By Scott Brown
Monday, August 20, 2007
The players are near-unanimous in their desire for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to settle on the starting five along the offensive line.
Of course, democracy has never flourished among football teams, and Tomlin has the only vote that counts.
So far, he's been tougher to budge than Casey Hampton on his stance that he's in no hurry to make a decision on who starts at center and right tackle.
He reiterated it after the Steelers' 12-10 win over the Washington Redskins on Saturday night, even though the offensive line turned in an uneven performance. That raised the question of how beneficial it would be for Tomlin to pick the five that must effectively function as one when they are on the field.
"They're going to be judged by their cumulative body of work, so we'll continue to watch," Tomlin said.
Tomlin only has two more preseason games in which to evaluate his players -- in this case, Chukky Okobi and Sean Mahan at center and Max Starks and Willie Colon at right tackle.
"Of course, I'd like to see (a decision made soon)," said Starks, who's trying to hold off Colon, "but you have to be an obedient player and wait for them to make their decision."
What has complicated the decision-making process is the shuffling the Steelers have done along the offensive line. Some of that has been a product of necessity.
Mahan didn't play in the first preseason game because of an excused absence, and Okobi has missed the past two games because of a rib injury. Starting left tackle Marvel Smith, meanwhile, didn't play Saturday night because of back spasms.
Trai Essex started in his place, and the Steelers had tried Starks at left tackle the previous two games, though he played exclusively at right tackle against the Redskins.
It's debatable whether injuries and experimentation have hindered the emergence of five clear-cut starters up front.
But it was clear Saturday that offensive line remains a work in progress.
The Steelers averaged just 3.2 yards per carry and couldn't get into the end zone, despite driving inside Washington's 5-yard line three times.
"Obviously, there have been some good things and a lot of things we need to work on," said Mahan, the team's only significant free-agent signing during the offseason. "It will be nice when we can kind of solidify the units.
"The more situations you see, the better. So, I'm sure it's something where everyone wants to see happen pretty quickly.
"You need to know what the guy next to you is doing and how he approaches it and how he blocks. There's a lot of communication, and when the bullets are flying, you've got to be able to communicate in a matter of seconds."
Mahan and Colon have started the past two games, but Tomlin doesn't appear ready to anoint them as first stringers -- or go with Okobi and Starks, the players who are still listed first on the depth chart at their respective positions.
All he says now is to stay tuned.
"I think we're going to have cohesion even if we do allow this thing to play out," Tomlin said.