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Thread: A Motley Crew Shall Lead Them

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  1. #1
    Starter Blazedby92's Avatar
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    A Motley Crew Shall Lead Them

    Jim Wexell believes the Steelers' offensive line is more responsible for the team's success than many want to admit.

    Bill Cowher’s first draft pick as coach of the Steelers in 1992 was a right tackle, and Leon Searcy certainly was a road grader, the kind of player upon whom Cowher leaned in fourth quarters with an 11-point lead, when the coach would “pound the rock.”
    Cowher was a fundamentalist, a guy who used premium picks (rounds 1-3) for eight offensive linemen in eight drafts from 1995-2002.
    Even in 2001, the only year in which Cowher didn’t use a premium pick on an offensive lineman during that stretch, he passed on quarterback Drew Brees to draft nose tackle Casey Hampton.
    That “fundamentalist” approach on draft day has changed, and it appears to have changed for the better.
    Let’s use late April, 2004 as the beginning of this philosophical shift. During the draft process that year, Russ Grimm fell in love with massive guard-tackle Shawn Andrews, and Cowher came to agree with his line coach. Word leaked late in the week that Andrews was the Steelers’ draft target with the 11th pick, but on draft day team president Dan Rooney walked into the war room to speak to Cowher and Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert.
    Rooney told them that he wasn’t going to meddle and tell them whom to draft. He just told them that he’d once passed on a franchise quarterback (Dan Marino) and it was one of the most difficult football decisions with which he ever had to live. Whether Rooney had a direct impact or not, the Steelers that day drafted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first round. In the third round they drafted another massive tackle, Max Starks.
    The next draft – with panic bubbling among the media because the slow-footed Starks hadn’t played much and the Steelers had little depth behind a line consisting of three 1st-round picks and two 2nd-round picks – the Steelers passed on, well, my “expert” call for tackle Khalif Barnes or guard-tackle Marcus Johnson, and they selected tight end Heath Miller. The Steelers also chose guard-tackle Trai Essex in the third round and guard Chris Kemoeatu in the sixth.
    In the 2006 draft, fans and media believed the obvious choice was center Nick Mangold. Hobbled starter Jeff Hartings was entering his final season and it was unthinkable that the Steelers would allow their 40-year stretch of outstanding center play to come to an end. But when the Steelers traded up in the first round, they did not draft Mangold, but wide receiver Santonio Holmes. They drafted tackle Willie Colon in the fourth round.
    In 2007, the media could see what the Steelers could not: The offensive line was falling apart, rotting from the interior out. Free agent acquisition Sean Mahan was signed as a band-aid for the legacy at center, left guard Alan Faneca told the team he was leaving the following free-agent season, and right guard Kendall Simmons was just not cutting it. The Steelers had to trade down in the first or trade up in the second to draft one of the massive guards – Ben Grubbs, Justin Blalock, or Arron Sears – and maybe even use him as a true anchor at center against the massive AFC nose guards that had been giving the Steelers so many problems.
    Instead, the Steelers drafted linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley in the first two rounds in 2007. They also signed center-guard Darnell Stapleton as a rookie free agent after the draft.
    In 2008, tackle Marvel Smith was coming off another season of back problems, and he would soon be looking at free agency. So would Starks. The Steelers needed to draft a tackle out of a strong crop, but every other team seemed to have the same idea. Seven tackles were drafted before the Steelers’ pick at No. 23. They could’ve reached for tackle Duane Brown, or they could replace Mahan at center with Mike Pollak. Guard was still a need, so even big Chilo Rachal of Southern Cal would work. But the Steelers instead drafted running back Rashard Mendenhall in the first round. Later they addressed tackle with Tony Hills in the fourth round, and signed rookie free agent center-guard Doug Legursky after the draft. They also hoped that veteran free agent Justin Hartwig could replace Mahan at center.
    Of course, the Steelers won the Super Bowl after that 2008 season, but Starks, Kemoeatu, Hartwig, Stapleton and Colon had only gone along for the ride. The Steelers won in spite of their line, went the popular opinion. The only person who seemed to respect their work as a patchwork unit thrust together for the first time was Roethlisberger, who gave them a shout-out as soon as he took the podium to accept the Lombardi Trophy.
    That lack of respect from the media continued into this past draft. Center-guard Max Unger was available. So was tackle Eben Britton. But the Steelers instead drafted pass-rushing defensive tackle Ziggy Hood in the first round. They also took guard Kraig Urbik in the third, center A.Q. Shipley and hard-blocking tight end David Johnson in the seventh, and signed Ramon Foster as a rookie free agent after the draft.
    So, from an offensive line consisting entirely of premium draft picks, the Steelers have transitioned to a line consisting of third-rounders Starks and Essex, fourth-rounder Colon, sixth-rounder Kemoeatu, and street free agent Hartwig. Behind them on game days are Legursky and Foster, and behind them are game-day inactives Urbik and Hills. Shipley is on the practice squad and Stapleton is on injured reserve.
    It’s a group that’s not only playing well, as the 6-2 Steelers prepare for the first-place showdown Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, but it’s a group that won’t need much, if any, attention in the next draft.
    Still, the group has its die-hard critics. One of those critics wrote the following on our message board over at “If we repeat, it certainly won’t be due to the O-line.”
    Oh, but it will be due to the O-line. While it’s unlikely that any of these guys will make the Pro Bowl, it’s their work as a unit, as a cheap unit, as a unit that allowed the drafting of Roethlisberger, Miller, Holmes, Timmons, Woodley, Mendenhall and Hood, that’s making it all possible.

