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Steelers take drastic measures to turn over O-line, protect Big Ben

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
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The Steelers are building a young O-line around 2010 first-rounder Maurkice Pouncey. (US Presswire)  
The Steelers are building a young O-line around 2010 first-rounder Maurkice Pouncey. (US Presswire)  

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger now 30, and the team's most valuable player sacked an average of 43.5 times over the past six seasons -- including 40 or more sacks in all but one of those campaigns, and coming off an ankle injury last year -- Pittsburgh has drastically retooled its blocking unit.

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It's not often that a perennial playoff team like the Pittsburgh Steelers so dramatically revamps its offensive line in such a short period of time. But, then again, it's not often that an annual postseason contender has such a dire area of need yet is able to get by with an obviously deficient unit.

Coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert contend the remaking of the line wasn't necessarily intentional, and that circumstances and the club's draft board essentially dictated some of the moves since 2010. But it's notable that, in the past three drafts, the Steelers have selected four players now projected to start in 2012. And it's likewise worth mentioning that no other playoff team from 2011 is expected to have more than two line changes this season, and that 10 clubs will have either one or zero alterations.

"Whether it was needed or not, there's been a big shuffle," said two-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, a first-round pick in 2010. "Hopefully, we can all come together pretty quickly."

Quickly also describes the manner in which the club has addressed its line.

The latest move came this week with the revelation that former right tackle Willie Colon, who has played only one game the past two seasons because of injuries, will switch to left guard. While Colon was considered the team's best lineman before injuries curtailed his 2010 and 2011 campaigns, there was always discussion of him moving to guard, and the switch essentially puts the rest of the ducks in a row.

Two rookies, first-rounder David DeCastro and No. 2 pick Mike Adams, are slated to start at right guard and left tackle respectively. The choice of Adams, who some felt had first-round credentials before he tested positive for marijuana at the combine, negates the move of second-year right tackle Marcus Gilbert to the left side. And it means Pittsburgh will start a quintet in which four of the players are 24 or younger. Only Colon, 29, is older.

The shuffle also means that Pittsburgh could start a line that totals only 44 starts over the past two seasons. But in 2011, resourceful line coach Sean Kugler was forced to use a league-high 21 combinations. And while the breaking-in period could present some difficulties, the Steelers feel that in the long run the changes will be well worth it, and will better protect Roethlisberger.

Said Colon, who seemingly has embraced the change: "If things work out, we could be good for a while."

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