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fordfixer
09-28-2008, 01:30 AM
Steelers offensive line still work in progress

By John Harris
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, September 28, 2008
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 90520.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/s_590520.html)

Most NFL coaches are good people, bad liars.

Based on his unit's resounding success in a 15-6 win over the Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said that, upon further review, he should have called more blitzes a week earlier in a 41-37 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

"Yeah, I do. I wish I would have done a little bit more,'' Johnson lamented.

Johnson was being overly kind to the Steelers. Perhaps a big reason why Johnson didn't order more blitzes against Dallas is because the Cowboys offensive line was better equipped to handle the pressure than were the Steelers' blockers.

The Cowboys offensive line is polished, adept at blocking for the run or the pass, and it is unquestionably one of the top units in the NFL.

The Steelers offensive line is good supporting the run, but so far, it has been less than stellar protecting the passer. In fact, to attempt to call the Steelers' line play against Philadelphia anything other than a mess would be a bald-faced lie. It is a unit that has been slow to adapt to second-year offensive line coach Larry Zierlein's subtle alterations.

In fact, it's probably safe to say that this is an offensive line that was built in the image of former coach Bill Cowher, who favored a power running game.

Under coach Mike Tomlin, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is attempting to implement more versatility with multiple formations featuring three- and four-receiver sets and less power running.

The Steelers offensive line is still adjusting under Zierlein, and it showed in a bad way against the Eagles, who recorded nine sacks. Next year, the adjustment will continue as the team is likely to bring in new starters.

With Marvel Smith, Chris Kemoeatu and Willie Colon and backups Max Starks and Trai Essex all scheduled to be free agents after this season, the Steelers offensive line could have a totally different look in 2009.

"Mostly the difference is the terminology. We did zone blocking in the past too,'' said Smith, who has been the starting left tackle since 2000. "The offense was basically based on getting the guards pulling and getting out in space and making blocks. It's a lot of things the same, but we added a few things here and there last year to make the offense a little bit more explosive. Combination blocks with the guard or the tight end, we still do the same techniques, we just call them something different now.''

At 6-feet-5, 321 pounds, Smith's height and long reach make him an anomaly among other Steelers starting offensive lineman who are constructed more along the lines of fire plugs.

Right tackle Willie Colon (6-3, 335), right guard Kendall Simmons (6-3, 315) and left guard Chris Kemoeatu (6-3, 344) all have similar builds.

Backup tackle Max Starks (6-8, 345) is the Steelers tallest lineman. Rookie tackle Tony Hills (6-5, 304) is built more like Smith and Starks. So is starting center Justin Hartwig (6-4, 312), a newcomer this season.

"Our main pass protection, I (didn't) really run that before I got here. It's just something new, different guys on the pass protection,'' said Hartwig, who started 63 games with Carolina and Tennessee. "Depending upon the play, it could be any combination of guys that are blocking, and everybody has a responsibility.''

Job 1 confronting the Steelers offensive line entering Monday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field is patching the numerous holes in pass protection. Next season, the learning process could begin anew with a whole new group of players.

John Harris is a sports writer for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.