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10-06-2009, 10:11 AM
Steelers' offensive line gets message
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Among the many texts that Steelers offensive tackle Willie Colon received Friday night, one stood out.

Ben Roethlisberger's.

"He said we didn't have any time to waste," Colon recalled. "He said his ambition is to win three Super Bowl rings, but he can't do it by himself. He said he needs us.

"We ended up having a pretty heated conversation, but he was right. I was with him all the way about what he said. We don't have any time to waste and it is going to take all of us."

The text says a lot about Roethlisberger, who has worked hard to become a better team captain and leader even as he's giving the Steelers terrific quarterback play and looking more and more like the John Elway of this generation. He especially has tried to build a bond with the men most important to him -- his offensive linemen. That's why he insisted to World Wrestling Entertainment officials that the big fellas be allowed to tag along with him to share the spotlight and fun when he hosted their "Monday Night Raw" show on USA Network last night in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

But what happened after the text says even more about the linemen, all of whom presumably received similar messages from Roethlisberger. They had their best game as a unit Sunday night in the Steelers' 38-28 win against the San Diego Chargers. They were largely responsible for Roethlisberger throwing for 333 yards and two touchdowns, for running back Rashard Mendenhall rushing for 165 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries, for the Steelers' 9-of-13 conversions on third or fourth down and for their 40:20-to-19:40 edge in possession time.

"It all started up front," Roethlisberger said.

Added Mendenhall after the best game, by far, of his brief NFL career, "The offensive line did a great job controlling the line of scrimmage all game."

Clearly, a text hasn't had this kind of impact since Mario Lemieux reached out to the Penguins before Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in June in Detroit to tell them, "Play without fear and you will be successful! See you at center ice [for the Cup presentation]."

"I feel like everyone is starting to get it," Colon said. "Everybody realizes we've got to come and play every day. We have to be accountable every day. You can see it in the guys' eyes. You can see the sense of urgency ...

"For the first time, it kind of felt like we could do anything we wanted out there as long as we stuck together."

It was fun to watch. The linemen are a proud bunch that have been unfairly and excessively criticized. They took a beating from the fans and media last season even as the Steelers were rolling to a win in Super Bowl XLIII, so you might imagine how rough their treatment was earlier this season when the team lost two of its first three games.

"You try not to listen to it, but it hurts," Colon said. "It's not easy when you know you're busting your hump. We put our hearts and souls into this every day."

That includes a lot of after-hours work. The linemen started to meet on Thursday nights last season to study extra film. They are meeting at guard Chris Kemoeatu's home this season and have been joined by the running backs.

"I think it's been good," Colon said. "They get to see what we see. We get a better feel for what they want."

The offense's success against the Chargers made for a fun night with Roethlisberger at the wrestling show last night.

"You can't believe the criticism we've taken for that since word got out," Colon said. "It was like, 'Who do those guys think they are?' It would have been even worse if we had lost this game."

Talk about unfair and excessive criticism. Roethlisberger and his linemen are grown men, pros. They are entitled to do what they want on their off night, just like everyone else. It's not as if there was going to be any physical stuff last night or risk of injury. The players had that understanding with the show's producers going in.

"Man, just let us live!" is how Colon put it.

One of the premises of the wrestling show was to be that the linemen had Roethlisberger's back. It's a role they are quite comfortable handling. They do it for a living every week and they're getting better at it all the time.

Too bad Roethlisberger can't text everyone in Steelers Nation to let 'em in on that little secret.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com. More articles by this author
First published on October 6, 2009 at 12:00 am