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View Full Version : How a bunch of 'Garbage Men' saved Big Ben



JAR
01-14-2009, 04:14 PM
PITTSBURGH - To understand how far the Steelers' offensive line has come entering Sunday's AFC championship game against Baltimore, let's revisit its postgame celebration after an overtime victory against the Ravens in late September.

There was none.

Pittsburgh's running game could only muster 69 yards with a 2.5-yard average. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked three times and repeatedly hammered by Ravens defenders, leaving the Steelers quarterback steaming even though his team had just posted a 23-20 win.

"Ben came in and wrang our butts," said Steelers right tackle Willie Colon, whose unit had surrendered nine sacks the previous game against Philadelphia. "We deserved that. He probably should have called us more names because we weren't playing good at all."

No need. There were already enough darts being thrown by Steelers fans and media that believed a leaky line was going to get Roethlisberger injured and sink the team's Super Bowl chances.

"They definitely heard the criticism whether they wanted to or not," said Pittsburgh fullback Carey Davis, whose locker at Steelers headquarters is alongside the linemen's. "Some guys might have gotten down but they said, 'The hell with it. We're going to get together and be the best offensive line we can be.' "

That "best" isn't half bad.

Even as the Ravens return to Pittsburgh with the same vicious defense, Roethlisberger has far less reason to fear for his well-being. A revamped Steelers line can no longer be considered a liability, not after a season of gradual improvement that continued with last Sunday's 35-24 playoff thumping of San Diego.

The unit paved the way for a 146-yard, two touchdown rushing performance by Willie Parker and kept Roethlisberger's jersey almost spotless by allowing just one sack in 27 pass attempts. That protection was especially important with Roethlisberger coming off a spinal concussion suffered in the regular-season finale against Cleveland.

The line's upswing began when the current first-teamers -- left tackle Max Starks, left guard Chris Kemoeatu, center Justin Hartwig, right guard Darnell Stapleton and Colon -- started playing together. In the final 11 regular-season games, Pittsburgh averaged 324.8 yards with Roethlisberger being sacked a modest 28 times. In the first five contests, Roethlisberger went down 18 times and the Steelers averaged roughly 40 fewer yards.

"They're working better together," Ravens defensive tackle Justin Bannan said. "I noticed that the last time we played them (in December). They've changed a few things and done a good job with that."

On paper, that shouldn't have happened after the Steelers lost both of their best linemen.

Right guard Kendall Simmons tore his Achilles' tendon in the Week 4 win against Baltimore. The next game, left tackle Marvel Smith suffered a back injury that ended his season.

This left a group that no cell phone user -- especially Roethlisberger -- would want in their Fab Five.

Roethlisberger already was sacked 99 times the previous two seasons combined, the result of shaky protection and his penchant for holding onto the football too long while seeking open receivers. It seemed like Big Ben might fall that many times in 2008 alone.

Kemoeatu wasn't the same caliber guard as Alan Faneca, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection who joined the New York Jets as a free agent in the offseason. Before replacing Simmons, Stapleton had appeared in just one NFL game since signing with Pittsburgh as an undrafted college free agent in 2007. Hartwig was a free-agent upgrade at center but he isn't the second coming of Mike Webster. Colon was considered a solid starter and nothing more.

The lack of all-stars fits with the "Garbage Men" nickname Starks has given the group. Of course, that makes Starks the equivalent of Oscar the Grouch.

Starks became the most well known of Pittsburgh's linemen after Faneca's departure but for the wrong reason. The fifth-year veteran symbolized the unit's underachieving performance, failing to crack the starting lineup despite having signed a one-year, $6.9 million contract as Pittsburgh's transition-tag player. Starks was instead used on special teams and as a third tight end until being tabbed to replace the injured Smith. Since then, Starks has done surprisingly well protecting Roethlisberger's blindside.

"A lot of people came to me with that (criticism) and I didn't listen to it," Starks said. "Anything I was asked to do, I did it with a smile. I wanted to contribute and help my team be successful. When I had the opportunity to play left tackle, I really relished it and now feel really comfortable over there."

