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Old 08-01-2009, 11:10 PM   #1
mesaSteeler
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Default Steelers offensive front is taking charge

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pitt...s_636387.html#

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Steelers offensive front is taking charge

By Scott Brown
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ask members of the most maligned Steelers' unit this past season about the criticism they receive, and the answers vary.

One, with a hint of defiance, says he only cares about the opinions expressed in the offensive line's meeting room. Another references a magazine that ranked the Steelers' offensive line No. 12 among the 12 teams that qualified for the playoffs this past season, proving that they aren't oblivious to all slights directed their way.

And yet, a third player shrugs it off as inevitable since the Steelers didn't have many other weaknesses. Critics will find a scab even on a supermodel and pick at it.

If there is a consensus among the players that make up the Steelers' offensive line, it is this: Better days are ahead.

The reasons vary, from an improved comfort level to better cohesion. There is also the fact that four of the five projected starters are in their mid 20s.

"We have the ability to be one of the best offensive lines in the NFL," center Justin Hartwig said. "I truly believe that."


That may seem like a dubious claim considering the offensive line had trouble keeping quarterback Ben Roethlisberger perpendicular to the ground this past season while the running game ranked 23rd in the NFL (under 106 yards per game).

But team management apparently agrees more with Hartwig than those who claim the Steelers won the Super Bowl last season in spite of their offensive line.

The Steelers signed left tackle Max Starks and left guard Chris Kemoeatu to long-term contracts during the offseason.

The 2009 draft brought just one offensive lineman - third-round guard Kraig Urbik.

And that, apparently, was just fine with Roethlisberger.

"I pulled for a lot of those guys to come back because they are a special group," Roethlisberger said of the offensive line.

Added Steelers coach Mike Tomlin: "These guys are coming into their own. They're in the prime of their career. You would anticipate these guys improving individually and collectively."

Brimming with confidence


Talking to Kemoeatu in past years made you wonder if he would rather have a tooth than a quote extracted. So it came as a mild surprise how at ease he seemed to be after wading into a cluster of reporters outside of Rooney Hall on Friday.

"How are you guys doing?" Kemoeatu said after arriving at St. Vincent College. "Are you excited?"

If Kemoeatu seemed more sure of himself, it's because the 6-foot-3, 344-pound road grader started every game this past season after previously serving as Alan Faneca's understudy.

He is not the only offensive lineman who arrived at camp more self-assured than a year ago.

"I've been the center of this offensive line for a year now, and I feel really confident in what I'm doing," said Hartwig, who beat out Sean Mahan for the starting job in training camp a year ago. "I'm going to encourage guys and let them know what we have to improve on and let them know that (mental) errors aren't going to be acceptable."

What also isn't acceptable is the number of times Roethlisberger got sacked this past season 46.

While that total can be attributed in part to Roethlisberger's propensity for holding onto the ball, the offensive line has been assailed for not doing a better job of protecting the Steelers' $100 million quarterback.

Never mind that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, after reviewing game tapes, said less than 20 of Roethlisberger's sacks this past season could be pinned on the offensive line.

Or the fact that the Steelers' blocking schemes are such that the linemen are sometimes outnumbered when opposing defenses rush the quarterback.

"Our pass protections, we are usually responsible for six guys," Hartwig said. "Most teams are responsible for five guys, so that's a little bit extra on us, but we're capable of doing it."


One thing that should help the offensive line is the familiarity the players have with one another.

The Steelers had to break in two new starters last season and then had to "play chess," as Starks put it, after injuries sidelined left tackle Marvel Smith and right guard Kendall Simmons.

The group that emerged after the early season injuries started the Steelers' final 14 games. Not coincidentally, the line played its best at the end of the season.

"The offensive line is a very unique position where you need chemistry," Starks said. "I think having that opportunity to play together for at least three months has really helped us."

In an effort to build cohesion, the linemen get together frequently, whether it's meeting for dinner or going bowling.

For the record, starting right tackle Willie Colon has the least amount of game when the linemen hit the lanes.

"He's all over the place," Hartwig said.

"I'm horrible," Colon agreed. "I'm the guy that buys the beers and sits in the back and cheers."

Line looks to take control

Watching the line last season from afar, former Steeler Faneca offered an assessment that doesn't differ too greatly from Hartwig's musings on Colon's bowling.

The Steelers were inconsistent, he said, which is another way of saying they were all over the place.

"I think, at times, they looked great, and it just seemed like when it went rough, it stayed rough," said Faneca, who signed with the New York Jets following the 2007 season. "Then, all of the sudden, they'd come out a couple of series later and play lights out."

Faneca said he watched the Steelers on TV and did not have the benefit of seeing the line's play from every angle. Ultimately, he said, the line did well enough as evidenced by the Lombardi Trophy the Steelers hoisted at the end of the season.

But Colon, for one, is under no illusion that the line imposed its will on opponents last season.

"When I look back at certain games, we've got to be more efficient at finishing games," Colon said. "When you get inside four minutes of a game, and the offense is on the field, it should be over. (Outside linebacker) James Harrison should be taking off the tape. It should be our job to just put away games."

While critical of the line's play at times in 2008, Colon bristles when others level shots against him and his teammates.

If the fifth-year veteran takes it personally, it's because he spends more time with his fellow linemen than he does his own brothers.

The linemen have forged a bond through shared experiences, which include bearing the brunt of withering criticism.


Such closeness is another reason why Hartwig expects the line to be better this season.

