A look at the interior offensive linemen

In the Sporting News list of the top 100 players in the NFL last year, Steelers' guard Kendall Simmons was ranked ahead of fellow guard Alan Faneca. <br><br> That the Steelers had two guards on the list of the top 100 was not much of a surprise. Both Simmons and Faneca are former No. 1 picks at a position most teams don't have one former No. 1 pick playing at.

But Simmons being rated ahead of Faneca in a polling of NFL coaches and GMs after just his first NFL season shows just how highly he was thought of at the time. Of course that was before he was diagnosed with diabetes on the eve of the start of training camp last season.

There is no doubt now that Faneca is not only the Steelers' best guard, he's their best lineman and one of the best in the NFL.

Faneca proved that last season when he moved seamlessly to left tackle because of multiple injuries the team suffered on its line.

Simmons, meanwhile, struggled with his weight and strength throughout the season and was a bigger part of the problem than he was any solution.

But Simmons looked great at the team's offseason workouts and says he's got his diet and weight under control. If he can bounce back and live up to his potential, the Steelers' offensive line will be much better in 2004.

At center, Jeff Hartings appears to just be holding on to his position. He's never been a dominant one-on-one blocker, but is still athletic enough to pull, even with the degenerative knee condition that has robbed him of his explosiveness.

The Steelers hope to get at least one more season out of Hartings as their starter because of his cap value, but re-signed backup Chukky Okobi to a deal that will pay him as a starter down the road, so the writing is on the wall.

Okobi needs to get stronger if he's going to hold up as a starter and will have one more season to do so. He's a capable enough help blocker and is the kind of athletic interior linemen the Steelers love.

The Steelers also brought Keydrick Vincent back after he was forced to start nine games last season. Vincent is a decent fill-in, but was overexposed last season as a starter, giving teams plenty of opportunity to exploit his slow feet. Still, Vincent is capable enough to give you a game here or there.

The team signed guard Jim Jones, who spent two seasons bouncing between Baltimore's active roster and practice squad. Jones has some ability and could push Vincent for a roster spot.

The Steelers drafted center Drew Caylor with one of three sixth-round choices, but he's likely headed for the practice squad unless he beats out veteran Mike Schneck for the longsnapper job. Caylor played on the defensive side of the ball until his senior season, when he made the switch to center, and needs some time to hone his craft.

Center Jimond Pugh looked awful early in training camp last season, but got better as camp wore on. He stuck around on the practice squad all season because the team was concerned about Hartings' knee, but Pugh will have a tough time making it again this time around.

Josh Parrish is the only undrafted rookie interior lineman the Steelers signed. Parrish was a first-team All-Pac 10 pick as a senior last season at Washington State.

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