After the draft and much of free-agency, we now have a very good idea of what the Steelers' offensive line will look like in 2009. And it will be close to exactly how it looked in 2008.
The good news: That line was good enough to win the Super Bowl.
The bad news: That line was the clear Achilles heel of the team.
The team won their sixth Lombardi Trophy in spite of their offensive line rather than because of it. Not many quarterbacks could have had success playing behind that line last year, let alone survived.
I was surprised that the Steelers were able to keep their starting offensive line together. It seemed like an unlikely scenario heading into the offseason—considering how many of them were free agents.
I figured Chris Kemoeatu was surely gone and Max Starks would likely be switching teams. They've secured both of those players with Kemoeatu likely taking slightly less to return to the Steelers than he could have secured somewhere else.
I wasn't a big fan of placing the franchise tag on Starks, but it certainly buys the team some time to develop some other options. Willie Colon will also return.
Gone are former stalwarts Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons. Both of these moves made sense due to injury and health problems. It is highly doubtful that either player will return to anywhere close to their top form.
Added to the line is Wisconsin mauler Kraig Urbik, selected in the third round. Urbik should push Darnell Stapleton and, perhaps, Justin Hartwig, during training camp. I would not be surprised if he earns a starting job by the end of the season.
He will also serve to provide essential depth across the interior offensive line. Tony Hills, a fourth-round draft pick from last season, may also enter the discussion in terms of providing depth.
Behind that, the team remains somewhat thin across the line. Considering how often I was frustrated by the O-line this past season, I'm a little surprised to be somewhat relieved that last year's group is coming back together.
The O-line at the beginning of last year bordered on terrible. Their performance in the Eagles game was easily the worst I've ever seen out of a Steelers' line. The miracle in that game is that Ben kept getting behind center and snapping the ball without demanding additional hazard pay.
But, the oft-vilified line clearly improved by the end of the season. They weren't a great offensive line—they still didn't get enough surge in the run game, were prone to too many mistakes, and allowed speed rushers to beat them.
But, they were far better by the end of the season than in the season's first half. They played three solid games in the playoffs, including holding up against one of the league's premier pass rushing teams in the Ravens.
It is likely that this group will continue to improve next year while becoming more in-sync with one another. Darnell Stapleton played admirably in his first year starting and will likely continue to improve, as will the other players on the line.
Good offensive lines don't just spontaneously come into existence. They take time to develop. More so than other positions, playing together as a unit has a big impact on their overall development.
That should continue to be the case with this group.
If the Steelers fall short this year, the offensive line will likely be the culprit. But, with the unit showing steady improvement last year, they have shown they are good enough to win a Super Bowl together.