Know this is kind of being discussed in the comments on the Hartwig signings but had these thoughts:
- We now have competition at EVERY spot on the O-Line. Competition among athletes at this level almost always results in people stepping up their play. New England's O-Line is partly so good because they have depth and thus, competition always. A look at each position and the players incentive to improve/win the starting job (left out some people I feel have no chance at starting, like Trai Essex):
Marvel Smith. Alot of things here. First of which is it's a contract year, which almost always bodes well. Second wants to show the injury is behind him. Also has Starks pushing him and if he loses his starting job, well, he'll probably be relegated to small money next off-season if that happens.
Max Starks. Depending on what happens with his contract (and position as he could be the RT as well). He has to win one of the starting jobs or this will be his last year as a Steeler, and severely limit his potential payout on the FA market.
Chris K. Again, payday. Signed the one-year deal so he basically is auditioning for all the teams in the league this year. Not to mention if we draft Brandon Albert he's going to have to really kick-ass and take names to be the starter and get his green.
Mahan. Knows the team thinks poorly of him as a center. If he has a bad year or doesn't show some improvement in camp, he'll be cut at the end of this coming season.
Hartwig. Most likely has the starters job wrapped up, barring big development by Stapleton (or an even longer shot, Mahan). Still has massive incentive to play his ass off as he signed a very cheap, short deal with the team (most likely) so that he could play his way into another big payday in two years. He'll be wanting to prove to the league he is worth the kind of money the Panthers originally gave him.
Stapleton. Pushed for time last year before injuries and looks to be very talented. Knows Hartwig was cheap and if he can have a great offseason/training camp and steal the Center spot, he (or his agent is telling him probably) the Steelers would have no problem cutting Hartwig (because he was so cheap) if Stapleton proved to be a star.
Kendall Simmons. I was never entirely sold on Simmons. He floats between slightly above-average starter to mediocre, to below-average starter. However, given the fact he massively underperformed last year, I'd expect him to come back with a vengeance and give us a solid, slightly above-average performance for the season. Like Mahan he's probably too expensive to cut as early as sometime in training camp so I'd imagine the RG spot is penciled down as his. But his agent is sure to be letting him know if he has another down year, we will cut him and let the depth behind him sort itself out.
Mahan. Same as left guard prognosis. Mahan looks to be a backup (as 2nd or 3rd string) at 3 O-line spots.
...must also raise the possibility of Willie Colon moving inside to RG. He'd certainly be motivated to take Simmons starting spot so that he could ensure himself a future in this league.
Colon. Wants to show he has what it takes to be a starting RT in this league and get the glory, er, I mean dollars, associated with playing the tackle spot. Once his rookie contract is up. If he can't beat out Starks, then he's most likely going to end up a career back-up.
Starks. Same as left tackle.
After writing this I still really believe we will take Brandon Albert. If we do that, then Chris K. can move to the competition at RG, if he plays well and takes Simmons job, we cut Simmons and/or Mahan AFTER the '08 season, give Chris K. a long-term deal (like the one Simmons had) and he becomes our long-term starting RG. Albert our long-term starting LG. Furthermore, if Albert pans out as a tackle, then we have three, maybe four quality tackles on the roster and can afford to let Marvel Smith or Max Starks walk after next year, assuming one of them earns a big payday. My projected starters, assuming we draft Albert.
Look at the size of that line. Big & nasty. Big at every spot. Athletic and quick at every spot except Kemo. (Starks is quick when his weight is right like it was last year, and you assume it will be this year in a contract year.) That line might end up a top 10 line in the league for us. They would be maulers in the run game, and solid in pass protection. In '09 if that same line stays together, we might be looking at a top 5 line in the league. I'm a believer, like Tomlin, that competition brings out the best, well the Steelers O-Line this year will be a case study in that regards.