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Old 09-04-2009, 12:07 AM   #1
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Default Harris: Depth at left tackle a concern (+roster prediction)

Harris: Depth at left tackle a concern
By John Harris
Friday, September 4, 2009

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - When left tackle Marvel Smith was lost to a back injury early during the 2008 season, Max Starks did a commendable job replacing him.

As a reward, Starks became a fixture at left tackle and sealed the deal when he signed a four-year, $26.3 million contract.

Let's play devil's advocate for a second. If Starks goes down with an injury this season, his reserve will be ... Tony Hills!?!?

Hills hasn't played a second in a NFL regular-season game. He's a fourth-round draft pick from a year ago who suffered a broken leg late in his senior season at Texas.

It goes without saying that Starks was a safer bet as the backup left tackle last season than Hills would be this year. Being deep at left tackle was vital as the Steelers staved off key injuries on the offensive line and won Super Bowl XLIII.

The left tackle is considered the Steelers' most important offensive lineman because he protects $102 million quarterback Ben Roethisberger's blind side.

Fast forward to the 2009 season in general, and Thursday night's preseason finale between the Steelers and Carolina Panthers in particular.

The coaching staff gave Hills all the work he could handle at left tackle against Carolina. If he becomes the team's backup left tackle, he has to be ready to perform at a high level at a moment's notice.

Jeremy Parquet, a lesser-known player but one who appeared in three games on the offensive line for the Steelers last season, lined up at backup right tackle last night. He has also played some left tackle during the preseason. While Parquet doesn't have Hills' draft status - he was Kansas City's seventh-round pick in 2005 - he does possess actual game experience.

No matter what you may think of Parquet's chances of making the 53-man roster, he's more NFL-ready than Hills right now.

Of course, the Steelers could keep Hills on the sideline while shifting versatile Trai Essex from right guard to left tackle in an emergency. That's what happened two years ago when Essex filled in for Starks and Smith and started against Jacksonville in the AFC wild card game. Equally versatile Doug Legursky could then fill in for Essex at right guard.

Who the Steelers' backup left tackle will be was just one of several interesting subplots last night.

One position at which there should be no mystery is return specialist, where 5-foot-6 Stefan Logan cemented a roster spot - if he hadn't already done so prior to kickoff - with an electrifying 80-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first two minutes of the game.

Here's one man's look at who should be on the Steelers' 53-man roster at positions where the competition is keenest.

Running back: Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, Carey Davis, Justin Vincent. Isaac Redman made a strong bid last night, breaking four tackles during a 10-yard touchdown run.

Offensive line: Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig, Willie Colon, Essex, Legursky, Kraig Urbik, Parquet. In the final analysis, Parquet has more experience than Hills.

Defensive line: Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Chris Hoke, Travis Kirschke, Nick Eason, Ziggy Hood.

Linebackers: James Harrison, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Keyaron Fox, Andre Frazier, Donovan Woods, Bruce Davis. Flip a coin between Davis and Patrick Bailey.

Cornerbacks: Ike Taylor, William Gay, Deshea Townsend, Keiwan Ratliff, Anthony Madison, Keenan Lewis. A third-round pick, Lewis receives the benefit of the doubt over fellow rookie Joe Burnett.

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.
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Old 09-04-2009, 12:17 AM   #2
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Default Re: Harris: Depth at left tackle a concern (+roster prediction)

What a joke.

Harris has 8 O linemen staying and 6 RB's. That and Tony Hills has played rather well in the preseason.

If he thinks Bruce Davis makes the roster and Tony Hills gets cut, then he must have a big hate on for Hills, because he has shown much more than Davis.
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