Such comfort didn't just come from practice repetitions. The entire Steelers line began spending just as much time building chemistry off the field.

"We pretty much do everything together eat, watch film, the whole nine yards," Stapleton said. "We're young. Most of us don't have families so we have time we can spend together.

"It's a group that loves one another. We're like brothers. If one person needs something, the other person is more than willing to help."

Hartwig, the senior member of the group, began taking on more of a leadership role. Roethlisberger even pitched in, taking the entire line on a November trip to Chicago to celebrate Hartwig's 30th birthday.

"It's a bunch of guys leaning on each other," said Colon, who is in his second year as a starter. "We understand we were in deep water as a unit. Every time you watched (TV), you saw Ben getting sacked or something bad happening. Guys would say, 'What the hell is the line doing?'

"We take that and wear it. We don't like to wear it but we do."

That same line will be wearing Super Bowl rings if the Steelers keep rolling. But even should Pittsburgh fall short, these "Garbage Men" have proven they aren't trash.

"It really feels good for all five of us to have become one," Starks said.

http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/9077 ... ed-Big-Ben (http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/9077620/How-a-bunch-of-%27Garbage-Men%27-saved-Big-Ben)

mshifko
01-14-2009, 06:20 PM
very cool article...glad the way these garbage men have banded together and wanted to right the ship...

Chadman
01-14-2009, 08:26 PM
Just a couple of things-

1. Anyone see that the Steelers OL has actually 'improved' since both Simmons & Smith were removed?

2. Starks is playing better than 95% of this board want to give him credit for. If the Steelers are not confident they can snare a LT in this draft in Round 1- resign Starks.

3. That bit about them going out together can be confirmed by Chadman. Chadman has Willie Colon, Darnell Stapleton & Trai Essex as 'friends' on Facebook & saw pics from Ben's NYE party (NICE house!). All the OL guys, including Starks & Kemo were there & looked to be really tight. It was good to see. These guys get on. Pretty sure Chadman remembers somewhere that Starks is Ben's 'best friend' on this team. Anyone think that counts for something?

4. No doubt a couple of additions to this line would help- but not the DRASTIC changes we have been clamouring for. Colon to move inside to OG, a new RT...'maybe' a new OG...that should just about do it.

RuthlessBurgher
01-14-2009, 08:47 PM
Chadman has Willie Colon, Darnell Stapleton & Trai Essex as 'friends' on Facebook & saw pics from Ben's NYE party (NICE house!).

Wasn't Hartwig's 30th birthday party at restaurant/bar high up in a Chicago skyscraper? I recall one of the lineman overdoing it with the alkey-haul, and Ben had to sit him down for a bit.

Chadman
01-14-2009, 11:01 PM
Chadman has Willie Colon, Darnell Stapleton & Trai Essex as 'friends' on Facebook & saw pics from Ben's NYE party (NICE house!).

Wasn't Hartwig's 30th birthday party at restaurant/bar high up in a Chicago skyscraper? I recall one of the lineman overdoing it with the alkey-haul, and Ben had to sit him down for a bit.

Yeah, that sounds about right. The pics Chadman saw were New Year's Eve however. No Hartwig to be seen! At least, not in the pics..

RuthlessBurgher
01-14-2009, 11:28 PM
Chadman has Willie Colon, Darnell Stapleton & Trai Essex as 'friends' on Facebook & saw pics from Ben's NYE party (NICE house!).

Wasn't Hartwig's 30th birthday party at restaurant/bar high up in a Chicago skyscraper? I recall one of the lineman overdoing it with the alkey-haul, and Ben had to sit him down for a bit.

Yeah, that sounds about right. The pics Chadman saw were New Year's Eve however. No Hartwig to be seen! At least, not in the pics..

Oh, okay, gotcha. I was talking about the mini-bye-week shindig they had following the Thursday night game against Cincy when there was not another game for 10 days.