Miami's Taylor a pain in the neck

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> Those Steelers fans who watched A) their favorite offensive line last year, and B) the dreadful performance by the Miami Dolphins' offensive line on Sunday night can easily put A and B together.<br><br> That's why the added neck pad on left tackle Marvel Smith last Sunday was, as Steelers radio analyst Myron Cope put it, an ominous sign.

The Steelers' line, of course, was in chaos last season due to the loss of Smith with a neck injury. Was the pinched nerve resurfacing?

"Nah," said Smith. "I'm just trying to take care of it before anything would happen."

Last season, the Steelers had to move Alan Faneca from guard to tackle while Kendall Simmons and Jeff Hartings limped through the season.

Now, with Simmons out of the year, Smith must remain healthy, otherwise the Steelers might look like the Dolphins did last Sunday night.

The Dolphins will have five new starters on the line from last season when they host the Steelers on Sunday.

"I understand what they're going through but I don't have any sympathy for them," Smith said. "We had to go through it."

Smith will be tested this week by one of the league's best pass-rushing defensive ends, and Jason Taylor is a player with whom Smith is familiar.

"I faced him in the first game I ever played at right tackle my rookie year," Smith said. "He was rotating back and forth with Trace Armstrong."

It was the opening game of the 2000 preseason and Smith and center Hank Fraley, both rookies, were in the starting lineup. The Dolphins recorded four first-half sacks with Taylor getting two. He also hit Kordell Stewart's arm twice to force incompletions. The Dolphins had six sacks in the game, but the Steelers rallied late to win, 13-10.

Taylor, in his eighth season out of Akron University and nearby Woodland Hills High, finished fourth in the NFL with 13 sacks last season. He and departed teammate Adewale Ogunleye had 28 sacks to lead all NFL tandems.

Taylor has 71 career sacks. Over the last four years, he ranks second in the league to Michael Strahan (61) with 54.5 sacks. Not a bad total for someone who weighs only 255 pounds.

"But he's quick though," said Smith. "He uses his hands real good. I'm looking forward to the game. I look forward to going against the best players and he's up there. He's one of the best, if not the best, defensive ends in the league, so I'm looking forward to it."

Taylor is also looking forward to the game. A native of Pittsburgh, Taylor was home-schooled throughout high school but played both basketball and football at Woodland Hills. He was a safety and wide receiver at the time. He was also a Steelers fan.

"I grew up watching and idolizing and thinking (they) were bigger than life," Taylor said. "Now I get to play against them, which is great."

They're not larger than life anymore?

"They seem a little closer to home, put it that way," he said. "I grew up in Pittsburgh and that's all they have is the Steelers. The Pirates and Penguins are in town but nobody really cares. It's all about the Steelers. I grew up as one of their biggest fans. I always wanted to play there, or at least get a chance to play up there, but unfortunately we have them down here and we will have to make due."

Taylor has played against the Steelers only once in the regular season since entering the league in 1997, but the game in September of 1998 was at Miami and he didn't have a sack in the Dolphins' 21-0 win.

He was, of course, Smith's rookie nightmare in the preseason game two years later. On Sunday, Taylor will settle for being Smith's pain in the neck.

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