View Full Version : Bigger problem with the lines may not turn up until 09

04-30-2008, 06:22 AM

Wednesday, April 30, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As accolades for the Steelers' draft over the weekend roll in, one nagging question remained, the kind an old woman on an old television ad might ask:

"Where's the beef?"

On Jan. 10, coach Mike Tomlin talked about a need to improve his offensive and defensive lines.

"We need to strengthen ourselves in our lines, of course," he said. "If I could identify anything at this point, I would say we need young, big people."

Later in that news conference, Tomlin added:

"I talked about offensive and defensive lines earlier in terms of our focus. Because you always need big, strong men in the interior on the rise. We're older in those positions. We are. That will be our intentions, along with all areas, of course. But in terms of having the personality that we want to have, there is no secret that we want to run the football and run it big time. We want to smash the run so it starts inside and up front."

Instead of strictly trying to plug needs, the Steelers took the course -- the correct one, most in the organization believe -- that they would draft the players they had rated highest on their board when it was their turn.

That philosophy yielded such gems as tailback Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois in the first round and Texas wide receiver Limas Sweed on the second, two players they had rated much higher than the 23rd and 53rd picks. They also filled needs by drafting them and others, such as outside linebacker Bruce Davis in the third round.

But of their seven selections, they drafted only one lineman, an offensive tackle in the fourth round, 6-foot-4, 304-pound Tony Hills of Texas, and no defensive lineman.

As Kevin Colbert, the director of football operations, said: "You just can't get everybody. It is impossible in any one year to address the entire team. There's going to be positions you don't draft."

The Steelers signed two undersized defensive tackles as rookie free agents Monday, but as Tomlin said, "Those are tough animals to sign after the draft."

So, where does that leave their two lines?

They still have a strong starting line for a 3-4 defense with ends Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel and nose tackle Casey Hampton. But those three and their top three backups all will range between 30 and 34 years old by September, including ends Travis Kirschke and Nick Eason and nose tackle Chris Hoke. Kirschke and Eason re-signed after their contracts expired this year.

"It's one of the reasons we were happy to sign Travis and Nick prior to the draft," Tomlin said, "so we wouldn't put ourselves into a position where we felt like we needed to reach."

The Steelers will monitor other teams' cuts through training camp to see if anyone might be worth adding to the defensive line. They had hoped to get a younger player to work in, particularly at end. They also have Ryan McBean, a fourth-round pick last season, on their roster at end, but he's still using crutches, the result of a stress fracture in his foot in the offseason.

The Steelers did add two players to the offensive line in Hills and veteran free-agent center Justin Hartwig, but it also lost seven-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca. Hartwig will challenge Sean Mahan at center, and Chris Kemoeatu will replace Faneca. Marvel Smith should be healthier next season after back surgery. Kendall Simmons returns at right guard.

It also appears that Willie Colon will stay at right tackle, where he knocked Max Starks out of his two-year job as a starter last summer. The Steelers thought so much of Starks that they signed him to a guaranteed, one-year $6.9 million contract, fueling speculation he will get his old job back.

"Right now, Willie is the right tackle," line coach Larry Zierlein declared. "Max will get an opportunity to compete."

Zierlein saved his highest praise for Kemoeatu, a 6-3, 344-pounder drafted in the sixth round in 2005 who nearly bumped Simmons from right guard last summer.

"I'll tell you what, I have a lot of confidence in that guy," Zierlein said. "Aside from the physical thing, he's a big kid. He was ready to play last year. He was ready, and Kendall kind of won the thing, but it was close. When we came out of training camp, preseason games, the grades were close.

"But this kid is ready to play. The thing that I told him the other day, 'It's obvious to me, when you see blitzes, you understand it all. Just become a little more verbal.' "

Zierlein changed some blocking techniques for the line in his first season as coach in 2007. It was a season in which Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 47 times, second most for a quarterback in Steelers history. Having experienced a year of those changes should make the line better for it in 2008, he said.

The problem facing the Steelers might not be immediate, but in '09 as the defensive line continues to age much of the offensive line could disappear. Smith, Starks, veteran backup tackle Trai Essex and Kemoeatu all have contracts that expire after '08.

This team is going to have a whole new look on the OL after this season. At this point our team is pretty much set in terms of the lines and players we have so now the battles will begin to see who's going to step up. I'd like to see us grab somebody after the next round of cuts come in as teams begin signing draft picks. Our line will be better simply with the addition of Hartwig the Tackle situation is going to be unsettled for the immediate future.

04-30-2008, 08:05 AM
The line will be much better with Mahan out as center and Hartwig replacing him.:yellowthumb:

04-30-2008, 10:08 AM
I agree, and I think with what has been done so far, we have improved from last year which is always good. :yellowthumb::cope:

Of course, we need to think about the future too. We need some young blood.:2cents:

04-30-2008, 11:04 AM
Let's hope those blocking changes make the line better this year than they did last year. Between Mahan getting manhandled every other play and the line learning new schemes apparently; it was just a disaster. I hope they are able to get Hills some good work this year and have him ready to compete for the starting LT job in 09 because Marvel won't be coming back with the salary he's going to want most likely.

04-30-2008, 03:31 PM
i don't like Kemoeatu, so i hope colon beats him out at lg...... if he does we should be fine, with mendenhall and sweed added to the offense we don't need the greatest line, we just need them to be decent, and ben can pick ppl apart with holmes ward and sweed in the line up and then hand it off to mendenhall who can hopefully make holes for himself

04-30-2008, 06:07 PM
hand it off to mendenhall who can hopefully make holes for himself

and Willie, who already prioved he can run behind a **** line.

Black@Gold Forever32
04-30-2008, 06:09 PM
i don't like Kemoeatu, so i hope colon beats him out at lg...... if he does we should be fine, with mendenhall and sweed added to the offense we don't need the greatest line, we just need them to be decent, and ben can pick ppl apart with holmes ward and sweed in the line up and then hand it off to mendenhall who can hopefully make holes for himself

I thought Kemoeatu was solid when he was at Utah and thought the Steelers might have gotten a steal in the fifth round of the 05 draft...But so far Kemoeatu is really an unknown...He has played very little since being drafted...I don't know really what to think of him right now...The talk is Colon staying at RT....But in my opinion he needs moved to OG....I can't see Max Starks sitting the bench with his huge one year tender so I see him at RT....Smith will be at LT.....

If Colon does start at RT then Max will be on the bench...That will mean that the Steelers will have one of the most expensive backup OLs in the whole NFL....With both Starks and Mahan on the bench...lol

04-30-2008, 06:28 PM
Colon probably goes into camp penciled in as the starter but you're giving Max that kind of money to not compete for the job. I'd be totally surprised if Starks isn't the starting RT when it's all said and done after camp. The way the coaches are talking up Kemoeatu they make it seem like he's the 2nd coming so hopefully they know something that the rest of us don't. The problem with the OL this year is that when you really sit back and think about it now most of the jobs are already set.

LT - Smith
LG - Kemoeatu
C - Hartwig
RG - Simmons
RT - Colon or Starks.

Right Tackle is really the only battle we're going to see that could go either way....at this point anyways. Tony Hills won't overtake Marvel this year but hopefully he'll be ready next year. I wouldn't mind seeing Colon get into the mix at Guard, that would be good for him to be versatile in that way for us.

04-30-2008, 07:23 PM
Can anyone tell me about Hartwig?