    By Jim Wexell
    Posted Nov 12, 2009
    Last edited by DIESELMAN; 11-13-2009 at 03:09 PM. Reason: Giving proper credit to author of article
    "Without ME, it's just AWESO"
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  2. #2
    Starter igor0190's Avatar
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    We always have late first round draft picks and usually any o-lineman left for us would be a massive reach. The front office has been making the right call by staying away from o-line in the first round. But, mark my words... This trend will be bucked in the next couple years and we will have a quality O-lineman drop to us. AND we will take him, whoever he is. (Hopefully a center)

  3. #3
    BlitzburghRockCity's Avatar
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    Nobody is going to sit here and second guess the drafting of Big Ben, nor will they second guess Heath Miller either. In hind sight the Rooneys' were right on by making sure they got their point across in taking those players.

    Having said that, looking back our track record with draftees & free agents for the offensive line during the prime of the Cowher era, it's clear the emphasis was there to keep us with a top flight line. Obviously having Bettis there as well certainly didn't hurt either, but in the last few years before he left the emphasis on the line went by the way side and we got old and we ended up paying for it right up until this year. In some ways we are still paying for it since this group we have is a mismash of 2nd tier free agents, middle round draft picks, that has certainly seen their fair share of difficulty.

    They are learning and they are getting better by the week, there is no doubt of that. I'm sure Ben is extremely grateful as well to see them improve, but one still wonders how much better we could have been if there was more of an emphasis on lineman in the last 5 years. The Steelers have a great day 1 success record with draft picks but the day track record is spotty over that time period. Look at all the guys we've drafted on the 2nd day every year that are still on the team over the last 5 years...not too awful many that's for sure. You can't expect all of your later round picks to make an impact but I would have liked to have seen more of them from the OL position get drafted and perhaps have helped us out.

    If I want to play devil's advocate with myself, you could say that guys like Timmons, Holmes, Woodley, & Mendenhall are working out pretty ok so far so it's really just a difference in how you look at building your team. The x factor here would be if the Steelers were more heavy players in free agency we could have filled voids in that manner these last several years, but who's to say for sure. It's water under the bridge now, I mean we've won 2 super bowls in the last 4 years so maybe we've finally turned the corner with this group
    Last edited by BlitzburghRockCity; 11-13-2009 at 04:19 PM.

  4. #4
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    Great read! I have been one of the biggest critics of this O-line and I will have to admit that their play has been improving. We will always take a lot of sacks because of Big Bens style of play. But this line has started to play together as a unit and has been better in run blocking and in pass-pro. Perhaps the Steelers are onto something using the high draft selections on skilled position players. I agree that this years draft can focus on other areas like D-line and perhaps another RB or Safety. Take another O-lineman on day 2. These guys are young and they are starting to gel as a team. We can slowly groom some back-ups and pay them back-up money.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by BlackGold4vr View Post
    Great read! I have been one of the biggest critics of this O-line and I will have to admit that their play has been improving. We will always take a lot of sacks because of Big Bens style of play. But this line has started to play together as a unit and has been better in run blocking and in pass-pro. Perhaps the Steelers are onto something using the high draft selections on skilled position players. I agree that this years draft can focus on other areas like D-line and perhaps another RB or Safety. Take another O-lineman on day 2. These guys are young and they are starting to gel as a team. We can slowly groom some back-ups and pay them back-up money.

    now, a couple of these players I'm going to mention we won't have a shot at unless we trade down( hopefully we have a real late pick haha).

    Eric Berry - S, Tennessee: he is the best safety coming out but will be a top 5 pick

    Taylor Mays - S, USC: just behind Eric Berry but he is an athletic freak. Should be a top 10 pick but could fall because of his play this year.

    Terrence Cody - DT, Alabama - he is a plug in the middle and a great run stopper...seeing as how Casey Hampton will be gone, if we did find a way to draft Mount Cody, our D line shouldn't even lose a step. Should be a top 20 pick but I could see us trading up if Casey leaves.

    C.J. Spiller - RB, Clemson - He is by far my favorite player coming out of the draft. He's got blazing speed and is without question the most explosive player in the draft. He would also be an immediate upgrade for PR and KR. Having Rashard Mendenhall and C.J. Spiller would be absolutely sick. That tandem would give us the "Thunder and Lightning" that Rashard and Willie were supposed to be together. If he falls to us in te first round, don't be suprised if we take him.

    Brandon Spikes - MLB, Florida - he is special. He's extremely smart and has terrific instincts. He should be a middle-late first round pick. I wouldn't mind the pick if the players above were all taken.

    Myron Rolle - S, Florida State - he's been out of football for a year because he is a Rhodes scholar and decided to pursue it. Obviously he is extemely smart. He will
    he a second round pick but I'm not sure where. If we could snag him in the second I would be happy.

    Jahvid Best - RB, Cal - extemely fast and has great's tough to pinpoint where he will go...could be anywhere from 1st round to 3rd round but he us explosive and would be a great tandem with rashard.

    DeMarco Murray - RB, Oklahoma - he's fast, elusive and could help in the return game. He's got first round talent but isn't an every-down back in the NFL. He would be a great value pick in the 3rd-4th round.

  6. #6
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    SteelersWoman's Avatar
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    I will admit to being one of the biggest haters/protesters, etc of the O line. But I was just as glad to admit when I began to notice that pass protection was vastly improving--and then just a game or two later, the RUN blocking was vastly improving!!! No one coulda been any more shocked than me, no one could be any happier than me--I'm just in awe that this line has almost done a 180 from last season! They went from beyond horrible, to an actually pretty darn decent line of guys.

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