Some things can only get better – that is true for Pittsburgh’s offensive line. Â Overall, they took a bad situation – losing Alan Faneca to the Jets following the 2007 season and losing both Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons to injuries – and made it better. Â Better meaning, better than it could have been.
This is an offensive line that took a beating last year, including a public lashing from Coach Tomlin, and finally showed a glimpse of “greatness” in the playoffs and the Super Bowl. Â I am using glimpse of “greatness” loosely, mind you.
The question this season, how much stays the same and how much changes?
And by changes, I am referring to changes for the better. Max Starks (LT) and Chris Kemoeatu (LG) continue to hold down Ben’s blind side. Â However, if last year is any indication, they are also a holding call and penalty waiting to happen. Â However, in defense of Starks, it was his first year playing left tackle and he had some heavy duty defenders trying to come through him with their sights set on Ben. Â Kemo is bigger than Faneca and stronger, yet wasn’t able to perform well throughout the season he’s inconsistent and he has a major penalty problem. Granted, last year was his first year as a starter, he should benefit from a year under his belt and hopefully some hard off-season training.
But Kemo was in good company in penalties with Willie Colon (RT) who also had his share of offsides and holding calls. Colon was the only returning starter last year. Â Darnell Stapleton (RG) who jumped in when Kendall Simmons was injured will likely be a mentor to rookie Kraig Urbik in the upcoming years. Â Urbik offers some flexibility, however, as he can play both right tackle and right guard. Â Trai Essex is the wildcard here. Â Essex could back up Stapleton and Urbik could be groomed to take over for Colon, especially if he continues down the penalty path.
Probably the most consistent player on the line was center Justin Hartwig. At 31, he’s the oldest with the most experience, yet his career is far from over. While the entire offensive line struggled last year, if anyone was the rock, he was it.
The line clearly started to gel right about the time of the playoffs. That’s a good thing considering Ben has been sacked approximately 190 times in his career – and that can’t continue. The Steelers have invested far too much money in Ben to see it thrown away with a serious injury. Â The offensive line has to step up, Hartwig needs to continue to lead and the rest need to support the goal of protecting the quarterback and giving him enough time to throw. They have more time together, more experience and expect to see a much improved offensive line with a few new options.
Shout out to rookie AQ Shipley (fellow Penn State alum) who should be learning as much as possible from Hartwig. Â The approach the Steelers took in the draft this year was not unlike other years, building and creating the strength of the future from within. Â There are more than a few fans happy to see the draft also effect the offensive line.
Now, if we can just figure out what Arians plans to do with more and better protection…but that’s another post altogether.