I. Max Starks is the answer to the Steelers' offensive line problems.
No doubt the big guy looks great at left tackle. No doubt that even with Marvel Smith healthy, Starks is one of the team's five best linemen. But you can color Starks gone after the season and that will leave the team with plenty of egg on its face.
Already, the coaching staff looks foolish. A source with the team told me this week that the key coaches still believe Willie Colon is a better guard than tackle. So if they believed Colon could play guard back in the off-season, and they still believe it, how was Colon not moved inside in camp so that Starks could keep his right tackle job? Instead, Starks was benched, and he didn't complain.
No, Starks was first class all the way and in a few months he'll get his payoff. If the Steelers think Alan Faneca's asking for the moon at the age of 31, what do they suppose a 6-foot-8 right/left tackle with a Super Bowl ring will command on the open market at the age of 26?
It's nothing the Steelers will be able to afford, particularly when it means admitting a gross mistake.
Funny, while sitting in the press box before the New England game and scanning the near-empty field to see if Ben Roethlisberger was warming up, I noticed the O-line working near the far sideline. From right to left, Starks, Colon, Kendall Simmons, Faneca and Smith were coming off the ball and I became intrigued. But someone pointed out that it was a configuration that always works out before games, in case of an in-game emergency. It meant that not only was Colon still considered moveable, the contemplations of Simmons moving to center were alive and well.
Why this configuration has not been tried, in light of the line's insufferable play, is the million dollar question. Moving Simmons was considered a risk back in training camp, but he can't be worse than what's going on at the position right now. It's how the Steelers should've opened training camp. It would've spared Roethlisberger some of the pounding he's taken this year, and perhaps one of the assistant coaches his job next year.
II. This is James Harrison's team.
Written on the media-room bulletin board at the Steelers' practice facility was a reminder that Ben Roethlisberger had been named AFC Offensive Player of the Week. But a wiseguy crossed out Roethlisberger's name and replaced it with James Harrison's.
James Harrison is the AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
And why not? The team was silly enough to vote Harrison the MVP award instead of Roethlisberger. Why not make Harrison the Director of Football Operations?
Yeah, really silly. It's so silly that talk of racism in the Steelers' locker room has been bandied about on the public airwaves. James Farrior was shocked by the thought. Then he laughed. He said that, no, Harrison was voted MVP because he came from nowhere, was cut three times, and that it resonated with so many.
That's one explanation. Brett Keisel is one of Roethlisberger's closest friends and one who also has fed off Harrison's play this season. He explained the vote this way:
"Well, I think everybody expects so much out of Ben. We expect him to have perfect passer ratings. We expect him to complete all his balls. We expect him to avoid the rush. We expect him to make these enormous plays because we've seen it out of him for four years. This being James's first year, no one really knew what to expect with him being the starter full-time. To go out there and play the way he's played, and then that Baltimore game. I'd never seen anything like that and those kinds of things stick in players' minds. When a player can completely dominate a game like he did that game, those types of things stick in his mind. And now we expect that from him."
So, James didn't threaten to blow the team away?
"He might've with the younger guys," Keisel said. "That could be true."
III. Faneca wins Chief Award
For the second time in his career, Faneca won The Chief Award for his dealings with the local media. A small group of PFWA (Pro Football Writers of America) members do the voting and they voted for a guy who does all the right things. Faneca's always in the locker room for the key Wednesday news-gathering time slot. You go to him only when the other team has a great run defense or a lousy run defense, or when you have a question about a poor showing by the O-line the week before or even the rare strong showing, or you go to him to discuss the most important contract expiration date on the team this year.
In other words, you need him every week and Faneca's been there consistently to make our jobs easier.
Alas, therein lies the stigma that's attached to the award. This story will serve as an explanation:
Farrior was over visiting Hines Ward and Deshea Townsend in their corner of the locker room the other day and he began shouting to reporters that Ward "… has some controversial topics on his mind!" He said that if we came over, we'd certainly vote Ward another Chief Award this year. When told that Faneca had already won the award, Farrior, Ward and Townsend began mocking Faneca, who was dressing on the other side.
Faneca, the red head, blushed like I'd never seen him blush and he smiled sheepishly. He was obviously embarrassed because of the stigma that the winner is a kiss-up to reporters.
It's easy to understand Faneca's embarrassment – at least when he's in public. Privately, these guys want to win that award. It puts them at a different level of achievement, one that indicates polish. Roethlisberger, for one, joked this year about wanting our votes, but in all seriousness he deserved and got mine.
As a star quarterback, Roethlisberger can't open up the gates the way Faneca does, but he gives the local guys what they need if they handle it properly: quietly and quickly after practice. He does this at the expense of national guys, and that's certainly appreciated.
The boys back in the media room sniggered when I told them this, but none could recall a time Roethlisberger refused even their slightest requests for help. It's another award the quarterback should have won this season, but then again, as the players probably asked themselves: Doesn't he have enough already?