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NKySteeler
07-23-2008, 05:46 PM
Offensive info prior to camp......
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Q. Can the offensive line be molded into a group that becomes a team strength?

Last summer, the primary issue appeared to be finding a replacement for Jeff Hartings, who retired after six seasons as the starting center. Since Hartings had moved to the position after playing his first five NFL seasons at right guard, and since both Dermontti
Dawson and Mike Webster also began their Steelers careers at guard, there was some thought the team might go the same route to fill the spot this time.

Unrestricted free agent Sean Mahan, who came to the team with 28 of his 36 career NFL starts at guard, won the job over Chukky Okobi, but this time the transition wasnít as smooth. Since most NFC teams play 4-3 defenses, the centers in that conference donít have to be as stout as their AFC counterparts, who see many more 340-pound nose
tackles anchoring 3-4 alignments.

Mahan really wasnít a good fit for the job in the first place, and so the team again went looking for a center in the offseason.

The Steelers signed Justin Hartwig, released by Carolina as part of a decision to revamp its offensive line after a disappointing 7-9 season. The Panthers released Hartwig early to give him a chance to hook on with another team, and he will go to Latrobe as the front-runner to be the starting center.

In terms of a front-runner for a starting job, Chris Kemoeatu is that person at the left guard spot held by Alan Faneca for the previous decade. Kemoeatu has the bulk, strength and power to deal with the bigguns in the middle of those AFC defensive lines,
and the team now hopes his understanding of the game has caught up with his physical abilities.

As for the other three starting spots, the assumption is that Marvel Smith will be the left tackle, Kendall Simmons will be the right guard and Willie Colon will be the right tackle.

Q. Does that mean the Steelers really are going to pay Max Starks almost $7 million to be a backup?

That very well could end up being the case. Regardless of what fans or the media might believe about Starks being one of the five best offensive linemen on the roster, the coaches seem happy with Colon at right tackle. Starksí solid play on the left side when Smith was injured last season makes him an attractive candidate as a swing guy, something akin to being the sixth man in basketball.

If Starks collects his money while being nothing but a backup and the offensive line is a solid part of a winning team, this wonít be a disaster. But if Starks is a backup, and the offensive line is one of the problems contributing to a losing season, there will be people held accountable for this whole affair.

Q. Whatís next for Ben Roethlisberger?

This seems to be a legitimate question for a 26-yearold NFL quarterback, but Roethlisberger has defied conventional football logic since the day he replaced Tommy
Maddox and made the starting job his own. He has broken Dan Marinoís rookie records,
become the youngest quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl championship and
rebounded from his only nonstellar season by putting together a Pro Bowl season.

Roethlisberger has nothing to prove, but he can improve.

If Roethlisberger can become more accomplished at the delicate balance between keeping
a play alive with his legs and holding on to the ball too long, it would help the offensive line and spare his body hundreds of hits over the course of a season.

Based on the relative strengths/weaknesses of this team and Roethlisbergerís importance
in any run for the playoffs, his ability to come closer to mastering that could be a key in 2008.

Q. How about a sleeper?

Fans love the idea of a sleeper during training camp, even though the harsh realities
are that these guys rarely sustain the level necessary to crack a roster like the Steelersí.

For every Willie Parker or James Harrison, there are 100 guys who flash early, fizzle and arenít mentioned again until cutdown day. But itís part of the fun of training camp, and so here are a couple of players to watch:

Ben Lentz and Dallas Baker. Lentz is a guard who got an offseason tutorial from Pittsburgh native Jim Sweeney, in his own right an accomplished NFL lineman for over a
decade. Baker was the teamís No. 7 pick in the 2007 NFL draft who could build upon a solid offseason with a rush at a roster spot.

MeetJoeGreene
07-23-2008, 08:26 PM
If Starks collects his money while being nothing but a backup and the offensive line is a solid part of a winning team, this wonít be a disaster. But if Starks is a backup, and the offensive line is one of the problems contributing to a losing season, there will be people held accountable for this whole affair.

That statement there is a very astute point -- with an ominous prophecy at the end.