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Hope and Concern: Steelers' O-line

7/7/2011

We continue our "Hope and Concern" series Friday with the offensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Biggest reason for hope: Health

There were games last season when Pittsburgh's depth was thoroughly tested. Starting left tackle Max Starks suffered a season-ending neck injury in November in addition to lesser injuries to others members of the line. Jonathan Scott was inconsistent filling in for Starks, leading the Steelers to draft tackle Marcus Gilbert in the second round. Gilbert should provide depth as a rookie and a potential fill-in behind Starks or aging veteran Flozell Adams. Rookie Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who missed the Super Bowl with an ankle injury, is healthy again and should be even better in his second season. Chris Kemoeatu is a solid but not great left guard. Pittsburgh still has questions at right guard. Pending free agent Willie Colon is a possibility to return.

Biggest reason for concern: Pass protection

Pittsburgh's sack numbers are staggering. Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 221 times the past five seasons. That’s an average of 44 times per season, and Roethlisberger even missed four games in 2010 due to a suspension. Roethlisberger does have a penchant for holding the football, but that doesn’t absolve the Steelers’ offensive line of 200-plus sacks. The Steelers have good run blockers up front, but they are mostly average or below average pass protectors. Roethlisberger is often forced to run around and fight off defenders after his first read. As a result, he has taken a beating and suffered multiple injuries the past few years. As Roethlisberger, 29, gets older, Pittsburgh needs to find a way for its quarterback to take less of a pounding.