Offensive Line Handles Adversity

The Steelers plummeted to 6-10 last season because their offensive line unraveled with injuries, illness and poor performance. They've done much better through the first two preseason games, even though one wheel has already come off.

Kendall Simmons, their starting right guard, is out for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee. The injury occurred in practice last week. Keydrick Vincent, a fourth-year pro who was undrafted, replaces him and did a nice job of that Saturday night against Houston.

But the Steelers have little depth in their line and cannot afford another injury. Last season, they were forced to move Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca to left tackle when a pinched nerve knocked Marvel Smith out for the year. Vincent replaced Faneca. If there's another injury to a guard, they likely would turn to a tackle, Todd Fordham, to play the position.

Coach Bill Cowher has been pleased with his offensive line through the first two games.

"They are coming off the ball. It is just getting the right combination and getting those guys into the groove. You hate to lose a guy like Kendall Simmons. You aren't going to replace a player of that quality, you just have to look at the players around him and players stepping in. They have to play to the best of their ability and that is the challenge that we are faced with."

The Steelers' first-team offense has scored four times in six drives and run the ball well behind that line. They have not allowed a sack. Quarterback Tommy Maddox is 8 of 12 passing for 132 yards, one touchdown and a 137.5 passer rating.

"The offensive line is obviously playing very well and playing with a lot of confidence up there," Maddox said. "We are able to run the ball a little bit. It has been nice. The receivers are making plays and the offensive line is playing well and the running backs are doing their job."

Because of line woes last season, the Steelers ranked 31st on the run in the NFL, their lowest ever, and defenses sat in cover 2 all year, daring Maddox to throw. Their play-action was not respected.

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