Grading the roster: Offense

With Mike Tomlin's first season as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the books, Dale Lolley looks at the players he had to work with and grades them by position. First up, the offense:

Mike Tomlin had many successes and failures after taking over for Bill Cowher, but he did something Cowher failed to do in his final two seasons – win an AFC North Division championship.

The Steelers, however, fell off after a 7-2 start, stumbling to a 10-6 finish. Here's a position-by-position look and grades for each:


Ben Roethlisberger set team records with 32 touchdown passes and a 104.1 passer rating, ranking second in the AFC behind only Tom Brady in both statistics. He also cut his interceptions from a career-high 23 in 2006 to 11.

Roethlisberger took a big step in his fourth season and, at age 25, is poised for bigger and better things.

The only downside was the 47 sacks against him, about one-third of which can be attributed to Roethlisberger holding the ball too long.

The Steelers will work hard this offseason on a contract extension that will keep Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh for years.

Backup Charlie Batch is a serviceable player and could start for some teams, but at 33 he's nearing the end of his career and the team needs to bring in a young quarterback who can learn under Roethlisberger.

Grade: A-


Willie Parker was leading the league in rushing when he suffered a broken leg in the 15th game at St. Louis.

Parker's long run of the season was only 32 yards. Still, Parker matured as a runner. There were fewer runs that resulted in losses as Parker willingly lowered his shoulder and ran between the tackles.

But is that the best use for a home-run hitter like Parker?

That's something the Steelers must decide in the offseason. Parker is expected to be back at full strength for mini-camp. He must learn to balance his inside running with bouncing it outside.

Backup Najeh Davenport showed flashes but still runs too high to be an effective short-yardage back. He led the team with five rushing touchdowns and set career highs in carries (107) and yards (499).

Fullback Carey Davis did a credible job as a blocker and showed some pop as a runner. He's also a decent receiver and solid special teams player.

The Steelers liked what they saw from rookie Gary Russell and are intrigued by his potential.

Veteran fullback Dan Kreider was sharing the position with Davis before a season- ending knee injury. Kreider is an unrestricted free agent and the Steelers might try to bring him back at a bargain price. He's starting to break down at this point in his career.

Overall, the running game was not as dominant as in past seasons and produced only nine touchdowns. The team could use a better complementary runner to Parker, some one who can double as a kick returner.

Grade B


Starters Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes each missed time with injuries but produced solid numbers.

Ward had 71 catches for 732 yards and seven touchdowns, despite missing two games because of a knee injury that required surgery at the end of the season. Ward isn't a deep threat but he's a savvy veteran who runs great routes, blocks and catches nearly everything – though he dropped a few more passes than in previous seasons.

Holmes is an emerging star. He caught 52 passes for 942 yards and a team-best eight touchdowns, despite missing three games with ankle problems. His 18.1 yards-per- catch average led all AFC receivers with 25 or more receptions. Entering his third season, Holmes is poised to become an elite receiver.

No. 3 receiver Nate Washington is a restricted free agent. He got hot after a slow start and finished with 29 catches and five touchdowns. His inconsistency is a problem.

Cedrick Wilson had 18 catches and one touchdown. He doesn't have a defined role.

Second-year pro Willie Reid had only four catches and does not have the same elusiveness as he did in college. He also struggled as a kick returner and 2008 will be an important camp for him.

Grade B-


Heath Miller set career highs in catches (47), yards (566) and touchdowns (seven) but his blocking was not as good. Miller is still a decent blocker. Perhaps not doing it as often had an effect.

Rookie Matt Spaeth improved as a blocker as the season progressed and supplanted Jerame Tuman as the second tight end even before Tuman was placed on injured reserve with a back problem. Spaeth caught five passes, but three went for touchdowns. He could be a bigger part of the offense in 2008.

Tuman may be at the end of his career. He has one season remaining on his contract and if the team doesn't think his back will hold up, it could bring in another young tight end to take his roster spot.

Grade B


Not all the sack problems in 2007 were because of difficulties on the offensive line, but a large portion was.

Left tackle Marvel Smith missed significant time for the third time in the past six seasons because of a back problem that required surgery. There are questions about Smith, who at 30 will be heading into the final season of his contract.

Guard Alan Faneca is the Steelers' most significant unrestricted free agent. They will make one final push to re-sign him. Faneca has never been a great pass blocker, but he pulls better than any guard in the league. Part of the problem with his pass blocking was that center Sean Mahan struggled.

Mahan, the big offseason signing last year, was a flop. Mahan is too light to hold the point of attack, particularly when a defensive tackle is lined up over him. Mahan is a solid backup, capable of playing guard or center.

Right guard Kendall Simmons had a good year and got better after signing a contract extension early in the season. He was the backup center but is not considered a long-term solution at that position.

Right tackle Willie Colon struggled at times in his first season as a starter. Some in the organization believe he's better suited to play guard. A move there is possible next season.

Max Starks, the starting right tackle in 2005 and '06, lost that job to Colon in training camp. He didn't sulk and provided solid play both as a backup tight end and at left tackle. Starks will be an unrestricted free agent, though Pittsburgh wants to bring him back. If there is no guarantee of a starting job, then he'll leave.

Third-year guard Chris Kemoeatu lost a battle with Simmons in training camp and needs to spend the offseason emersing himself in the playbook if he wants to become a starter. Trai Essex showed some good things stepping in when Smith and Starks were injured. That might save his job. He'll be a restricted free agent and the Steelers will bring him back.

Rookie center Darnell Stapleton stuck around on the roster. He could win the starting job next year.

Upgrading the line will be a priority in this offseason.

Grade C-

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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