But there is plenty to be excited about for next season. The core of the team is under contract for next season and the Steelers will open the 2005 season as one of the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
This will be a position-by-position look at the Steelers from 2004.
Today: The offensive line.
The biggest part of the Steelers' turnaround from 2003 to 2004
was the play of its offensive line. A unit that struggled with
injuries and poor play in 2003, rebounded to be the strong point
of the team in 2004.
But it won't return intact in 2005.
The Steelers were one of the few teams in the NFL this season
to have all five linemen who opened the season in their starting
lineup start all 16 games.
But guard Keydrick Vincent, who played all 16 games at right
guard in place of injured Kendall Simmons, and right tackle
Oliver Ross are both free agents and are unlikely to return.
Vincent, a good but not great blocker, is expendable because
Simmons is expected to be totally recovered from the torn ACL
he suffered in training camp. Though Vincent is a restricted free
agent, another team will take a shot at Vincent even if the
Steelers tender him an offer. Since he was an undrafted rookie,
he wouldn't even cost a team that signs him a draft pick if the
Steelers tender him an offer - unless they go with a high tender,
something that is unlikely.
The team's 2001 first-round draft pick, Simmons was having an
excellent training camp and looked outstanding in the team's
first preseason game before his season-ending injury. If
Simmons plays up to his potential in 2005, the team's offensive
line has a chance to be even better than it was in 2004.
Ross has never been more than a stopgap player for the
Steelers, but played OK in 2004. He's a good run blocker, but
struggles in pass protection. That said, given the state of
blockers in the NFL, both Ross and Vincent will be offered more
money on the open market than they are worth.
Given their choice, the Steelers wouldn't mind bringing Ross
back if the price is right. He can play either guard position and
right tackle, which would give the Steelers a valuable backup
Head coach Bill Cowher made a point of raving about the play of
rookie Max Starks at his season-ending press conference and
Starks will get every opportunity to win the right tackle position.
The Steelers will likely bring in a veteran safety net and also
select a tackle prospect at some point in the draft.
Starks saw considerable playing time as an extra tight end in the
team's short-yardage package and showed he can run block.
And he got consistently better as a blocker in training camp.
There's no reason he can't hold down the team's right tackle
position for the next 10 seasons.
At left tackle, Marvel Smith came back strong after an
injury-plagued 2003 season. He didn't seem bothered by the
pinched nerve that cost him more than half of the previous
season and was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl. Some felt
he was the team's most consistent lineman.
Left guard Alan Faneca had yet another Pro Bowl season and
could be in the middle of a Hall of Fame career if he continues to
play at his current level. Faneca is as good as they come in the
At center, Jeff Hartings not only earned his first Pro Bowl trip in
2004, he was also named to the All-Pro team, meaning he was
thought to be the league's best center. Hartings actually should
have been named to the Pro Bowl before this, but the facts are
that he's still playing at a high level and has shaken off the knee
problems that plagued him two seasons ago.
Hartings earns a big salary in 2004 - one of the highest on the
team - but will definitely be back, albeit at a lower-negotiated
Hartings struggles with big defensive tackles, but the same
could be said of his backup, Chukky Okobi. Both are better help
blockers than they are one-on-one.
If Vincent leaves, Jim Jones will move up in the pecking order as
the team's backup guard. Jones, who is also a restricted free
agent, showed some promise during the preseason and his
presence would alleviate the team's need to add a guard in the
Backup tackle Barrett Brooks is an unrestricted free agent and
won't be back, while Josh Burr spent the 2004 season on
injured reserve after blowing his knee out in NFL Europe. Burr
was released by the team in training camp in 2003 after he
struggled with his pass blocking. He's a longshot to make the
Breaking Down The Steelers Archives - Offensive
Lineman - Tight
Ends/Receivers - Running
Backs - Quarterbacks
Breaking down the Steelers / Offensive line
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