|Steelers offensive line a worry without Faneca|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 06 August 2008 09:57|
Ben Roethlisberger passed for a team-record 32 touchdowns and threw only 11 interceptions, a year after throwing 23. The problem: 47 sacks, giving the offensive line a worrisome 93 in two seasons.
Willie Parker led the NFL in rushing until late December, and the Steelers have since added first-round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall to complement him. The problem: Parker broke a leg, and the Steelers lost their final two games as the rushing yardage dried up.
Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin profess to having considerable trust and faith in the offensive line, traditionally the strength of the offense. But the Steelers are entering the great unknown without All-Pro left guard Alan Faneca.
One of the best linemen in team history, Faneca signed with the Jets in the offseason.
The Steelers appear to have enough talent to challenge again for the AFC North title, but only if the line doesn't become a week-to-week worry.
``I think some people look at it and are a little nervous, but I like the young attitude we have,'' Roethlisberger said.
The Steelers have yet to see this Faneca-less offensive line in game action, but will Friday when they play the Philadelphia Eagles in the first of four exhibition games for each team.
``It's always an issue,'' right guard Kendall Simmons said of the increased focus on the line. ``But going into the end of the year, Willie Parker probably would have won the rushing title if it wouldn't have been for that (injury). To me, I don't see it being a big issue.''
Replacing seven-time Pro Bowl pick Faneca is Chris Kemoeatu, a 2005 sixth-round draft pick who has made only three NFL starts. He missed the first eight days of training camp with a triceps injury, an unwelcome development for a player who wanted to get established quickly.
``You lose a potential Hall of Fame lineman, there's always going to be questions,'' Simmons said. ``Chris needs to set the tone, and let people recognize who he is and not try to worry about (replacing Faneca).''
Simmons and left tackle Marvel Smith are holdovers. At center, Justin Hartwig, who was released by Carolina, and Sean Mahan, who had a mediocre season after replacing the retired Jeff Hartings last season, are competing.
No matter who wins the job, neither Hartwig nor Mahan is expected to draw comparisons to the three former Pro Bowl centers who previously manned the position in Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Hartings.
The right tackle's job was supposed to be open, although 2007 starter Willie Colon appears to be holding off Max Starks, who started when the Steelers won the Super Bowl three seasons ago. In a quirky offseason move, Starks agreed to a tender offer of nearly $7 million that will make him one of the team's highest-paid players even if he doesn't start.
The Steelers wanted to retain Starks' rights with the intention of doing a long-term contract that would negate the tender, but the two sides didn't reach terms.
Tight end is a position of strength in what was the NFL's No. 3 rushing offense last season, now that Heath Miller has developed into as adept a blocker as he is a receiver.
From the way the players are talking, the transition along the line came last year when Tomlin and new offensive line coach Larry Zierlein arrived. Faneca and Zierlein clashed at times over technique.
``Z sat back and kind of let us do our own thing last year,'' Simmons said. ``This year, everybody is really paying attention and trying to do that because you can't have combat between two different styles.''
To Hartwig, limiting the sacks will eliminate most of the worries. Using the no-huddle offense on a regular basis may help accomplish that.
``There's definitely a sense of urgency around the locker room as far as giving up sacks,'' he said. ``I think there's a little different chemistry from what I understand. Kendall and Marvel kind of stepped up as leaders, and I think everybody's on board.''
Notes: CB Ike Taylor's left knee was stepped on near the end of a goal-line drill during Tuesday night's practice. He did not appear to be seriously injured. ... QB Ben Roethlisberger (groin) again took part in passing drills but skipped some team work. It appears unlikely he will play Friday. ... RB Willie Parker scored on his only attempt during the goal-line drill. He didn't carry Sunday when rookie Rashard Mendenhall was stopped on his three carries inside the 2. Mendenhall scored on one of his two attempts Tuesday.