All's well with line -- so far

<b> LATROBE - </b> Each day before practice, Russ Grimm takes a stroll through the team stretch and checks the medical charts of his offensive linemen.

So far, so good.

"I am feeling good -- today," said the Steelers assistant head coach. "I take it one day at a time."

Don't blame Grimm for using all 12 steps for the recovery of his line. In fact, a lesser man would've been driven to drink after last season. But after two days of camp, Hartings' knees are holding up; Smith's pinched nerve has healed; and Simmons' diabetes is well under control. The recoveries of the latter two players are particularly important, but Smith's recovery is perhaps the most important because pinched nerves have a way of carrying over from season to season, as was the case with former Steelers left tackle Jon Kolb.

"Yeah, the doctors told me about him and I've read about him," said Smith. But Kolb's problem surfaced later in his career. Smith is still a young man.

"I'll be 26 at the end of this week," Smith said with a proud smile. "I ain't even there yet. I don't even feel like I've scratched the surface. I haven't come close to what I'm going to be able to do."

After two physical practices in pads, Smith doesn't even think about his shoulder and neck area. Veteran linemen, in fact, marvel at his willingness to stick his head into plays.

"Yeah, I feel good," Smith said. "I don't think about it when I'm out here on the field. The only time I think about it is when I'm laying in bed about ready to go to sleep or something. When I'm out here, it's the last thing I worry about."

Not that it bothers him in bed. But it's understandable that Smith's mind wanders off to an injury that cost him nearly all of last season.

"Last year was such a bad situation to go through," he said. "I block it out like bad memories you put in the past. That's how I treat that."

Smith is the Steelers' left tackle and an invaluable piece to the offensive line puzzle. In fact, a case can be made that he's the team's most valuable player. With Smith injured, the Steelers went from 10-5-1 to 6-10. The last thing the Steelers need is for the injury to linger, as Kolb's did from 1978 to 1979 and beyond.

"I don't think it becomes serious until it's a repeat thing," said Grimm. "I know guys who've had them and played; I know guys who've had to retire from them. Donnie Warren, the big tight end in Washington, it ended his career. Now, he'd already played like 13 years. So did it end the career or was he on the way out anyway?"

Is Grimm keeping his fingers crossed for Smith?

"No. I think he'll be fine. Now, if he'd have had a bunch of them, then yeah you've got to watch it, but nah I think he'll be fine."

Over at right guard, Simmons enters his third year without the burden of being 1.) A rookie and 2.) Crippled with a newly discovered diabetic condition.

"Kendall looks good," Grimm said. "He's shown a big difference in confidence, size, strength, his attitude. He's back to where he was coming off his rookie year. It's good to have him back." That's exactly how Simmons feels.

"It's a night and day comparison," he said. "Night and day. I probably haven't felt this good in a couple years. It gave my body a chance to kind of break down and let me build it back up in some ways that I wanted to. I'm no heavier than I was in my rookie year but I feel like I've put a little bit more muscle on. It's made a difference."

Simmons weighs 318 pounds and considers it the perfect size. The most important development occurred in February when he visited Dr. R. Harsha Rao, an endocrinologist at UPMC. Simmons hands him a computer printout of his sugar levels and Rao makes the adjustments.

"Last year was a struggle, man, and it killed me mentally more than anything," he said. "I was to the point where I didn't like football for awhile there, just because I felt there was no way to bounce back from it. But in February, when I went to see him, it made a world of difference. I mean, my world turned around completely. That made a big difference."

And so far -- at least today -- it's making a big difference with the Steelers.

Steel City Insider Top Stories