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Getting Offensive: The Line

I know what I'm watching for through the rest of camp and the preseason - the health and effectiveness of the offensive line. Well, really - mostly the health. When this unit's feeling good, it's among the game's best. Alan Faneca is the best guard in the league and the key to the Steelers' signature counter plays. Watching Faneca pull to take out a linebacker is a thing of beauty for fans of good offensive line play. In the video below, watch Faneca (#66) pull to the right and seal the edge, giving Bettis the lane to the end zone. Just beautiful.

Alan Faneca seals the running lane for Jerome Bettis.

At right guard, Kendall Simmons has not developed into the player the Steelers hoped he'd become, so they'll be looking to see if Chris Kemoeatu can step up and win the job.

Jeff Hartings, banged up knees and all, is still one of the savvier centers around. Still, with his knees, and the scary Chukky Okobi injury, it's something to watch closely.

At tackle, Max Starks and Marvel Smith are above average tackles and keys to protecting Big Ben and giving him time to throw. Both are solid run blockers, as well, and if healthy, provide nice stability on the outsides of the line. Trai Essex is another tackle that appears to be on the cusp of regular contribution. Given the health questions of this unit, the Steelers need him to play well.

All told, the Steeler offensive line can be a team strength, but the health concerns prevent it from being a sure thing. Watch closely in today's preseason game to see who's playing, and how well they're performing.

And pray everyone stays healthy.