"When you invest in each other, it's not just five individuals showing up and doing a job," he said. "When you care about each other, you want to do well for the guy you're playing next to. I really do believe that correlates. I've been on a few teams where you just feel like in the locker room, it's not a very tight-knit group, and it shows on the field."

Many happy returns?

The Steelers return all five starters along their offensive line this season. While cynics may say that is not necessarily a good thing, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he lobbied for the line to return intact. Here is a look at the players that started on the line last season.

LT Max Starks, 6-foot-8, 337 pounds. A former starter at right tackle, the 27-year-old Starks plugged the hole on the left side created by Marvel Smith's recurring back problems. In June, he signed a four-year deal worth as much as $26.3 million.

LG Chris Kemoeatu, 6-3, 344 pounds. The Jets coveted him but Steelers ponied up to keep Kemoeatu, 26, who plays with a nasty streak and can be a punishing run blocker.

C Justin Hartwig, 6-5, 312 pounds. Under-the-radar free-agent signee started every game last season and stabilized a position that had been a trouble spot in 2007. At 30 years of age, Hartwig is the graybeard of the group.

RG Darnell Stapleton, 6-3, 305 pounds. Converted center started 15 games last season. Stapleton, 23, will have to hold off third-round pick Kraig Urbik and veteran Trai Essex to keep his job.

RT Willie Colon, 6-3, 315 pounds. Has started 38 consecutive games at right tackle. The 26-year-old Colon is tough and gritty and could be poised for a big season.

Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.
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Old 08-02-2009, 06:51 AM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers offensive front is taking charge

I'm glad that the O-line is making it a point to get better this year. I would really like to see our offense return to it's 2007 form. It woud be great to have a 1200 yd rusher and a 32 touchdown QB.
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Old 08-02-2009, 10:02 AM   #3
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Default Re: Steelers offensive front is taking charge

The intentions are all fine on the 1st day of practice as the Super Bowl champs. I was optimistic of them last year........I think we are in for more of the same and it could be an indication of the O line coach.

Naturally I hope they can become a top 10 O line, but ...........I said that last year too.
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Old 08-02-2009, 10:41 AM   #4
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Default Re: Steelers offensive front is taking charge

What fascinated me was the difference in the left to the right side in weight. There is a 20-40 pound weight difference. No wonder it seems most running has to go to the left, or have a guard pull.

I also don't really like Hartwig's weight. Sure wish he could put on 20 pounds or so and keep what quickness he has. That alone may be the problem with him not getting a push, especially with all the 3-4 DT in this league now.
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Old 08-02-2009, 12:38 PM   #5
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Default Re: Steelers offensive front is taking charge

If this offensive line doesnt do a better job of protecting Ben this guy will look like a total idiot.
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Old 08-02-2009, 12:58 PM   #6
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Default Re: Steelers offensive front is taking charge

Quote:
Originally Posted by Preacher View Post
What fascinated me was the difference in the left to the right side in weight. There is a 20-40 pound weight difference. No wonder it seems most running has to go to the left, or have a guard pull. .
According to postgameheroes.com The Steelers ran to the right side 334 times last season and to the left side 160. I guess that weight difference by Starks and Kemo doesnt mean that much.

Running Left End/Outside—-61 carries, 227 yards, 3.7 yards per rush

Running Left Tackle—-44 carries, 166 yards, 3.8 yards per rush

Running Left Guard—-55 carries, 195 yards, 3.5 yards per rush

Up the Middle—-102 carries, 284 yards, 2.8 yards per rush

Running Right Guard—-62 carries, 190 yards, 3.1 yards per rush

Running Right Tackle—-86 carries, 357 yards, 4.2 yards per rush

Running Right End/Outside—-84 carries, 405 yards, 4.8 yards per rush

http://www.postgameheroes.com/?p=6965
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Old 08-02-2009, 04:12 PM   #7
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Default Re: Steelers offensive front is taking charge

Three reasons why the O-line will improve this year:
1. Although this is still a young unit, the O-line has had almost a full year of playing together. The O-line, more than any other unit on the field, needs reps to get comfortable with each other.
2. The schedule gets much easier. Last years was brutal; this year - not so much.
3. Injuries on both the O-line and at running back hurt the running game and put pressure on the passing game. Injuries are part of the game and must be over come. But hopefully they will be fewer in number.
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Old 08-02-2009, 05:07 PM   #8
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Default Re: Steelers offensive front is taking charge

While I do think that they will improve this year, I don't know how much. We do have an easier schedule, and our running backs are all going to be healthy, so that will definitely help. I don't know if we'll see a significant decrease in the number of sacks, but I do believe that our running game will improve noticeably.

The season can't come soon enough.
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Old 08-02-2009, 05:32 PM   #9
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Default Re: Steelers offensive front is taking charge

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Originally Posted by PA/VA Guy View Post
Three reasons why the O-line will improve this year:
1. Although this is still a young unit, the O-line has had almost a full year of playing together. The O-line, more than any other unit on the field, needs reps to get comfortable with each other.
2. The schedule gets much easier. Last years was brutal; this year - not so much.
3. Injuries on both the O-line and at running back hurt the running game and put pressure on the passing game. Injuries are part of the game and must be over come. But hopefully they will be fewer in number.
Sounds good. I'm really loving the fact that the guys are hangin out with each other. Brotherly love is the truth!!!
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Old 08-02-2009, 07:53 PM   #10
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Default Re: Steelers offensive front is taking charge

I hope Urbik can get in there take over ther RG spot.

We have to run the ball better. Its our best way to protect Ben. His career is going to be cut short if he keeps taking that much of a pounding
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