Steelers training camp: Blocking out more game time Colon's goal
Friday, August 03, 2007
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As far as indoctrinations go, Willie Colon could think of easier first assignments in the National Football League.
Actually, the only rookie lineman who might have had a more difficult and nerve-racking task early in his career was teammate Trai Essex, who was entrusted with lining up against Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney -- in the RCA Dome, no less -- in his second NFL start.
Colon, a fourth-round draft choice in 2006, didn't have the responsibility of stopping Freeney in his first NFL start. But, he might have had the next worst thing -- lining against Pro Bowl defensive end Terrell Suggs and the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15 last year at Heinz Field.
The Steelers were embarrassed, 37-7, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked five times (four fewer than the first meeting), but Colon was not blamed for any of the sacks by guard Alan Faneca.
A week later, in the season finale in Cincinnati, Colon opened some eyes with the way he performed against the Bengals, looking more comfortable in the position and playing with the toughness he had exhibited since training camp.
"With Baltimore, you go out there feeling a little shaky playing against one of the top defenses in your first NFL start," Colon said. "But I held my own and did pretty well. And Cincinnati, I felt 100 percent going out there. I kind of knew what I was going into there, and from there on it's being an athlete playing football."
Did it draw the attention of the coaches?
"Definitely," Colon said. "That would do it to anybody. You see someone who's a little shaky the first time out and the second time does well, it looks like he should be out there, it only puts myself in a better position."
The coaching staff has changed, at least as far as Colon is concerned. In particular, his position coach, Russ Grimm, is gone, having left to join Ken Whisenhunt with the Arizona Cardinals. He has been replaced by Larry Zierlein, who was with the Buffalo Bills last season.
But Colon's optimism has not changed.
Based on the way he played in two starts last season, he has been told he will be given a chance to unseat right tackle Max Starks, even though there might not be much of a battle at all.
Still, that's all Colon wants -- a chance to play more and show what he can do.
"They kind of hinted it to me, but you never know," Colon said. "All I can do is do what I do. I never look to see if I'm getting a fair opportunity. It's about you being consistent and proving yourself on a daily basis."
Starks, though, has not made the competition -- if there even is a competition -- easy. He is 10 to 15 pounds lighter than last season and has looked good in camp sessions, something even Colon said.
"Dropping weight has really helped him," Zierlein said. "He's changing direction better and he's quicker. He took care of himself during the summer and did what he had to do to get ready."
Starks and Colon acknowledge there is a battle being contested for the position, but that could be polite posturing by one and wishful thinking by the other. Starks has taken nearly ever snap with the first-team offense.
"I would be lying to say there isn't," said Colon, who is 6 feet 3, 315 pounds. "But Max is good. He's a heckuva guy and he's been consistently playing well. He looks good. He's been moving his feet pretty well."
Starks, a No. 3 draft choice in 2004, has started 30 games since taking over for Oliver Ross in '05. And, barring injury, that is not likely to change this season.
"I knew it was my job to lose and his to win," Starks said. "There is a competition. There is no room for complacency in the NFL. If I ever get the audacity to get arrogant enough to say something like that, obviously I'm not playing football that much longer.
"Every year guys come in new, guys are getting better, guys are getting more comfortable. There's always a challenge. No position is secure on this team."
Zierlein said the Steelers will begin looking at different personnel in the offensive line next week, making sure they have properly evaluated players. One of those moves will involve center Sean Mahan, the team's most significant free-agent signing in the offseason.
He is expected to get more time with the first-team offense, replacing Chukky Okobi. The only other player with a possible shot at a starting position on the line is Colon.
"We want to make sure we got the right people in there and we want to do it as quickly as possible, but we also want to take a look at some people," Zierlein said. "There might be a couple things next week."