Free Agent Focus: Offensive line

It's no secret to anyone who watched the Steelers play even one game in 2007 that the team had problems on its offensive line – problems that will only be exasperated when Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca signs elsewhere as a free agent.

Free Agent Focus:
Running Backs
Defensive Backs
Wide Receivers
With March and the start of free agency almost upon us, our series about the free agent market as it pertains to the Pittsburgh Steelers continues.

Today: Offensive line

The team placed the transition tag on offensive tackle Max Starks in the hopes it will be able to retain him, but even if that happens, the Steelers will still be looking to upgrade what is left after Faneca's departure.

Left tackle Marvel Smith was bothered for a good portion of the season with a disc problem in his back that finally sidelined him late in the season and required surgery.

Right tackle Willie Colon beat out Starks in training camp, but was uneven in his first season as a starter. Colon has upside, but some feel he may be better suited to play guard and he could be headed to that position if a long-term contract is worked out with Starks.

The team re-signed right guard Kendall Simmons to a new contract early in the season, keeping him from becoming an unrestricted free agent and he played better down the streth last season. Smith starting at left tackle and Simmons starting at one of the guard spots are the only guarantees right now on this line.

Center Sean Mahan, the team's biggest offseason signing last year, was a flop and the Steelers will look at all options to replace him in the starting lineup, with second-year player Darnell Stapleton getting the first look. The team may also add a rookie at the position, particularly since the free agent market at center is poor.

Chris Kemoeatu will figure into the equation to replace Faneca, but the Steelers don't want to just hand him a starting job.

Most feel it's a lock the Steelers will draft a young offensive lineman to add to the mix, but they could also look to the free agent market as well.

That said, they won't go overboard to add another player on the offensive line. If they aren't going to pay Faneca, the top offensive lineman available in free agency this year, they certainly aren't going to overpay for a lineman not in Faneca's class.

But there are several intriguing options available.

Tennessee's Jacob Bell is a player who could interest the Steelers very much.

A college teammate of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at Miami (Ohio), the 6-4, 295-pound Bell is seen as a young player with plenty of upside. He could step right in an be a starter for the Steelers at guard and wouldn't cost huge money.

Indianapolis guard Jake Scott could also interest the Steelers and the Colts aren't likely to make a strong push to bring him back, particularly after re-signing Ryan Lilja to a 4-year, $19-million deal Feb. 21.

At 6-5, 295 pounds, Scott, like Bell, isn't a big bruiser inside, but both are solid blockers.

A pair of Washington Redskins players could also draw some interest from Pittsburgh.

Ten-year veteran Jason Fabini began his career as an offensive tackle, but has now shifted to guard, where he started 13 games for the Redskins in 2007.

The 6-7, 309-pound Fabini has played in 145 career games, making 127 starts – most coming with the Jets. But he could be a nice veteran fallback for the Steelers as a guy who could line up at guard or tackle.

Rick DeMulling signed with the Redskins after being released by Indianapolis at the end of training camp in his second-go-round with the Colts.

A seven-year veteran, the 6-4, 310-pound DeMulling was a backup for the Redskins last season, but has made 53 career starts, including 41 in his first four seasons with Indianapolis. He's not a star, but would be a solid veteran who could challenge Kemoeatu.

If the Steelers want to spend a little more money and are willing to roll the dice a little, San Francisco's Justin Smiley could interest them

A second-round draft pick in 2004 out of Alabama, Smiley suffered a dislocated shoulder midway through the 2007 season and was limited to just eight games.

But the 6-3, 311-pound Smiley has started at both guard spots in his career and some feel the former Alabama star could possibly move to center.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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