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Old 04-30-2008, 03:16 AM   #1
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Default Bigger problem with lines may not turn up until '09

After the draft: Bigger problem with lines may not turn up until '09
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


As accolades for the Steelers' draft over the weekend roll in, one nagging question remained, the kind an old woman on an old television ad might ask:

"Where's the beef?"

On Jan. 10, coach Mike Tomlin talked about a need to improve his offensive and defensive lines.

"We need to strengthen ourselves in our lines, of course," he said. "If I could identify anything at this point, I would say we need young, big people."

Later in that news conference, Tomlin added:

"I talked about offensive and defensive lines earlier in terms of our focus. Because you always need big, strong men in the interior on the rise. We're older in those positions. We are. That will be our intentions, along with all areas, of course. But in terms of having the personality that we want to have, there is no secret that we want to run the football and run it big time. We want to smash the run so it starts inside and up front."

Instead of strictly trying to plug needs, the Steelers took the course -- the correct one, most in the organization believe -- that they would draft the players they had rated highest on their board when it was their turn.

That philosophy yielded such gems as tailback Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois in the first round and Texas wide receiver Limas Sweed on the second, two players they had rated much higher than the 23rd and 53rd picks. They also filled needs by drafting them and others, such as outside linebacker Bruce Davis in the third round.

But of their seven selections, they drafted only one lineman, an offensive tackle in the fourth round, 6-foot-4, 304-pound Tony Hills of Texas, and no defensive lineman.

As Kevin Colbert, the director of football operations, said: "You just can't get everybody. It is impossible in any one year to address the entire team. There's going to be positions you don't draft."

The Steelers signed two undersized defensive tackles as rookie free agents Monday, but as Tomlin said, "Those are tough animals to sign after the draft."

So, where does that leave their two lines?

They still have a strong starting line for a 3-4 defense with ends Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel and nose tackle Casey Hampton. But those three and their top three backups all will range between 30 and 34 years old by September, including ends Travis Kirschke and Nick Eason and nose tackle Chris Hoke. Kirschke and Eason re-signed after their contracts expired this year.

"It's one of the reasons we were happy to sign Travis and Nick prior to the draft," Tomlin said, "so we wouldn't put ourselves into a position where we felt like we needed to reach."

The Steelers will monitor other teams' cuts through training camp to see if anyone might be worth adding to the defensive line. They had hoped to get a younger player to work in, particularly at end. They also have Ryan McBean, a fourth-round pick last season, on their roster at end, but he's still using crutches, the result of a stress fracture in his foot in the offseason.

The Steelers did add two players to the offensive line in Hills and veteran free-agent center Justin Hartwig, but it also lost seven-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca. Hartwig will challenge Sean Mahan at center, and Chris Kemoeatu will replace Faneca. Marvel Smith should be healthier next season after back surgery. Kendall Simmons returns at right guard.

It also appears that Willie Colon will stay at right tackle, where he knocked Max Starks out of his two-year job as a starter last summer. The Steelers thought so much of Starks that they signed him to a guaranteed, one-year $6.9 million contract, fueling speculation he will get his old job back.

"Right now, Willie is the right tackle," line coach Larry Zierlein declared. "Max will get an opportunity to compete."

Zierlein saved his highest praise for Kemoeatu, a 6-3, 344-pounder drafted in the sixth round in 2005 who nearly bumped Simmons from right guard last summer.

"I'll tell you what, I have a lot of confidence in that guy," Zierlein said. "Aside from the physical thing, he's a big kid. He was ready to play last year. He was ready, and Kendall kind of won the thing, but it was close. When we came out of training camp, preseason games, the grades were close.

"But this kid is ready to play. The thing that I told him the other day, 'It's obvious to me, when you see blitzes, you understand it all. Just become a little more verbal.' "

Zierlein changed some blocking techniques for the line in his first season as coach in 2007. It was a season in which Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 47 times, second most for a quarterback in Steelers history. Having experienced a year of those changes should make the line better for it in 2008, he said.

The problem facing the Steelers might not be immediate, but in '09 as the defensive line continues to age much of the offensive line could disappear. Smith, Starks, veteran backup tackle Trai Essex and Kemoeatu all have contracts that expire after '08.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08121/877688-66.stm
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Old 04-30-2008, 03:44 AM   #2
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Default Re: Bigger problem with lines may not turn up until '09

I just don't understand how hartwig will have to battle mahan for the center position it should be hartwigs job without a battle.
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Old 04-30-2008, 06:38 AM   #3
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Default Re: Bigger problem with lines may not turn up until '09

if mahan is the center again.. i hope that ben spends his new 102 million on lots of pain killers and a great medical staff, b/c he will be needing both.
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Old 04-30-2008, 07:25 AM   #4
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Default Re: Bigger problem with lines may not turn up until '09

2009 draft will need to address DE, OT and C (unless legursky is a hidden gem) to find starters for 2010. I also think a CB will also need to be taken.

The more I look at the current roster the more I see the potential for a rarity in Steelers football, trading a player for a solid draft pick. We cant keep loading up in certain positions ( RB, possibly WR?? and maybe guard) and hope to keep them all happy with playing times and dollars.

I know the steelers rarely do it but it may become a necessity to get some value for the talent that they have developed. A good year from Gary Russell, Nate Washington and maybe Batch or Foote could attract interest. Plus a compensation pick from Faneca, it would be nice to have extra picks in round 3 or 4 to address the needs.

As you can see I am having trouble winding down from draft mode.
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Old 04-30-2008, 07:33 AM   #5
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Default Re: Bigger problem with lines may not turn up until '09

By not wanting to make any potential reaches in the draft at OL or DL this year the Steelers apparently have guaranteed that reaches will need to be done in 2009 unless quality linemen fall into the Steelers lap.

Assuming the Steelers do not win the SB, the murderous schedule at least should result in a better position in the draft - even if the team is better the record presumably will not be.
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Old 04-30-2008, 07:40 AM   #6
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Default Re: Bigger problem with lines may not turn up until '09

This is what I have been saying all along. The problem is not with our O line this season, but what happens next season when possibly 3 starters in Smith, Starks, Kemo become free agents.

On the bright side, I just saw a mock draft for 09 on CNNSI and they dont even have a center projected in the 1st round, which could suggest that Cal center Alex Mack would be available if needed.
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Old 04-30-2008, 08:03 AM   #7
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Default Re: Bigger problem with lines may not turn up until '09

Quote:
Originally Posted by galax steeler View Post
I just don't understand how hartwig will have to battle mahan for the center position it should be hartwigs job without a battle.
because nothing in life is free

don't worry, hartwig will get it, as long as he's healthy he can be average a least, and mahan wasn't even average
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Old 04-30-2008, 08:35 AM   #8
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Default Re: Bigger problem with lines may not turn up until '09

i wonder how simmons feels hearing he almost lost his job. good thing that wont be the case this year.

him, starks, and mahan on the bench is a huge chunk of cap going to waste.
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Old 04-30-2008, 08:45 AM   #9
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Default Re: Bigger problem with lines may not turn up until '09

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Originally Posted by tony hipchest View Post
i wonder how simmons feels hearing he almost lost his job. good thing that wont be the case this year.

him, starks, and mahan on the bench is a huge chunk of cap going to waste.
we can always get one of them to fill in as steeley???
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Old 04-30-2008, 09:25 AM   #10
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Default Re: Bigger problem with lines may not turn up until '09

it can get worse???!!!



but hey, they drafted another RB with a #1 pick and got some more LBs...great job guys!
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