Trai Essex - Starting to Fit In in Pittsburgh

Trai Essex's week began the same way as the previous 12, but it quickly escalated for the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie. That's easy to understand since Essex, a third-round draft pick from Northwestern, went from being a backup offensive lineman who was deactivated for his first nine NFL games to a starting left tackle.

Essex started ahead of 11-year veteran Barrett Brooks
against the Baltimore Ravens when starter Marvel Smith, a Pro Bowler after last season, injured an ankle the previous week. Essex could also open at left tackle when the Steelers visit Indianapolis Monday night, because Smith is questionable.
"He did some good things,'' Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "Like a young guy, you throw him into that type of situation, a lot of different fronts, a lot of pressure, dealing with the noise, I think all things considered, when you look at that being his first NFL start, that was fine.

"There is room for improvement. I told him he could have played better, but I think he would. I think it was a tough place to start (at Baltimore), but not a bad indoctrination because it is the National Football League.''
Essex's first assignment was a big one. He faced Ravens pass-rushing specialist Terrell Suggs, a Pro Bowl defensive end, and held his own. Suggs did not record a sack, and he only had one tackle. But Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox, a slow-footed substitute for starter Ben Roethlisberger, was dropped six times in a 16-13 loss.

Overall, the Steelers' offensive line played poorly. Essex was directly responsible for two sacks, Steelers coaches reported, but overall he didn't do too badly for his first game. Essex, however, gave himself a C-minus.
"I was really comfortable with my situation," Essex said. "It kind of brought me back to my college days. Although it was a bigger venue and the game was more important than any game I've ever played in, I was comfortable. (But) I thought I could have done a little better.

"I mean, I'm a perfectionist and I didn't have my best game. I don't want to make any excuses about me being a rookie or this being my first start or that we were playing against a great defense. I messed up at times, but it had everything to do with technique. Don't get me wrong. The Ravens have a great defense. But the times I messed up were due to (poor) technique."

Alan Faneca, the club's four-time Pro Bowl left guard, had a rough game next to Essex with two false starts and several missed blocks. However, he had nothing but praise for the rookie lineman.
"Trai did a good job,'' Faneca said. "You have to be proud of him. We were playing on the road and in a hostile environment. So, overall, he did a good job for his first time out."
Maddox also had some good things to say about Essex.
"It took him a little while to settle down and get into the flow of the game,'' Maddox said. "You know, it's kind of tough when you start your first game and you have to go against Suggs, who's a very good pass rusher. But I thought Trai settled down and started playing pretty well."
While Roethlisberger is expected to replace Maddox this week, Essex is likely to return to the starting lineup. Smith has to get a practice or two in before the game against the Colts.

If he can't play, Essex would go against another Pro Bowler -- Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney -- among the NFL leaders with seven sacks. He had a league-best 16 last season.
"It's just a matter of me staying technically sound,'' Essex said. "At times (against Baltimore), I did a good job of that. At other times, I could have done a lot better. I know I can do a lot better.

"Coach Cowher told me he had faith in me and thought I was a good player. He told me that I could go out there (against the Ravens) and handle it. I felt that I let him down a little, but I also felt that I held my own."

And if Essex plays this week, at least he'll get a lot more preparation in before a matchup against Freeney and the Colts.

On Monday Morning: Marvel Smith is still listed as questionable for the game tonight, but is on the "unofficial" depth chart as the starter against Indianapolis. He'll run into a former teammate - rookie Matt Ulrich who is on the Colt's depth chart at #2 Left Guard. et



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