So far we have covered the quarter backs, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends, now it is time to turn our attention to the most criticized position, the Offensive Line. It's hard to believe a defending Super Bowl champion with so many starters returning could have any weaknesses, but the Pittsburgh Steelers do. Without a question, the Steelers had the worst offensive line of any Super Bowl champion in history. Don't believe us? Check out the stats.
Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons were let go, and not one lineman was signed in free agency. The draft produced just two picks, Wisconsin guard, Kraig Urbik, was tabbed in the third round and Penn State center A.Q. Shipley was a seventh round selection. Only Urbik has a shot to earn a starting position as Shipley will need time to develop.
The line has size, center Justin Hartwig (6-4, 312), LG Chris Kemoeatu (6-3, 344), RG Darnell Stapleton (6-5, 305), LT Max Starks (6-8, 345), and RT Willie Colon (6-3, 315) all are 300-plus pounders who, at times, can be dominant run blockers. The problem they had was athleticism and pass protection.
Steelers Position Breakdown of the Offensive Line
LT - Max Starks - Starks is among the tallest NFL players, standing at 6???8??? and 340 pounds. He is probably never going to be a tackle in the image of Tunch Illkin or Leon Searcy, but he is a solid, versatile starter. Starks has bounced in and out of the starting line up the last few seasons but played well enough in 2008 to earn the franchise tag a second year in a row.
At the very least, Starks will give their line some stability and franchising him buys Pittsburgh time to draft and develop other offensive lineman or to work out a long term contract with him. Starks is penciled in as the starting LT but will need to play well in camp to fend of Tony Hills and keep the job.
LG - Chris Kemoeatu - Chris Kemoeatu joined the Steelers in 2005 as a sixth round pick out of Utah. Listed at 6'3" and 344 pounds. Since being drafted he has captivated the imaginations of Steelers fans who are devotees of the team's Smash Mouth identity. Though has yet to live up to the hype.
It's unfair to single out Kemoeatu for blame, but the Steelers had a lot of difficulty punching at the goal line in the latter half of the year, and much of that difficulty was due to the run blocking from the interior lineman. While the Steelers definitely could do worse than Kemoeatu at guard, he is certainly not a player you break the bank for.
Center - Justin Hartwig - Signed to sure up the center position at the start of the 2008 season, Hartwig easily earned the starting job and allowed the Steelers to trade the undersized Sean Mahan to free up needed cap space. His play at the position was an upgrade but still not up to Steelers standards.......
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