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fordfixer
10-10-2008, 12:58 AM
Stapleton steps in nicely for Simmons
By John Grupp
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, October 10, 2008
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 92575.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_592575.html)


By any standard, Steelers right guard Darnell Stapleton is undersized for an NFL offensive linemen.

Even coach Mike Tomlin called him "short" after his first pro start.

But the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Stapleton is tall enough to see where he stands.

"I'm not as heavy as most guards, and I may not be 6-6 or 6-5," Stapleton said, "but I think I'm smart enough to play the position, and I've got the will and the heart."

Stapleton, 23, has emerged from nominal obscurity as an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers to become a starting right guard for the first-place Steelers.

"He's pretty athletic, and he's physical," starting left guard Chris Kemoeatu said. "He's a smart guy, and he stepped up and did a good job."

Stapleton, who made his first NFL start in the nationally televised, 26-21 victory last Sunday at Jacksonville, is expected to be in the lineup in place of injured Kendall Simmons when the Steelers play host to the Bengals on Oct. 19.

"This is no big surprise," said Steelers offensive line coach Larry Zierlein, who first spotted Stapleton on a video of the Texas Bowl college all-star game. "We have known this kid can play."

Said Tomlin: "Darnell is not small; he's short. He played with great leverage. He had an opportunity, and he delivered."

As for Stapleton's stature, he's smaller than most of the 64 first-string offensive guards in the league.

A handful of them are shorter than Stapleton, and a half-dozen or so don't weigh as much. But no starting guard in the NFL is shorter than Stapleton without pushing the scales to at least 305 pounds.

"I know a lot of people were worried about me starting last week," he said. "I really don't care what the outside world thinks. I'm just trying to do my job for my teammates. They are the people who are relying on me."

Stapleton, a Union, N.J., native, has overcome tough odds all his life:

He made the Steelers' roster last year despite being sidelined for much of training camp due to knee surgery, while his former Rutgers teammate, 2007 fifth-rounder Cameron Stephenson, was cut.

He made the team again this year despite not dressing for any regular-season games as a rookie.

He moved up the depth chart this season, and when Simmons suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the second quarter against the Ravens in Week 4, Stapleton -- not fourth-year veteran Trai Essex -- was summoned.

Through it all, Stapleton never wavered against Jacksonville.

"I felt like if I let myself get wound up and nervous, I would have gone out there and (played poorly)," he said. "I felt like I had to go in there calm, cool and collected. I didn't want my teammates to have to worry, 'Is Darnell shaky? Is he nervous?' "

While it's not all Stapleton's doing, the Steelers line has played better since his arrival. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 15 times in 14 quarters to open the season but only three times in the past six quarters.

"Everybody said I did pretty good," Stapleton said. "But it's only one game, and we've got a long season ahead of us."

John Grupp can be reached at jgrupp@tribweb.com or 412-320-7930.

SteelTorch
10-10-2008, 02:26 AM
Should we be worried/angry that so far an undersized, rookie guard is performing better than a full-sized, seasoned vet?

Discipline of Steel
10-10-2008, 08:21 AM
I dont think we should be worried at all. In fact I am happy that KSimm is out for the year after signing a new contract recently. Thank goodness our two weakest links from last year's OL have been replaced with more capable men. Hopefully we have seen the last of Simmons.

Oviedo
10-10-2008, 08:39 AM
Willie Colon is still the right answer for that position. You have to worry as the season wears on whether Stapleton can maintain his weight. That was just one of Mahan's problem last year--he lost weight as the season went on.

MeetJoeGreene
10-10-2008, 10:15 AM
Willie Colon is still the right answer for that position. You have to worry as the season wears on whether Stapleton can maintain his weight. That was just one of Mahan's problem last year--he lost weight as the season went on.

Regardless of keeping his weight, I wonder if he can hold up over the rest of the season from the pounding he will take.

frankthetank1
10-10-2008, 10:55 AM
I dont think we should be worried at all. In fact I am happy that KSimm is out for the year after signing a new contract recently. Thank goodness our two weakest links from last year's OL have been replaced with more capable men. Hopefully we have seen the last of Simmons.

i agree. simmons brings nothing to the table

phillyesq
10-10-2008, 12:37 PM
I liked what I saw of Stapelton against the Jags. It will be interesting to watch his progress as the season wears on. If he plays well and doesn't wear down, then I think he makes himself a viable contender to start at either G or C next season. If he wears down, then he'll prove himself just a backup capable of playing all three interior positions, which still has value.

The Simmons injury could be a blessing in disguise. It allows the Steelers to evaluate one of the many question marks on their o-line, and gives them more information to take into the offseason decision making process.