Is this the best Steelers offensive line ever?

Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva, top, blocks linebacker T.J. Watt (90) during drills in an NFL training camp football practice, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva, top, blocks linebacker T.J. Watt (90) during drills in an NFL training camp football practice, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Credit: Keith Srakocic

Credit: Keith Srakocic

Which Steelers offensive line was the best? One from the 1970s, the mid-1990s, the one that led the Steelers to a 15-1 record in 2004?

The current one has a chance to claim that distinction.

Mike Munchak has seen plenty of good lines in his 35 years in the NFL as a player and coach. He played on one with the Houston Oilers that put him and fellow guard Bruce Matthews in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He believes the Steelers line he coaches could be special.

"This can be our second year together, which is awesome. We're just getting started," Munchak said. "I think that time will tell on all that, how good we can be. If you can keep the guys together, in this type of offense with the players we have around us who can make plays, then we have an opportunity to really develop."

That has been a problem for the Steelers for years, keeping their line healthy. They came close in 2016 when three linemen did not miss a start to injury — tackle Alejandro Villanueva, guard David DeCastro and center Maurkice Pouncey, a healthy scratch in the meaningless regular season finale. Guard Ramon Foster missed two starts and tackle Marcus Gilbert three.

DeCastro earned his second Pro Bowl trip, Pouncey was selected a fifth time, or every year he has not missed the season with injury. It was the first year since the 2005 season the Steelers had two linemen voted to the Pro Bowl. It was only the sixth time in the Super Bowl era the Steelers have had multiple offensive linemen earn Pro Bowl honors the same season.

So how do these guys stack up with the others? Maybe at the top.

For all their great seasons of the 1970s, the Steelers did not have more than one offensive lineman make the Pro Bowl in any one season, and produced only three Pro Bowlers the decade of the 1970s — guard Bruce Van Dyke once and center Mike Webster twice in that span. A case, though, can be made that those were some of the Steelers' best lines, if underrated, with tackles such as Jon Kolb and Larry Brown (who made one Pro Bowl in 1982) and guard Sam Davis, along with Webster.

Their 1994 line had two Pro Bowlers in center Dermontti Dawson and guard Duval Love, a one-year all-star. It, too, had good talent elsewhere, especially at tackle with John Jackson and Leon Searcy.

Only once in their history did the Steelers have three offensive linemen in the Pro Bowl. Center Jeff Hartings, guard Alan Fanea and tackle Marvel Smith did so in the 2004 season. It would be Smith's only Pro Bowl. That line was excellent and could rival the one today. It included guard Keydrick Vincent and tackle Oliver Ross on the right side. They helped the Steelers to their best regular-season record in history, 15-1. They also blocked for a rookie quarterback.

But Ben Roethlisberger, entering his 14th season, considers this to be his best line, "arguably, as a unit especially."

"I think Pouncey's the best center that maybe ever played the game," Roethlisberger said.

That's a mouthful considering Webster and Dawson are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But who is to say Pouncey is not? He already has made two All-Pro teams and DeCastro has made one. The Steelers believe tackle Marcus Gilbert should be considered for a Pro Bowl, and Villanueva has developed quickly as a good left tackle in a short time at the position.

All are under the age of 30 except Foster, 31.

"We have a lot of talent, a lot of versatility," Pouncey said. "We have a lot of years under our belts so obviously it's working out just fine."

Although they believe they have several strong backups, it is important they remain healthy, particularly as they run the no-huddle more often.

"It just gives a lot of comfort for Ben, for us when you're not playing next to different guys because we make a lot of adjustments," Munchak said. "We ask them to do a lot of things during the games. As the years have gone on since I've been here, we've done more and more in terms of adjusting the blocking at the line of scrimmage, adjust by who we're seeing, what we're seeing and the more you can stay together, the more of those kinds of adjustments you can make without having mistakes."

Best Steelers line ever? They will get another chance to make that case.

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