The Steelers' QBs have been sacked on average, 47 times per year over the last four seasons. Even with Ben's propensity for not throwing away the ball, that's pretty bad. Combine it with a seemingly total inability to convert third and fourth and one and the line has not been good.
JUSTIN HARTWIG was a vast improvement over the undersized Sean Mahan in 2008, but he seemed to struggle in 2009. Reports are that he'll be let go when his contract expires after this season. The drafting of Florida center MAURKICE POUNCEY makes this seem likely. DOUG LEGURSKEY is a vanilla backup.
Pouncey played a lot of center in the first preseason game, which could be aan indicator of things to come.
CHRIS KEMOEATU took over for Alan Faneca when they let the possible hall of famer go. He has played well some times and struggled others. Seems to be better for the run than the pass.
TRAI ESSEX was a useful utility lineman, playing both guard and tackle. When Darnell Stapleton (just released by NE last week) went out for the year in preseason, Essex stepped in and started the whole year at left guard. He actually wasn't too bad, but Essex is an average starting guard.
First round pick Pouncey is being given a chance to beat out Essex and start the year at right guard. That would put Essex on the bench at least until Pouncy moves to center next year.
RAMON FOSTER is a useful backup who has seen playing time (I think at tackle as well as guard) due to injuries. KRAIG URBIK was inactive for his entire rookie season. I kinda thought they drafted him out of Wisconsin hoping he could work his way into a starting spot in a couple of years. He's off to a slow start so far. DORRIAN BROOKS is an undrafted free agent out of James Madison.
I wouldn't consider the guards a strength.
Marvel Smith, Kendall Simmons, Darnell Stapleton: nobody wracks up season ending injuries like Pittsburgh's o-linemen. Add right tackle WILLIE COLON to the list. He ruptured his Achilles and is out for the year. Most (me included) would argue he is the team's best lineman, so this hurts.
I'll give Pittsburgh credit: they moved quickly to make the best of a terrible situation. They signed FLOZELL ADAMS, cut after last season by the Cowboys. 6'-7" and over 330 pounds, he's big. He's probably stronger than Colon, though at 34 he's on the downside of his career. I don't really think Adams is going to hurt this line, and if he's still got it, he may be the best player on it. While a three time pro bowler in Dallas, that was all on the left side, so he's learning a new position. He definitely struggled in the Detroit game.
MAX STARKS is back at left tackle. Phil Steele (who I trust on stats more than anybody else) credited Starks with giving up 10 sacks last year. To be fair, Starks has played better than I thought he would, but I wasn't expecting much. Overall, he has done a decent job against the league's best pass rushers.
Big TONY HILLS hasn't played a down yet and is already injured in camp. Pittsburgh took a flyer on him out of Texas and he hasn't panned out. Probably not around for much longer.
JONATHAN SCOTT was signed as a free agent from Buffalo, where he didn't impress last year, in addition to being injured.
CHRIS SCOTT is a fifth round pick out of Tennessee and he was already injured when camp started.
Pittsburgh has a new offensive line coach, Sean Kugler. He's been in Buffalo the past two seasons. The line certainly appears to be a weak spot again this year. If Adams can still play, the loss of Colon will be significantly minimized, but Hartwig and Kemoeatu need to play better.
Grade - 2.0
I'll stick this in here. DANIEL SEPULVEDA did about as well in 2009 as he did his rookie year. And he was certainly better than Mitch Berger (who is a free agent. Surprise). Sepulveda needs to improve his average: hopefully the knee will be stronger after this second surgery. He's also practicing kick offs this preseason: something DESPERATELY needing improvement.
STEFAN LOGAN was 7th in the AFC in punt returns last year, averaging 9.3 ypr. His longest was only 25 yards. But Wes Welker led the league at 12.5 per return, so Logan wasn't that far behind. He just needs to break a few more long ones.
In 2008, Santonio only averaged 6.6 during the year, but he ripped off that game changer against San Diego in the playoffs. Just one or two long ones can validate an entire season of punt returns.
Rookie receiver ANTONIO BROWN was a dynamic punt return guy at Central Michigan and will almost certianly get a look in the preseason.
Sepulveda is solid after the disaster that was 2008. A couple of long returns would help out a lot.
GRADE - 3.0