It starts and ends with the Offensive Line
The 2007 Pittsburgh Steelers; a team filled with renewed energy, hope, and high expectations once again as they are just 2 years removed from a Super Bowl victory. The Steelers are like every other team in the league right now, trying to find the piece of the puzzle that will catapult them back into the playoff hunt. There are many pieces that have to fall into place for our Steelers to be successful this year but the most important piece is not Ben Roethlisberger nor is it Willie Parker. That piece is also not Hines Ward, Heath Miller, Casey Hampton or Troy Polamalu. Now we need all of those players and the rest of the team to play well but the main piece is the offensive line.
Without the big grunts in front doing their job consistently every snap of every game all year long we will, beyond a shadow of a doubt, falter in 2007. The offensive line is simply the most important position on the football field. It affects every facet of the game in all 3 phases. Without a solid offensive line you could have Bart Starr being backed up John Elway, Joe Namath and Joe Montana and it wouldn’t matter because no matter who is taking the snaps they’re going to be spending 60 minutes running for their lives because they have no protection therefore no time to throw. What about the running game? Nope sorry, even Walter Payton or Emmitt Smith will be going nowhere fast without a line to open up holes for them. Just ask Emmitt how valuable his line was during the super bowl run or how much he appreciated them through his entire run to the record books. Wide Receivers & Tight Ends might as well be running wind sprints all day because by the time they get into their routes, the Quarterback will be either on his back or running away from pass rush.
That brings us to the defense; surely they can hold their own right? Guess again! If you don’t have a solid line your offense isn’t moving the ball therefore you’re giving the opponent good field position nearly every time you punt. The defense is forced to defend a short field and not even the best unit can hold off the opposition all the time. The 11 defenders will be tired and worn out by the middle of the 3rd quarter every game from being on the field so long. Even when they do give the ball back to their offense they’ll only be getting enough rest to toss back a Gatorade or 2 and then it’s back onto the field because their teammates can’t move the ball.
Special teams, now surely there’s some hope? Sorry, not happening. Your punter is forced to punt from deep in his own territory therefore more susceptible to the rush of defender to block the kick. Even the best punter can’t boom a 60 yd kick every single time to bail out his buddies who left him high and dry expecting a miracle yet again. Your coverage units don’t have time to get down the field to cover the short kick and if the return man makes the first wave miss he’s got a short sprint to the end zone.
Tomlin has now named the starting lineup for the 2007 Offensive Line, here’s my take as to why. I don’t have any insider information this is just based on reading everything I can about the Steelers and our current crop of lineman available to start; along being a fan for as long as I can remember of the Steelers and the NFL.
Let’s look at the Tackle position for a minute. Marvel Smith is the starting LT, period. He’s as good as it gets at that position and nobody on the team can supplant him at this point. Trai Essex has shown some flashes of brilliance and all indications are that he’s finally starting to put it all together but right now he’s not ready to start yet. Max Starks, the big lovable teddy bear Right Tackle. A 3rd round pick from Florida, this guy has the physical tools to dominate but this year like last year he seems to play with cement in his cleats. At this point Willie Colon has shown the potential on the field that in my opinion justifies his starting spot. Sure there will be growing pains but his size, strength, and decent footwork make him the obvious choice at this point. The Rooney’s were right not to give Max the extension he wanted because let’s face it he’s been inconsistent at best and at Tackle that’s just something you cannot have.
The Guard position is an interesting one. Faneca is the starter for as long as he’s a Steeler, there is no dispute about it if you ask me. The perennial pro bowler is the best in the business, at worst a top 3 Guard in the league. We won’t get into his contract situation because that’s a story in itself but suffice it to say the guy is a staple on our line and as reliable as they come regardless of how he’s handled this off-season. Kendall Simmons is having as good an off-season and camp as any of the lineman and him keeping the RG spot is justified by his experience and the work he’s put in on and off the field this year. He’s been inconsistent ever since he blew out his knee but this year he seems to, at least so far, be ready to get back to living up to his first round pick status. Chris Kemoeatu is somebody I’ve been waiting for to step up and use that nasty attitude and talent to be a starter; perhaps he can make the transition to LG next year assuming Faneca leaves. He has not shown anything other than inconsistency from what we’ve seen in his career so far. Now granted he was not a “Cowher guy” so his chances were limited to showcase his talents but he’s got that chance this year and from what we as fans have been able to tell he’s not stepped up and seized the opportunity presented to him in fighting Simmons for the starting job.
Okobi and Mahan fighting it out at Center has been a competition that I have been very interested in. I mean let’s face it being a Center for the Steelers is a pretty elite position considering your predecessors are named Webster, Dawson, and Hartings. The team has had only those 3 since the 70’s dynasty era. That’s an amazing feat and huge shoes to fill, the problem is that neither one of them seems to like the shoes at this point. Okobi is the incumbent and signed the big extension a couple years ago, seemingly to become the heir apparent and the next great Center. He now has his chance with Hartings calling it career and while he’s done well he’s not stepped up and taken the position like we hoped. Mahan was the only real big Free Agent splash of the Steelers this off-season. He was brought in to compete at Center and by his paycheck amount one would think he was going to take the job and run with it. At this point however he’s been at Guard and Center during camp and has shown the ability to do both relatively well. Mahan is the starting Center at this point according to Mike Tomlin but you can bet if he falters, the coaches won’t hesitate to put in Okobi if things don’t work out.
What does all this say? Well at this point first year Head Coach, Mike Tomlin has been playing musical chairs each week trying to find 5 guys that he can call an offensive line. He’s now named his group with the stipulation that everyone is still being watched so unless your name is Marvel or Alan and you play the offensive line for the Pittsburgh Steelers; you better keep pushing & working hard because nothing in the league is for certain anymore when a new Coach is in town and looking to stamp this team as his own, especially when it comes to the most important position on the team, the Offensive Line.
- Top Gun