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NKySteeler
09-06-2008, 10:14 PM
Offensive line holds the key

Former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, who is now a part of NBCís ďFootball Night in AmericaĒ studio team, will be providing a regular column for Steelers Digest throughout the 2008 season.

There should be high expectations for the Steelers this year, based on the simple fact they played well enough last season to win the AFC North Division. And when you evaluate the team and see there also is room for improvement, that can help raise the expectations as well. Therefore, there should be high expectations going forward.

If this Steelers team is going to meet those expectations, the main key is going to be the play of the offensive line, and itís a direct relationship: If the offensive line performs
up to par, then the Steelers will be a really good football team.

When you look at the offensive line and the defensive line, that is where every teamís season is dictated. Itís going to help the team a lot having two feature backs in Willie
Parker and Rashard Mendenhall. It was a smart decision to draft Mendenhall because the Steelers offense is fully dictated around the running game.

It was most evident last season after Parker broke his leg against the Rams in St. Louis on Dec. 20. Without Parker, the running attack became a complementary component,
instead of being a primary weapon the opposing defense had to build a game plan to stop. That hurt the Steelers at the end of the regular season, and in the playoffs.

Itís definitely easy to understand the thinking behind having two feature backs who are both potential starters. If the No. 1 guy goes down, an offense has to be able to bring in
a player whose talent level and abilities are similar to what was lost.

It used to be that NFL teams had a feature back, and then a No. 2 running back who was pretty good but obviously a No. 2.

The Steelers always had a No. 2 running back who was pretty good in his own right, guys like Richard Huntley and Amos Zereoue ó players who possibly could start on
another team. In theory, they were part of a 1-2 punch, but now the two parts are much closer in ability and thatís the case all around the league.

Ben Roethlisberger has really turned the corner in the maturation process, and that is going to help the team as well. Last year was a big year for him, an opportunity to
stamp ownership on that football team. When you have so many leaders in the locker room, itís hard for a quarterback if he is a young guy, like Ben was in his first couple
of seasons as a starter, to have ownership.

Last year was a defining moment for him, because now itís his football team and that is crystal clear. Having Mike Tomlin in his second season is definitely an asset for this team, because now there will be very little that will be new. Players know what the coach expects from you, how he is going to react and respond. From that standpoint, players have a good idea and thatís also a positive.

The Steelers are going to need everything possible working for them because they do have a tough schedule. As a football team you want a couple of weeks where you
donít have to have your ďA gameĒ in order to win. Unfortunately, this season the Steelers donít have many of those games.

They have to play their ďA gameĒ every week, and thatís hard to do, because of injuries and the possibility of other guys playing while theyíre banged up. Thatís going to be an especially difficult aspect of the 2008 season for the Steelers.

The Steelers will really need to start off the season strong with that schedule. For the most part, players have an idea of what kind of season itís going to be based on how it
starts out. Mind you, that isnít a full indicator, it wasnít going to tell if the team was going to be championship-caliber or win the Super Bowl, but it revealed if it was going
to be a good year or a bad year.

And regarding Super Bowl XLIII, while I donít have a prediction, Iím not confident the Steelers will be able to get there because right now there are too many questions.

The offensive line: Can it be successful?

Will the defense be able to get to the quarterback without having to sell out and put players in bad positions? The Steelers will be playing with some unproven guys, and the whole team is still somewhat in the middle of a philosophical change with Mike Tomlin beginning his second season as the coach.

There is no question, I would like to be proven wrong. I would love for that to happen. I donít point out these questions because I donít want the Steelers to get to the Super Bowl, but these are questions a lot of people have about this football team at this point in its development.

With the season ready to start, I do get asked if I miss the game more now than before, and actually I miss it less. Each year it is less, because youíre more removed from the game, you donít know as many players as you used to. It becomes easier to be away from playing football the longer you are away from playing football.

SanAntonioSteelerFan
09-06-2008, 10:53 PM
Thank you Jerome (and NKy ) !