PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 9: Cameron Heyward #97 of the Pittsburgh Steelers causes a fumble against Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Tennessee Titans during the game on October 9, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Titans 38-17. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Once More Unto the Offensive Line Breach, Dear Friends
I find it ironic that the amount of in-game and pre-game fluctuation among the offensive line was one of the reasons behind the justified savagery of the Steelers offensive line. Yet, the transfer of Willie Colon three spots west of where he used to be (and essentially hasn't played) has gotten Steeler Nation so excited. I'm excited as well, but looking down the road, it's worth considering the bigger picture and the message being sent.
Is it the "Anything's Better" argument, or does the chlorophyll shimmering from afar appear to give off a deeper green hue? I wrote no pro offensive lineman should struggle much with a position change, at least from a mental perspective, if he's given adequate time to learn the terminology and movement. Training camp should be plenty of time. Flozell Adams didn't need much time to learn right tackle, after having played for like 38 years at left tackle with a different team. Reason suggests Colon will handle the transition just fine.
And if it doesn't work? The Steelers have now invested two first round picks (C Maurkice Pouncey and RG David DeCastro) and two second round picks (LT Marcus Gilbert and potential RT Mike Adams) in their offensive line.
If they are not one of the three best offensive lines in the game by the end of next season, heads have to roll, don't they? Maybe it's the head of offensive line coach Sean Kugler. Maybe it's offensive coordinator Todd Haley's, or head coach Mike Tomlin's.
I'm only bringing it up because Post-Gazette writer Ed Bouchette had mentioned via Twitter on Wednesday he felt current Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt was the best offensive coordinator the Steelers had (or did I read that wrong? I didn't see his column, just the tweet). Russ Grimm was the offensive line coach (and candidate to replace Bill Cowher before the job went to Tomlin).
The offensive line those guys had, in 2005 in particular, was excellent, especially when we look at it retrospectively. OTs Marvel Smith and Max Starks, Gs Alan Faneca and Kendall Simmons (he started that year, didn't he?) and C Jeff Hartings are comparable as a unit in terms of draft picks invested (three 1sts, a second and a third) to what Pittsburgh has today but I'll challenge you to go back and watch a game from 2005 and tell me you aren't shocked with how good they were as a unit. That kind of thing doesn't happen overnight.
Or maybe I'm just seeing a decent offensive line, and comparing it to what we've had recently.
Either way, the bar is set pretty high, and with a position unit that relies heavily on cohesion and trust, it's currently in a state of massive transition, and it's going to take a helluva coaching job to make it work. Not saying it won't, but let's not think this line will automatically dominate.
Maybe I should just have a few beers and think about it.
Other Pre-Camp Competition News
I'm really interested to see the fruits of DE Cameron Heyward's labor this off-season. Watching him again, there were times he looked like an animal. Granted, more times he looked lost, but when he looked decisive, he really got off the ball and after the ball carrier.
I haven't been shy to express my opinion about DE Ziggy Hood, and I'll be the first to declare the nuances of the defensive lineman in this defense need to be fully understood. But an athlete is an athlete and a baller is a baller. I expect Heyward to push Hood hard for his starting spot, probably lose out, but absolutely gain on his total snaps per game.
One would expect Hood, who's going to want some push before entering into extension talks next year, to ratchet up his game, as well. Hood easily looks the technically superior of the two, but Heyward's get-off and explosion are above Hood's already, even if he doesn't appear to know what he's doing (rookie year).
Getting that extra foot or two of penetration into the backfield from a 3-4 defensive end is critical, and it creates significant problems for the offense, both on the ground and in pass protection. It closes off escape routes for the quarterback, disrupts running back's routes and draws extra attention from the line. Even better, it forces teams to use another tight end to protect the end.
The question floating around the league now is how do you stop the big, receiving tight end. My (glib and ignorant) response is "make him stay in and block."
Can Heyward develop into that kind of a defensive end? Time will tell, but it will be fun to watch.