- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson
Choosing offensive line as the Steelers' weakest unit shouldn't come as a shock to anyone, even though the Steelers are returning their entire starting five from last season, when they won the Super Bowl.
It is safe to say that no one in that group of five starters is among the upper tier (or maybe even the second tier) of players in the league at their respective positions. As a unit, they do play better than the sum of their parts, and they came together as the 2008 season went along, but no one on this line should be contending for Pro Bowl honors in 2009.
Pittsburgh does not have an offensive lineman who was a first-day draft pick. The Steelers have dedicated their resources to surrounding quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with weapons and building a stout defense. When selecting their front wall, they put size at an absolute premium. Starting right guard Darnell Stapleton fell into their lap as an undrafted free agent and he is really the only starter who cannot be considered well above average in size for his position. Stapleton is expected to have to fend off recent third-round selection Kraig Urbik, another king-sized specimen who plays a rugged style.
Roethlisberger has been hit and sacked an inordinate number of times over the past two seasons. That has to change for the Steelers to better insure their long-term success with their franchise quarterback. Of course, even if Roethlisberger had Pro Bowlers at each of the five line spots in front of him, he would take more hits than guys such as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, who are far quicker to get the ball out of their hands. Still, the protection hasn't been good enough of late -- Steelers quarterbacks were sacked a whopping 49 times last year.
Now if you are going to employ a big heavy line that struggles with quickness and isn't collectively light on its feet, you would think that you have the makings of a dominating power blocking scheme in the run game. But that has not been the case in Pittsburgh. Their once-vaunted rushing attack is nowhere near where it once was. The Steelers averaged a measly 3.7 yards per rush last season. Even more troubling, this is an offense that really has a tough time converting in short-yardage situations, particularly at the goal line.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.