Time to Debunk Steelers Offensive Line Myths

“…A good RB can help an OLine look better, as can better receivers.”
– Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on-line chat, 4/28/08

The Steelers may very well have succeeded in making a virtue out of necessity by stockpiling offensive weapons for want of offensive (or defensive) lineman in the 2008 draft. Time will tell.

In the here and now one thing is certain: There are myths circulating about the Steelers offensive line, and they will be debunked right now.

The source of the first “Weapons vs. Protection myth” is Ed Bouchette himself. In making reference to some comment (not available on-line) by Mike Tomlin, Ed Bouchette suggested that “Yes, I thought Tomlin’s answer was a good one. A Good RB can help an OLne look better, as can better receivers.”

That sounds nice. It even has a certain, if superficial, logic to it. But the simple fact is: Winning on offense begins with the offensive line.

One need not look back too far for proof. Flash back: 2003. The Steelers offensive line is such disarray that Alan Fananca has to shift from guard to center depending on what down it is…. The Steelers finished 6-10.

Look a little farther: 1998, One year after running roughshod over the league Jerome Bettis yards per-carry drop from 4.4 to 3.8, his total yards drop by almost 500, and he scores a mere three touchdowns. The difference? John Jackson departed for San Diego, wreaking havoc with the Steelers offensive line.

1999 was worse. The offensive line was weaker, and Bettis barely cracked a 1000 yards, averaging 3.3 yards per carry. Indeed, many argued that the Bus was washed up, and that Richard Huntley was the better back.

The fact that that argument looks so foolish today is as much a testament to the improved offensive line as it is to Bettis himself.

The Steelers offensive line improved tremendously in 2000 and 2001. It’s no coincidence that the play of Bettis, Kordell Stweart, and the receiving corps dramatically improved.

Myth number two comes from offensive line coach Larry Zierlein. He recently informed the Pittsburgh media that he’d changed some blocking techniques when he arrived in 2007, and that the players should improve in 2008 as they become more comfortable.

Yeah, right.

If that is the case, then why didn’t the offensive line improve as the 2007 season progressed? Instead, the line played above expectations during the early part of the year, and only to get progressively worse as the year season wore on.

Fate did not allow the Steelers to address this area in the draft. So be it.

Solid play at center coupled with a healthier Marvel Smith continued development by Willie Colon, could result in better protection for Ben Roethlisberger and more daylight for the running backs.

But until that scenario plays itself out on the field, the Steelers offensive line remains an area of concern. And no amount sophistry from Larry Zierlein or the press will alter that reality.

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3 thoughts on “Time to Debunk Steelers Offensive Line Myths

  1. I agree with Bouchette and the Coaching staff here. Definitely there will be less pressure on Roethlisberger with a couple new backs who can catch the short swing passes, and a couple new wideouts who are over 6-3. Along with a 6-7 tight end who is a good blocer in Matt Spaeth. As for the line, weren’t Steelers among the better running teams in the league last season, and didn’t Big Ben have the best statistical season of his career? Can’t have been all that bad. The other thing is, that even an early drafted lineman is going to take at least a year or two to upgrade the line. Running backs and wideouts can make a difference much sooner. By the time someone like Branden Albert or Jeff Otah was integrated into the system well enough to make a difference, Roethlisberger could be crippled for life.

  2. I liked the guy they got in the draft, Tony Hills. If he hadn’t broken his leg, he would have been rated right there with the O linemen drafted in the first round. Also free agent Doug Legursky is both very strong (325 pounds, 38 bench presses) and quite mobile (5.02 40).

  3. Rob,

    Thanks for commenting.

    You make good points — an RB can make an impact faster than a lineman geneally.

    I am going to address this issue more fully in another post, but for now:

    1. I agree with making the picks they make (and thanks for the info on Tony Hills, I never followed the college game much even when I did live in the US.)
    2. Ben did have a great year, and he should be credited for doing what he did under the pressue he faced. The question is, how long can his body take the pounding?

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