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Old 08-31-2005, 12:46 AM   #1
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Thumbs up Cowher says OL is solid...

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt were quick to praise the work of the offensive line in the wake of the Steelers' 17-10 preseason loss at Washington.

On Tuesday afternoon it was coach Bill Cowher's turn to voice his approval of the unit.

"They've been pretty solid," Cowher said at his news conference in advance of Thursday night's preseason finale at Carolina. "I've been very pleased with that."

All-Pro guard Alan Faneca appreciated the kind words, but maintains the line is capable of attaining an even higher level of play.

"We've got some adjustments to make, some smaller things," Faneca said. "It's nothing major, but the small things kind of add up when you play 80 plays in an in-season game where we're playing the whole game.

"If we tighten up a few things here and there, the plays will run a little smoother. Instead of 3 yards, we'll get 5 yards, and so on."

The Steelers have averaged 3.5 yards per rush on 84 attempts through three preseason games.

Running back Willie Parker has been the most effective of the Steelers' nine ball-carriers, averaging an almost absurd 10.2 yards on 11 carries.

Quarterbacks Roethlisberger, Tommy Maddox, Charlie Batch and Brian St. Pierre have been sacked a combined four times (Batch three times and St. Pierre once).

"Protection-wise, blocking-wise we've missed a couple of assignments here and there," Cowher said. "We haven't truly game-planned from that perspective, so some looks have come up that we've had to work through.

"I think part of the (value of the) preseason is the ability to adjust on the sideline, the ability to adjust to something you haven't prepared for, because that's going to happen during the season."

One of the challenges the Steelers faced heading into training camp was re-acquainting Kendall Simmons with the starting right guard position (he missed 2004 with a knee injury) and incorporating Max Starks as the starting right tackle in place of Oliver Ross (a free-agent defection to Arizona).

That challenge has been met, almost.

"Still working on some things," Simmons said. "We're not where we need to be at by any means. We're still trying to get better each game.

"The more reps we get in game-time situations, the better we'll get, because that's when you see the real stuff."

With Parker the best bet to start the regular-season opener at running back in the wake of injuries sustained by Duce Staley (knee) and Jerome Bettis (knee), the offensive line is destined to remain under the microscope beyond the conclusion of the preseason.

"Definitely, it's sitting on our shoulders," Faneca said. "You just can't turn around and hand the ball off the Duce or Jerome or Willie or Verron (Haynes) and just say 'go at it.' We have to go out there and do our job and give them a hole and give them something to work with."
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