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Old 08-24-2006, 11:07 PM   #1
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Default Cook: Smith huge at left tackle

Cook: Smith huge at left tackle
Friday, August 25, 2006

By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The question seems to come up at least once a week this time of year. Usually, it's prompted by that second or third beer at the corner tavern. This time, it's about Hines Ward's worrisome hamstring injury, which has left this city in a collective sports funk it hasn't known since who knows when.

OK, since June 12.

Who is the most indispensable Steelers player?

Other than Big Ben, of course.

It's awfully hard to overlook Ward, who will miss the exhibition game in Philadelphia tonight and, at this point, has to be considered questionable for the regular-season opener Sept. 7 against Miami. He was the team's co-MVP last season and the Super Bowl MVP. He is the face of the Steelers, now more than ever, with Jerome Bettis having moved to the broadcast booth to torture Bill Cowher, among others.

But there are a lot of other terrific players besides Ward. There's left guard Alan Faneca, who probably plays his position better than anyone else on the team plays his. There's nose tackle Casey Hampton, the other co-MVP last season and the defense's immovable anchor. There's linebacker Joey Porter, who brings energy and passion to the team that's nearly as important as his 101/2 sacks from a year ago. There's strong safety Troy Polamalu, whose versatility allows the defense to play tricks on opposing offenses that almost seem unfair.

And the vote here goes to ...

Left tackle Marvel Smith.


You seldom read Smith's name on these pages. You hardly ever see him doing a television interview. One reason is Smith doesn't have a lot of extra time to stand around and chat. He's almost always the last player to leave the practice field. "An unbelievable work ethic. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone on the team who works harder," teammate Jeff Hartings said. A bigger reason is Smith is -- how do we put this politely? -- rather dull. Likeable and agreeable enough, he just happens to give lousy sound bites.

"He tends to get overlooked because of his personality, which is a real shame," Hartings said. "You have to understand Marvel. He's a one-on-one guy."

There's nothing wrong with that. Smith's demeanor is admirable, actually. In our self-serving, look-at-me sports world, he lets his performance speak for him.

How '70s is that?

And Smith's performance talks some game.

Start with the fact he plays the most important position on the most important unit on the team. At left tackle, he's responsible for Ben Roethlisberger's backside. That's an enormous responsibility, but there's more to it. Game in and game out, a left tackle faces the opponent's best pass rusher.

"I can't say I pay a lot of attention to what he's doing because I'm worried about what I'm doing," said Hartings, a Pro Bowl center. "But I can't help but always notice that he's not being corrected by coach [Russ] Grimm either in practice or when we review the game tapes."

Said offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt: "You never have to say anything to Marvel. He just does his job. I can't think of a greater compliment to pay any professional than to say, 'He does his job.' "

When all this was mentioned to Smith, he gave an aw-shucks shrug and said, "I'm just one part of a five-man unit. I have a hard time believing any one player makes that much of a difference."


You expected him to scream, "You're right, I'm the greatest!"?

Not that guy.

Again, the facts do a nice job speaking for him.

In 2003, Smith started just six games and was largely ineffective because of a neck injury. The Steelers finished 6-10.

"I'm guessing he probably would have meant four or five more wins for us that year," Hartings said.

In 2004, Smith played virtually every snap and made the Pro Bowl. The Steelers went 15-1 and advanced to the AFC championship game.

Last season, Smith missed the second Baltimore game Nov. 20 because of an ankle problem. The Steelers lost, albeit with Tommy Maddox at quarterback. Smith tried to play on one leg the next week at Indianapolis but was destroyed by defensive end Dwight Freeney and had to leave in the second quarter. The Steelers lost.

Smith missed the next three games, the first of which the Steelers lost. He returned for the second Cleveland game Dec. 24 and finished strong. So did the Steelers. They never lost again.

That might not make Smith indispensable, but it comes pretty close.

Of course, the Steelers need Roethlisberger, Ward and the others to stay healthy to have a chance to win it all again.

But they also need Smith.

More than most people outside of Steelers headquarters know.

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Old 08-25-2006, 02:24 AM   #2
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Default Re: Cook: Smith huge at left tackle


It's like looking up and seeing Darth Vader for the first time.

Marvel Smith and Casey Hampton. Troy and Ben. Hines. Willie. Heath.

Truly a team sport.
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Old 08-25-2006, 04:26 AM   #3
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Default Re: Cook: Smith huge at left tackle

interesting read and the pattern ( how true or not of our winning percentage when he is in there ) is a very intrigueing stat !!
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Old 08-25-2006, 01:44 PM   #4
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Default Re: Cook: Smith huge at left tackle

Marvel Smith is a beast. He has always been a solid part on our line. Good read.
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