Today's breakdown starts a three part series on the OL and we decided to break up the offensive line considering all of the concerns and needs with this unit. I'll also add that offensive line is possibly the hardest area to breakdown because rarely do we watch a game and track the play of a guard or tackle so feel free to add any insight that you have on these guys (especially if one of them was your adopted Steeler).
Age and Contract Status: 29 years old (8/6/78), signed through 2008 with a cap hit of $6.6 million
2007 Analysis: Marvel was the exception to an otherwise healthy offensive line as he developed back problems that caused him to miss the final four games of the season. Smith was his usual solid yet unspectacular self. He is solid at both run blocking and passing protection but doesn't blow anybody away.
2008 Outlook: As with most of the offensive line, 2008 is a big year for Smith. He won't be extended this off season, so he'll be playing for a contract all season long. A great season and he might break the bank considering he'll be a left tackle with 8 years of experience, over 120 career starts and a Super Bowl ring but another injury plagued season will raise plenty of question marks. For a man of his age and size (6'5 321 lbs) back problems are normally not a good sign. That combined with the fact that for the first time in his career Smith will have to play with someone new next to him and there's plenty of reason to worry about the future.
Age and Contract Status: 24 years old (4/9/83), signed through 2008 with a cap hit of $540K
2007 Analysis: To say Colon had a rough first year as a starter would probably be an understatement, but since he was my `adopted Steeler', I saw a lot promise in his play. Colon is very young and is playing at a position that most scouts thought he couldn't/wouldn't play at this level. Colon is slightly better at run blocking than pass blocking and he struggled at times against speed rushers. He did at times flash the aggressive, mean streak in the run game that offensive line coaches covet.
2008 Outlook: I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb and say right now, that Colon will be a Steelers' lineman for years to come. I think we'll see him at guard in 2008 and I think that he's better suited to play that position. If he plays inside he shouldn't have to worry about the lack of quickness that plagued him on the outside and he can use his `phone booth' skills to excel at guard. He'll be a restricted free agent at the end of next season but by that time he have logged over 30 starts and should be in line for a long term contract. If Colon can get a bit stronger, he can become a better than average guard in this league. The promise he showed in 2007 is one of the reasons that rumors circulate that Simmons might move to center.
Age and Contract Status: 25 years old (12/5/82), Restricted Free Agent
2007 Analysis: Thanks to Marvel Smith's and Max Starks injuries, Essex was able to start a couple of games and get the chance to audition for his job. In the couple of games that Essex saw action he wasn't a huge liability and seemed to live up to his scouting report. He is decent to good in pass coverage but can't seem to get any push in the running game.
2008 Outlook: Essex will be back in 2008 on a one year tender and it'll be interesting to see if the Steelers try to retain his services after that. He'll be an unrestricted free agent next year, just like Starks is this year. He has value as a backup considering he's at least average in one area (pass protection), although I'm sure Essex sees himself as more than a career backup. Given his age it's still a possibility that he could develop into a quality starter but he'll have to get stronger to be any force in the running game.
Age and Contract Status: 26 years old (1/10/82), Unrestricted Free Agent
2007 Analysis: After starting the season riding the pine and only getting on the field as a third tight end near the goal line, Starks stepped in for the injured Marvel Smith and played well enough to expect a decent payday this off season. Starks caught a perfect storm (yea that was a pathetic attempt at humor) considering that 2 of his four starts were in the slop at Heinz Field against Miami and Cincinnati. The book on Starks is that he struggles with speed rushers but is an absolute mauler in the running game so those games suited his abilities very well.
2008 Analysis: I don't think it's a stretch to say it would be a shock if Starks were here in 2008. It was surprising when Colon beat him out for the starting job and we've debated the thought process behind that but the fact remains that if the Steelers wanted Starks back, they've had a year to work out a deal. He'll probably get paid well in the off season and some other team's quarterback will be blasted from the blind side.
Other roster guys who were signed during the year or spent time on the practice squad:
Jason Capizzi: The sheer size (6'9 315lbs) of this kid intrigued most of us when he was signed during this season and he's still very young (22 yrs old) so he has some time to develop. It would probably be a success if he could break camp as the back up right tackle.
Jeremy Parquet: To be honest I don't know much about Parquet, and if you go to the Steelers official website, there isn't even a picture or bio. Here's the story we posted when he was promoted to the active roster and it also includes some background on Capizzi. Parquet isn't nearly as young (almost 26 yrs old) as Capizzi, so I'm not sure he'll be around for long.
Needs: If you watched the Steelers at all in 2007, you know they need help on the offensive line, and when you look at the contract status of each of these guys it doesn't do much to ease your concerns. It's possible that every one of these guys could be gone after next season. To try and project this unit, Starks is gone this off season, Smith is gone after the '08 season, and Colon is moved to guard. That leaves only Essex and I'm not sure he'll ever be a reliable starter in this league. That's not a pretty picture and is all the more reason why the Steelers need an offensive line intensive draft this year. They'll likely need a guy who can start on right tackle from day one for 2007 and a guy who can start at left tackle in 2008.