I'm about to start a new series of posts about the state of the various units on our roster. The idea will be to assess what we have at each position, what we may be losing, and what we should or should not do moving forward in '08. In the piece overviewing the offensive line, we'll get into a deeper discussion about the following two players: Willie Colon and Max Starks.
Here's what we knew coming into this season about our offensive line: Alan Faneca would be reliable and solid, if not a bit diminshed skill-wise. Marvel Smith would be fine. And that's about it. From there, serious questions remained unanswered. Would Kendall Simmons bust his butt, improve from an average '06 campaign, and really earn the big dollars he was on the books to be paid? Would we be able to get away with trying to find talent on the cheap with Sean Mahan? And finally, who would win the other tackle job - Max Starks or Willie Colon?
Colon did, and for most of the year, he struggled. Steelers QBs have been sacked 96 times in the past two years; 49 in '06 and 47 in '07. Of course, not all of that is on Colon, especially last year, but to me, I thought this line might just be ok if Colon had been able to make some significant strides in his 2nd year. That's a lot to ask of a 4th rounder I know, but again, this is just one man's list of the relative disappointments of the year. There's still some reason to think Colon could still be a serviceable Steelers offensive linemen in the future, but for a year at least, it will have to wait.
Anyway, 96 sacks are flat out unacceptable for any franchise, especially one with a rare talent at QB and enough players on the rest of the roster to compete for playoff victories. You can't put all the blame on Willie Colon, but in my mind, his lack of substantial development in '07 makes him my #3 disappoint for this season. I include Max Starks as well because Starks allowed himself to get beat out by Colon during training camp and preseason, despite being in the final year of a contract and in perfect position to earn top dollar with a huge season. I surmised earlier in the season that perhaps Starks was benched by Tomlin and management in favor of Colon with finances and the future in mind. If so, there's not much Starks could have done differently, because as has been noted by several of you astutely, Tomlin seemed to be the type of coach (at least this year) who stuck with his starters through the bad times.
When he did get his chance later in the season, Starks fared pretty well, but he was unable to stay healthy and on the field.
Now the Steelers are left with even more questions about the two players than there were at the beginning of the season. Colon proved he's not quick enough to be a good tackle in this league. Should he then be moved to his more natural position as a guard? With Faneca departing and Marvel Smith an unknown due to his age and back issues, should we resign Max Starks? It seemed unthinkable earlier in the year, but if you read my link above, I touched on the fact that by keeping Starks on the bench for most of the year in '07, the Steelers were perhaps leaving open the possibility of resigning him for much less than would have been possible had he started and excelled all year.
There's a bunch to sort through in the forthcoming weeks and months, but for now, I'll open it up for discussion as to whether I'm be unfair in tagging the two of them as a major disappointment in 2007.
One hint though: Starks and Colon aren't the only linemen to make my Top 5 list, so there's still more critique to pass around.