This is Part 8 of our Steelers position review series. If you haven’t read Part 1 – 7, please click the links below.
The next position that we’re going to look at is the offensive line.
Offensive line is the position that I most often see the “experts” list as the Steeler’s greatest need. I don’t agree with that assessment. Frankly, I don’t think the Steelers are very far from having an exceptionally good offensive line.
Let’s take a look at what the Steelers have to work with.
Max Starks was the Steelers’ starting left tackle until he went down with a season-ending injury. Every indication is that Starks will be ready to take back his starting position next year. So the left tackle position gets an immediate upgrade due to Starks’ return. And no draft pick was necessary for the upgrade.
Starks is a good, but not great left tackle. He is big and strong enough to withstand anyone’s bull rush. However, he doesn’t have the swiftest feet in the NFL. So speed rushers like the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware tend to beat him routinely.
Anytime a team can get a great left tackle, they should do so. But with the 31st pick in the draft, the Steelers aren’t likely to get anyone better than Starks. So I think that Starks will suffice for now.
Jonathan Scott came over from Buffalo expecting to be a backup with the Steelers. Little did he know that he would be thrust into a starting role when Starks got injured. Scott is never going to be confused with the Cleveland Browns’ LT Joe Thomas, but he did an adequate job as a replacement. The experience that he got starting in 2010, along with the 4 years of experience and 14 starts that he already had under his belt, will make him an even better backup in 2011.
Tony Hills is officially listed as the 3rd string left tackle. Hills was drafted by the Steelers in the 4th round of the 2008 NFL Draft, and he’s been AWOL ever since. Even with all of the injuries that the Steelers had on their offensive line in 2010, Hills only saw action in 4 games. Moreover, he wasn’t even on the active roster for the majority of the games, while undrafted free agents like Ramon Foster saw plenty of action. That fact alone says just about all that needs to be said about Hills. He’s likely seen his final days in a Steelers uniform.
Chris Kemoeatu is the Steelers’ left guard. Kemoeatu is a bit of an enigma. “Kemo” is a massive player who seems to have been born to play guard in the NFL. Physically, Kemoeatu is a stud. Mentally………..well that’s another story. Kemoeatu is prone to making stupid mistakes at the most inopportune times. He can be counted on to get an off-sides penalty or to get flagged for a late hit after the whistle. We can never be sure WHEN he’s going to do it, but when know that at some point during the game, it’s gonna happen.
Physically, Kemoeatu is bigger and stronger than Alan Faneca ever was. But mentally, he’s not even in the same league.
Trai Essex is officially the backup at left guard (and right guard). But each time he’s called into active duty, he seems to play badly. Then he’s replaced by an undrafted free agent (e.g. Ramon Foster, Doug Legursky, etc.).
Essex is valued by the Steelers’ coaching staff because of his “position versatility” (i.e. he can play all of the offensive line positions except center). Unfortunately, he seems to play all of the positions badly. Do you really want to see Essex playing left tackle (even if only for a few plays)? I didn’t think so.
Essex, a former 3rd round draft pick, has spent 6 years with the Steelers, and hasn’t been able to win a starting position in all that time. He’s a free agent this year, and I strongly believe that the Steelers should allow him to continue his career with another team.
Maurkice Pouncey is the Steelers’ starting center. He was All-Pro at his position…….as a rookie. Need I say more? He’s a keeper.
Doug Legursky replaced Pouncey at center during the Super Bowl, and played reasonably well. He’s no Pouncey, but he did a good job on short notice. Moreover, Legursky has also filled in at guard. Legursky is a guy that I trust to come in and fill in when needed.
Ramon Foster manned the right guard position after Trai Essex proved to be incapable of doing so. Foster was an undrafted free agent from Tennessee that the Steelers picked up in 2009. Since he’s been with the team, he’s stepped in for Chris Kemoeatu in 2009 and played well (for an undrafted rookie), then he beat out Trai Essex for the starting right guard position in 2010. Not bad for an undrafted guy. He still has to prove that he has the potential to be a long-term starter, but I definitely like him as a proven backup.
Flozell Adams started at right tackle in 2010. The former All-Pro left tackle from the Dallas Cowboys had to learn a completely new position with the Steelers, and he did it. He made a lot of mental errors early in the season (which was to be expected), but by mid-season, he seemed to have settled in at right tackle. Some might even argue that after Maurkice Pouncey, Adams was the second best offensive lineman for the Steelers in 2010.
Adams is 93 years old, and his career is coming to an end. But he has one more year left on his Steelers contract, and I believe he’s earned the right to stay for that additional year.
Willie Colon is the final (meaningful) offensive lineman for the Steelers. Colon got hurt before the season missed the entire year. Reports say that he is on track to return to the field in 2011.
Before being injured, the Steelers coaches seemed to think that Colon was their best offensive lineman. Unfortunately, Colon is a free agent this year. This will probably be his last opportunity to get a big payday, and so he’ll probably be quite open to the idea of leaving the Steelers. After all, the Steelers are not known for breaking the bank to keep their free agents.
It’s unknown what Colon will do. But if he stays, then I believe that the Steelers offensive line has the potential to be a strength in 2011 (despite what all of the “experts” are saying). In my opinion, the Steelers should move Willie Colon to right guard. Then they’d have a starting lineup of Starks, Kemoeatu, Pouncey, Colon, and Adams. Their primary backups would then be Ramon Foster, Jonathan Scott, and Doug Legursky.
I could definitely live with that group. Moreover, there’s no way that an offensive line made up of those individuals could be considered to be a weakness for the team.
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