Only if you can't spell Kimo von Oelhoffen.">
Only if you can't spell Kimo von Oelhoffen.">

Kimo better with age

<b>LATROBE -</b> What do you call a defensive end who doubled his season-high for sacks at the age of 32 and may even be better at 33?<br><br> "A fine wine," said guard Alan Faneca.<br><br> Only if you can't spell Kimo von Oelhoffen.

The Steelers' sack leader a year ago just keeps getting better. He had eight sacks last season, four more than he had in both the 2001 and 1999 seasons. And since he's entering his 11th pro season, he figures 11 might be a nice goal for which to shoot.

"I'm going to try," said von Oelhoffen. "There's a variable of chance in sacks, but I think I'm going to get pressure, a lot of pressure."


"Faster, stronger, more mentally conscious of the pass rush," he said. "I always considered myself a run-stopper, so I stopped the run and now I've put more urgency into rushing the passer the last couple years and I've bumped it up a little bit."

When von Oelhoffen came to the Steelers as a free agent in 2000, he played nose tackle to fill the gaping hole left by Joel Steed. In the 3-4, there's no hole as big as the nose, so Coach Bill Cowher plugged the dike with the former left defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals.

It didn't work. The Steelers allowed 4.0 yards per carry and von Oelhoffen, who started all 16 games, had only one sack.

"I couldn't figure out why they put him at nose guard," said Faneca. "He's such a good pass-rusher he should've been out there the whole time."

"Out there" is right defensive end, where von Oelhoffen was moved in 2001. Next came an injury-plagued 2002 and then the breakout last season.

"I would put him up with almost anybody in the league, especially in a one-on-one pass drill," Faneca said. "He's going to give you just as much trouble as anyone in the league."

One-on-one drills are the essence of training camp for linemen, and von Oelhoffen consistently impresses the former players standing above the fray. Folks such as Joe Greene, Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley marvel at von Oelhoffen's precise techniques.

"He's very good with his hands and he seems to always have a new angle to attack somebody differently with his handwork," Faneca said. "He's a good reader of your stance, whether you're leaning or favoring. Even after you take that first step, he's got a quick read on whether to go inside or outside."

The two players are familiar practice foes. Would Faneca rather face one of the younger defensive linemen?

"I'd rather go against a guy like Kimo or Travis (Kirschke)," Faneca said. "They're going to give you the best look. A lot of the young guys raise and bull you instead of giving you some good work. I don't feel like taking a blow from a young kid just because that's all he knows how to do."

Von Oelhoffen has grown smarter; that much is obvious. He's also in top condition. The presumed slow-down is nowhere in sight.

"Before I hit the NFL, I only played 13 games of football in my life," said von Oelhoffen. "So I didn't have all the wear and tear from high school and college, and I really didn't know how to play football. So I'm still learning and my body feels good."

Von Oelhoffen has improved his pass-rushing techniques the last five years with the help of line coach John Mitchell. Von Oelhoffen also passes credit to volunteer assistant Tom Pratt, who coached with Cowher in Kansas City, and has spent the last two Augusts in Latrobe. Von Oelhoffen said the two coaches have "elevated everybody's game" to a point that the Steelers have, by far, the best 3-4 defensive line in the NFL.

"I don't believe there are many defensive linemen better than Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton. You can't beat those guys," von Oelhoffen said. "Aaron, shoot, I'd take him to war. He's my first pick in the draft. Aaron's a warrior. I mean, he's going to give you 60 plays and he's going to grade out 95 percent every single time.

"Hampton is my second pick. I'd only pick Aaron because he's a little more versatile, but Casey, in this defense, you're not going to get no better. And then I try to fill the void as much as I can."

How does new coordinator Dick LeBeau figure into the effort?

"Oh, I love LeBeau," von Oelhoffen said. "He's brought a little more diversity to the defense. I played under him for four years and I played against him for four years. Now he's back with us and his game-plan has doubled. We've got even fronts now, new fire-zones coming in. He's going to make it hard for offensive teams to game-plan us. He's going to make it tough on us. And he's got everybody's confidence. If he told me to jump in the fire, I'd jump."

Just don't spill the fine wine.

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