Does the Steelers' O-Line Have It?

Jan BankoContributor IApril 30, 2008

We’ve heard it again and again. Steeler nation – or at least the media that reports on what Steeler nation is thinking – is concerned that the Steelers o-line won’t be up to its task of protecting our titanium QB during 2008. The thing is, Ben doesn’t seem to be concerned about the line. How many times have we heard Roethlisberger say “I was proud of my offensive line” during the ‘07 season? Minimum once a game. We got a little tired of it.

But the fact is, if Ben were unhappy about the line a hint of it would have leaked to the media, and we would be hearing about it. We would be hearing quotes from every member of the o-line about what a jerk Ben is, and just generally getting bombarded with “Ben hates his o-line” news.
That has not happened. So lets take a look at this line, shall we? Try to see it from the point of view of the Steelers, and the quarterback it protects. At least to the extent that we can from our armchairs and computer desks.

This is as likely a lineup for the Steelers 2008 offensive line as any.
Justin Hartwig
Marvel Smith
Kendall Simmons
Max Starks
Chris Kemoeatu

Justin Hartwig is the unknown factor, at least as far as Steeler fans are concerned. Because we haven’t watched him play yet. He started all but one regular season game for the Panthers last year, and is considered to be worth a look at center for the Steelers. You gotta believe the Steelers won’t mess up a free agency center signing two years in a row.

Marvel Smith is solid, and if he’s our left tackle there won’t be too much to worry about except the specter of injury, and all reports say he’s fine after back surgery. Marvel has been solid on the Steelers o-line for years. Why would we think 2008 will be any different?

OK, so far no problem. Next up…

Kendall Simmons. OK, who is worried about Simmons? The Steelers signed him for 24 million. OK…ummm, lets see. He had a couple of minor injury issues in 2007. But this is a quality guard who can anchor the offensive line the way Faneca did when he was at the top of his game.

I know it may be blasphemous to suggest that Alan might in any way have been part of the problem with the o-line last year. Ben has incredible respect for him, and so did the entire team. But when the most important cog in the wheel knows he’s leaving when the ride comes to a stop…and everyone around him knows he’s leaving…there’s gonna be a bit of a letdown. Anyone who has ever worked with someone who knew they were about to leave their job knows this is true. We love you Alan – good luck with the Jets. Time to move on.

Ok, let’s talk about Max Starks for a minute. He was good enough to start in 2006, good enough to help them win a superbowl, good enough to get a six million dollar contract as a franchise player. He’s got something to prove, and he’ll be good enough to play on the Steelers o-line in ’08.

And Chris Komoeatu probably gets his chance this year. Coach Tomlin has hinted that he is excited about this guy. Says he was ready to play at the beginning of ’07 and almost got in there. If he doesn’t work out they can move Mahan over, give Willie Colon a shot at it, or maybe even let Trai Essex slide in. They’ve all started a game or two. They’ve all got NFL experience.

So why are we worried about an o-line that is chock full of obviously capable players?

We’re worried because the quarterback who can take this team to the next level -- the quarterback who is the best we've had since Terry Bradshaw and will, if he stays healthy, be even better than our beloved Bradshaw -- we're worried because that QB was sacked way too often in 2007, and even when he wasn't sacked, he seemed to be running for his life more often than not.

Dare I say it? Maybe that's just the kind of quarterback Ben is. He holds the ball a little too long because he believes he can make the big play. He does better when he's rolling out of the pocket, eyes down field, throwing on the run. Maybe -- and I shudder to think -- maybe living on the edge makes him better. What if he needs a little bit of pressure to be truly great. And if we try to take away what makes the man great, we'll end up with something we didn't want. Just a thought -- better protect him with bubble wrap so he doesn't get injured.

But back to the o-line.

Sure, the O-line has to give up less sacks in ’08. I believe they will. They know they have to work hard in training camp, come together as a unit, keep Ben off his back, prove to all of us that we were just flat out wrong when we said the Steelers needed new players at offensive line. A unit like the o-line is the sum of its parts. I think the key is for Tomlin to decide early in training camp who is going to start, and then stick with the plan. Let them get to know each other well enough to be cohesive.

It doesn’t seem like Ben Roethlisberger has much doubt that they’ll do it.

Now, why don’t we move on to something else, like a major discussion on whether or not Tyrone Carter and Anthony Smith can make actual tackles in the open field.