How has the O-line grown?

The progress of the offensive line -- and therefore the Steelers as a team -- will be measured Sunday against the New York Football Giants and their sack-happy defensive line. Read more inside about the Steelers' young line.

PITTSBURGH – With about 10 minutes to go before the start of practice, the Steelers headed to their locker stalls and began putting on their jerseys. Willie Colon said something and four men, all in a line, laughed – heartily.

Whatever he said didn't matter to onlookers. What mattered was that the laughter continued and the faces warmed amid each other's company.

The four men – Colon, Chris Kemoeatu, Darnell Stapleton and Max Starks – were bonding. Only one of the new starting offensive linemen was missing from the scene, but Justin Hartwig moved right into the middle of them all in a moment or so.

"Who's in charge here?" someone asked.

That someone was standing next to Colon, who stood next to Alan Faneca's old locker, which was next to Kendall Simmons' locker. Simmons is injured; Faneca long gone.

"Are you in charge now?" that someone asked Colon.

"Damn," he said, "I guess I am."

After last Sunday's game, a game in which Ben Roethlisberger neither went down, nor went down hard, Colon told a couple of reporters that the media could "kiss it" when it comes to criticizing the offensive line.

It was easy for Colon, the new leader of the Steelers' new offensive line, to get a little cocky after playing the Cincinnati Bengals. And it was even easier for him since the Steelers' offensive line had just played its second strong game in a row. But all cockiness goes out the window this Sunday when the Steelers face their best defensive line since their six quarters of horrendous play against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Baltimore Ravens.

Against the Eagles, the Steelers allowed nine sacks in their only loss this season. Against the Ravens, the Steelers allowed three sacks in the first half before Roethlisberger berated his unit at halftime. Since then, the line has allowed only three sacks in 10 quarters of football.

Of course, the last time the O-line thought it was coming together was the week preceding the Eagles game. But even in that disastrous game in Philadelphia, the coaching staff and players insist the line graded out better against the Eagles than it had the previous week against the Cleveland Browns.

"Poor communication" was the buzzword after the Eagles game, but Hartwig, the center who keys the communications, took offense. Sources now say Hartwig was correct, that it wasn't so much poor communication as it was the play of Simmons.

Simmons, of course, was injured and replaced by Stapleton at halftime of the Ravens game. Stapleton held his own the rest of that game and then the following week when massive John Henderson occasioned his side. But this is the week the Steelers find out about Stapleton as he takes on Giants' underrated star Fred Robbins.

Of course, the Giants acclaimed star is Justin Tuck, who some felt should've been named MVP of the last Super Bowl. Tuck is now the Giants' top pass-rusher since Michael Strahan retired and Osi Umenyiora was injured. Of the Giants' 21 sacks, 18 have come from the defensive line, with Robbins and Tuck leading the way with five apiece. They'll be lined up over Stapleton and Colon, respectively.

"The key is for us to just all be on the same page," said Colon. "The one thing we learned in Philly is that we weren't, and when we aren't on the same page it's a chaotic frenzy for four quarters. We understood that and we realize we can't do that against this defense, because the thing about this defense is they'll make you pay in a real fast way. We just have to be on our game. If we're on our game, and everything's clicking, we'll be fine."

The Steelers' young line and its young leader will get its second look at an NFC East team that relies mainly on its defensive line for pressure, but gets the chaos rolling with the help of blitzing linebackers. The difference this time is the Steelers will be at home.

"That's a key element," Colon said. "We won't have to worry about a scream in the air to hear the call. But from the same standpoint, no matter where we're at, we have to execute. That's the key for us."

It's the key for the entire team, whose overall progress will be gauged Sunday against the Giants' defensive line.


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