Friday, May 23, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After skipping all workouts except for a required minicamp last spring, Alan Faneca is back working out with his teammates -- the New York Jets.
The seven-time Pro Bowl guard left a huge hole in the Steelers' offensive line when he signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Jets this year. Chris Kemoeatu is a large man trying to fill it and hopes to get back on the field to resume that job Tuesday when the Steelers resume practice.
"It's a big step, some big shoes to fill," said Kemoeatu, who did not practice during the team's three workouts this week because of a hamstring injury. "All I can do is come to work every day, watch film and practice to the best of my ability and just try to be me."
And who might that be? For one, Kemoeatu stands 6 feet 3 and weighs a listed 344 pounds, although he may tip the scale a tad over that. That's two inches shorter and at least 37 pounds more than Faneca.
"He's a big, powerful man," coach Mike Tomlin said.
For another, Kemoeatu has been around the past three seasons, ever since the Steelers drafted him on the fifth round in 2005 from Utah despite a few on-field temper tantrums he threw in college.
"I had some issues with it in college," Kemoeatu recounted yesterday. "I kicked some dude in the face, and the following week I did the same thing."
If he still has that kind of temper, it rarely surfaced on the field with the Steelers, but then he only has started two games in three years, none last year.
"I think I've really calmed down, plus I haven't been in there playing that much," said Kemoeatu. "That's helped me calm down as far as controlling myself mentally."
Tomlin does not mind if Kemoeatu uses his temper, as long as it does not get the better of him.
"You like guys who have the potential to fly off the handle within the rules of the game," Tomlin said. "It's a tough game, it's a tough-man's game. He's a tough man. He hasn't shown me that he's incapable of controlling that. If anything, he uses it as a weapon."
Said Kemoeatu: "I'm trying not to [lose control], but it's a physical game and sometimes you get carried away and you just react. I'm definitely at a different level now; if you do something like that, you're going to pay for it."
His coaches believe he is ready. Larry Zierlein, his line coach, thought he was ready last season when Kemoeatu almost beat out veteran Kendall Simmons to start at right guard.
"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.'
Close decisions usually go to the incumbent, but there is none at left guard, where Kemoeatu will try to make people forgive the Steelers for letting Faneca get away.
Kemoeatu ran for the first time this week yesterday and practiced getting off the line of scrimmage. He hopes to return to the practice field Tuesday.
"He has a better understanding of what's going on maybe than you think," said Tomlin, noting Kemoeatu's otherwise quiet nature.