If you're visiting BTSC for the first time from SI.com, be sure to check out the site's main page featuring an interview with former Pro-Bowler, VP of the NFLPA, and Steelers OL Tunch Ilkin.
Most of you know by now that I'm a Mike Tomlin fan. I would be supportive of whomever the Rooneys hired to coach the organization, but I also happen to believe that he has a tremendously bright future as a head coach in this league.
One thing that I believe is important - particularly in 2008 - is that he pulls the trigger on making personnel adjustments mid-game and mid-season. In most positions on the depth chart, this isn't too much of an issue. Willie Parker, Big Ben, Hines, Aaron Smith, et. al star players will, and should, start each and every game in which they are healthy and able to play.
But what about the offensive line? On the one hand, one must factor in the importance of continuity, and the time needed for 5 individuals to learn to play collectively as a unified unit. However, on the other hand, we've got a number of guys who are essentially in the same ballpark with each other talent wise.
Last year, Kendall Simmons, Willie Colon, and Sean Mahan all started 16 games. So too did Alan Faneca, but I don't think anybody could reasonably argue that he should have been swapped out for somebody else. But those other three guys, were undeniably our weakest links on the line last year. According to AOL Fanhouse, Simmons was responsible for 10 of our 57 sacks last year, Colon for 12, and Mahan for 6.5. Marvel Smith was responsible for 7, but if you remember, he allowed the majority of those 7 in one game last year before shutting it down for the year with his back injury.
The same logic can be applied to the defense as well. Clark Haggans, who shot out of the gate fast last year, also started 16 games, even though it was clear he had essentially run out of gas in the final quarter of the season and was contributing very little. Why the hesitancy to play LaMarr Woodley more?
Tomlin and offensive line coach Larry Zierlein are going to have to make some tough decisions later this summer when they decide on a final 53-man roster, and who should start along the offensive line and elsewhere. A guy like Sean Mahan may earn a starting spot, but if he's struggling early and often, I hope Tomlin does not keep the same approach of sticking with his starters too long. With Justin Hartwing, Mahan, Stapleton, Chris K, Kendall Simmons, and possibly even Willie Colon, all vying for a limited number of spots in the interior of our offensive line, the coaches will have the opportunity to tinker with a few different combinations of players if they choose. As I said, that's a risky proposition because of the paramount importance of continuity along the line. But the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, no?
We'll see what happens, but our roster management, particularly in certain positions, should be another major benchmark by which we can better evaluate our new coaching staff.