Puff, Puff, Pass

<i>See Marvel run. Run Marvel run.</i><br><br>One has to wonder what Marvel Smith was thinking. Two weeks before training camp, the third-year Steelers right tackle not only smokes marijuana – forget that it's both illegal and on the National Football League's list of banned substances – but chooses to do so in an Arizona hotel that is <i>across the street</i> from the local precinct. Geez, Marvel...that was brilliant!

Hey, but at least he was close, right? And he cooperated. No need to duck his head – something offensive line coach Russ Grimm would be glad to hear – and squeeze his 6-5, 320 lb frame into the backseat of a black-&-white; nope, Smith just walked, albeit in handcuffs, from his Tempe Mission Palms Hotel room to the Tempe lock-up.

"It was a short walk," said Tempe police Sgt. Dan Masters.

That's too bad.

A nice long run might have done Marvel some good.

Oh, but Smith will get his chance to run when head coach Bill Cowher and the Steelers open training camp with the run, a series of fourteen 40-yard sprints. Then perhaps we shall see the effect of Marvel's alternative training methods.

Puff, puff, pass. Huff, puff…pass out?

Cowher's annual tradition has claimed, or nearly claimed, a number of players of Smith's size. While guys like linebacker Joey Porter – who finished last summer's fourteenth and final sprint with a cartwheel and a backflip – breeze through the run test, it has been particularly hard on the linemen, including a couple of former right tackles.

Veteran RT Larry Tharpe, who easily hovered around the 400 lb mark last July, barely finished the run, and only then after the exhortations of fellow tackle Wayne Gandy and cornerback Dewayne Washington. But, at least he finished. 1996 first-round bust Jamain Stephens, didn't. In fact, Stephens looked so bad during the 1999 run test, that Cowher unceremoniously cut him that night.

Smith was in less than optimum condition last summer, and after a night of playing dominoes, smoking pot and singing the jailhouse blues, it wouldn't be surprising to see him struggle through this Friday's run. But, really…perhaps this is all too harsh. While not what you want from your multi-million dollar OT, this is a small-time infraction by today's thug athlete standards. Quite honestly, the possession charge and pending league ruling may be the least of his worries.

Smith would do well to arrive at camp fully focused on the task at hand. Even without a suspension – this is his first violation of the league's substance abuse policy – he could be on the bench when the team faces the New England Patriots in the season-opener September 9th. Its no secret that Smith, former-right guard Rich Tylski, and tight end Jerame Tuman were the targets of Patriot head coach Bill Belichick's defensive gameplan in the AFC Championship bout last January. The right side of the Steelers offensive line was routinely blown-up, and Marvel, not one to be outdone, even stunk it up on special teams. It was Smith who was steamrolled by the Patriots Brandon Mitchell en route to a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown and a 21-3 Patriots lead from which the Steelers would never recover.

When the Steelers matched the restricted free agent offer sheet that reserve offensive lineman Oliver Ross received from the Cleveland Browns, perhaps the intention was to have him challenge the incumbent starter Tylski. However, with the addition of first-round OG Kendall Simmons, surprise 2001 undrafted free agent OG Keydrick Vincent, and second-year C-G Chukky Okobi in the mix, the battle at RG seems congested, even with Tylski having been released. Ross instead will compete with Marvel Smith at RT.

Smith was a natural LT at Arizona State, and it would appear that he is ill suited for the strong-side. Given Gandy's contract status, and the slow development of second-year LT Mathias Nkwenti, perhaps a move to LT is indeed in the cards for Smith in 2003. Ross would then start at RT, at least for the short term. Of course, that all depends on Smith and his habit. Gandy has played near or at an All-Pro level each of the last two seasons. If Smith falters, Gandy may well be brought back. Either way, the Steelers must commit to one of them – Marvel's contract expires after the 2003 season, as well.

See the Steelers run. Run Steelers run.

And run they shall. Behind whom, however, has yet to be answered.


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