You're My Boy Simmons! - By Neal Coolong
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|You gotta hate this feeling. It's like counting down the days until tickets go on sale for the concert of that band you haven't seen, but have always wanted to. Three days before they go on sale, you keep looking at the calendar. The day before, you're counting the hours. Then the minutes. You can barely stand still while waiting in line. You're the next person up, and you can hear nothing but your heart pounding.
Then the 16-year-old girl behind the ticket booth puts up the merciless "SOLD OUT" sign and goes outside to smoke a cigarette. She can't feel the pain. She can't get back all those wasted minutes. Kendall Simmons' injury is that girl.
Reported Thursday morning as a slight knee sprain, the third-year right guard from Auburn was poised to have a breakout season as the Steelers' offensive line was ready re-emerge as one of the game's best.
Simmons tore his ACL, effectively ending the season, and giving pessimists everywhere (myself included) a reason to pain the sky gray and collectively end the season before even their second preseason game.
But let's be constructive about this. While Simmons is probably the second-least replaceable player on the team (Alan Faneca), the depth of their offensive line doesn't seem to be as shallow as previously estimated.
I'll repeat: The offensive line can overcome this set-back.
Theory 1: Move Keydrick Vincent Into His Place - He started nine games last season in replacement of Faneca when he moved to left tackle to replace Marvel Smith, so he's got half-a-season of battle-readiness in him. Not only that, coach Bill Cowher often praised Vincent, a fourth-year guy from Mississippi, who was playing left guard instead of right, his natural position.
The line right now has been said to have improved greatly from a season ago, but that comment was made initially for the starting five (LT Smith, LG Faneca, C Jeff Hartings, RG Simmons, RT rookie Bo Lacy or Oliver Ross). With this theory, while solid considering his insertion into his natural right tackle, an argument for inexperience is obvious for the right side of the line. Lacy, a behemouth from U of Florida, is said to be improving, but rookie tackles hardly ever have great success on the right side - the key tackle in the running game.
Theory 2: Switch Former Right Guard Hartings From Center & Slate Chukky Okobi As The Starting Center - This move is already expected next year if not sooner. The Steelers signed Okobi to a progressive contract that will pay him starting money next season. Hartings has had a history of knee problems, but Cowher says he's still his guy in the middle this season. Getting Okobi in there along with Hartings may be both beneficial for now and the future.
Okobi was the unheralded draft pick in 2001 when Casey Hampton stole the spotlight, but has been effective in his playing time in lieu Hartings, and could prove to be a strong up-and-coming lineman.
Theory 3: Put Ross Back At Guard After His Switch To Right Tackle & Start Lacy - Once again, this reeks of inexperience, but Ross' experience at both positions could help Lacy develop faster than he would at his current pace. Ross has been a versatile player throughout his career, and has been a quality, albeit unknown, contributor. It's clear the majority of the running plays will go the left side now, Lacy's job will be more of making sure QB Tommy Maddox doesn't suffer a horific Theismann-like injury after being confused by a blitz.
This may not be as tragic as it sounds right now. There are still three preseason games, and obviously a step up in intensity for that entire unit. They were poised to have a big year, but perhaps that will still happen.
Faneca is still one of the game's best lineman and Smith is good when healthy. But I still see that SOLD OUT sign, taunting me...I'm just trying to stay positive.