to guard to replace Willie Colon.

Or someone like him.

Anyway, those Redskins came back the next season as the "Hogs" -- so dubbed by Bugel in training camp '82 -- and they proceeded to win zero preseason games.

And now you understand where I'm coming from and perhaps where I'm going.

After the Steelers had lost their final preseason game Thursday to finish 0-4, Dallas-based journalist Rick Gosselin tweeted that the last team to finish 0-4 in preseason and win the next Super Bowl were those 1982 Washington Redskins.

So, since it hasn't happened in 31 years, what chances do these Steelers really have of bucking those numbers? And, really, every winless preseason in Pittsburgh prior to this has been the father of a barren post-season:

* The 2006 Steelers went 8-8.

* The 1987 Steelers went 8-7.

* And the 1965 Steelers went 2-12.

Maybe there's a good reason it's taken 31 years to prove that the preseason might really mean something after all.

Of course, these Steelers of 2012 have much in common with those Redskins of 1981, and I'm not talking about their 8-8 records.

Last year, the Steelers believed they finally hit the O-line mother lode on draft day when they selected David DeCastro in the first round and Mike Adams in the second. And those rookies joined a better core than those '81 Redskins rookies did. Yet into this season the Steelers strode with big plans for a real running game and a healthy quarterback, but, voila, zero preseason wins.

Some look at the talent on hand and remain optimistic. But at the end of this last loss, Steelers TV analyst Edmund Nelson disagreed with said optimism coming from his sidekick, Bob Pompeani.

"I don't think there's any way they get to be 10 and 6. I really don't," Nelson said as the Steelers shook hands with the Panthers. "This offensive line has a l-o-o-o-n-g way to improve enough that Ben Roethlisberger is comfortable back there, to make the kind of plays he's capable of making. I think they're a work in progress."

Agree. To. Disagree.

There's no doubt that the Steelers' O-line is "a work in progress." Adams is struggling with his pass protection on the left side, but yet is a killer in the run game. Another positive is that DeCastro has looked like the blue-chipper everyone expected on draft day '12. Maurkice Pouncey remains -- arguably -- the best center in the game. Ramon Foster pass blocks better than Chris Kemoeatu ever did and at times looks like Kemoeatu on that counter power play. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert has been destructive to both sides of the ball, but appears as if he's grown comfortable since becoming re-acquainted with the right side.

The only question surrounding these guys is this: Can they stay healthy?

Those old "Hogs" did, at least through the Super Bowl-winning 1982 season and the Super Bowl-losing 1983 season. In those two years, the five starters combined to miss only one game.

Yes, it's been a long time since anyone has gone from winless preseason to brushing away confetti, but it has been done. And it's been done by a team that had recognized a core weakness up front and moved decisively to fix it. That's what these Steelers have done.

And anyway, Roethlisberger's won Super Bowls without being "comfortable back there." Imagine what he can do if there's a Hogs-like development up front this season.

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