For the first time in 10 years the Pittsburgh Steelers will open camp without Alan Faneca penciled in at left guard. Faneca has 153 career games and 96 consecutive starts at left guard, but the 7 time Pro Bowler will be taking his desirable and expensive services elsewhere in 2008. The Steelers think that they have his replacement already in Chris Kemoeatu, but only time will tell if the 6th rounder has developed enough in the weight and film rooms to be an adequate replacement. We'll know much more about the status of their current guards after the draft but for now we'll just focus on the current two under contract.
Age and Contract Status: 28 years old (3/11/79), signed through 2011 with cap hits of $4.9 million (2008), $4.6 (2009), $5.9 (2010) and $6.1 (2011)
2007 Analysis: Simmons played so well in the preseason that the Steelers rewarded him with a 4 year extension, but he spent most of the regular season stealing money from the Steelers. Simmons was in a hard fought battle with Sean Mahan for worst offensive linemen as both players struggled equally in pass protection and run blocking. Seriously though, Simmons took a major step back in 2007, despite ending the season with over 75 career games and 26 consecutive starts at right guard. At times I wondered if he wasn't trying to play through some kind of injury, but after the season the only surgery he had was on one of his fingers. In his defense, Simmons did turn it up in December and play better football, but it was too little too late for the line and the Steelers protection schemes.
2008 Outlook: Make no mistake about it, Simmons has to play better than he did in 2007 if he wants to play out his entire contract. After next season he'll be the Steelers highest paid offensive linemen. There has been talk of Simmons moving to center to take over for the ever-popular whipping boy Sean Mahan, but if he stays at RG, Simmons will likely get some serious competition if Colon moves inside.
Age and Contract Status: 25 years old (1/4/83), Restricted Free Agent
2007 Analysis: Chris K saw action in 8 games this season and most of that time was spent at LG, although he did take at least one snap as a goal-line fullback (although it's still safe to say he's stick to OL). He has pretty much lived up to his scouting report to this point as a mauler in the running game who can struggle with pass protection. I would have liked to see him get more snaps with Simmons and Mahan struggling but Tomlin decided against making a switch during the season.
2008 Analysis: Barring the Steelers either signing a free agent or drafting a guard early in the draft, Kemoeatu should start at left guard. The Steelers seem comfortable enough with Chris that they are currently negotiating a long term deal with his agents instead of just signing him to a one year tender. That at least tells me that they think he has the potential to be more than a `stop gap' player for a year until a draft pick is ready to step in. He won't ever be Alan Faneca but he does have the skill set (at least in the eys of Kevin Colbert) to be a productive player in this league.
Age and Contract Status: 31 years old (12/7/76), Unrestricted Free Agent
2007 Analysis: Faneca didn't have his best season at left guard in 2007 but a big part of his sub par play (by his lofty standards) can be attributable to playing next to Sean Mahan, instead of far better centers as in previous years. Faneca is still a force in the running game but with Mahan to one side and a rotating door at left tackle (because of injuries) on the other side, Faneca at times looked just as lost as the rest of them in pass protection.
2008 Outlook: I have no doubt that Alan will sign somewhere else in the next couple of months becoming one of the highest paid guards in the league, if not the highest. He'll have a couple more years of Pro Bowl caliber play, but I still understand and agree with letting him walk.
So long old friend, best of luck in all that you do
(except when you play the Steelers of course).
Needs: This will probably be an unpopular opinion, and one that I hope you guys will comment on, but I think that as long as Colon moves inside, the Steelers should be set at guard for years to come. I'd feel pretty comfortable about starting the season with Colon and Kemoeatu at the guards and Simmons as either the primary backup or at center. It still wouldn't be a bad idea to draft another guard sometime early on the second day for depth but with this being a relatively weak class for guards they should be able to get one of the better ones this year. Just so that I'm on record though, I don't want to see the Steelers take a guard in the first round as Mel Kiper continues to predict. So if you're Kevin Colbert or Mike Tomlin what would you do at guard for 2008 and beyond?