Steelers need to put best foot forward
And desperation is the point the team has reached on its offensive line.
With Pro Bowl left tackle Marvel Smith - quite arguably the team's most consistent lineman (sorry Alan Faneca fans) - out this week and possibly longer, the team is set to turn to rookie Trai Essex at left tackle for the third straight game.
The Steelers have spent much of the past two games trying to protect and help Essex, who has been thrown into the fire, having to face Pro Bowl players Terrell Suggs and Dwight Freeney. They've had tight end Heath Miller line up next to Essex to help out. They've helped him with running backs. They've even had Faneca slide over to give the rookie some help.
But now it might be time for an even more drastic move. The last time Smith was out for an extended period, the Steelers moved Faneca to left tackle. Faneca wasn't a Pro Bowl player at left tackle like he is at left guard, but he was more than adequate.
And that move allowed the Steelers to insert young and unproven Keydrick Vincent into the lineup at left guard. It was a move that proved beneficial the following season when Vincent was forced to replace Kendall Simmons at right guard for the entire year.
Speaking of Simmons, his play hasn't been good enough to consider him a viable part of the team's future. The former first-round pick has had health issues since he joined the team in 2002, battling elbow and knee injuries and diabetes. The potential for greatness he once showed has not come to fruition.
Which brings us to rookie Chris Kemoeatu.
The Steelers' sixth-round draft pick outperformed Essex in training camp and during the preseason games. And that's all we have with which to judge his play by since he hasn't seen the field since early September.
With that in mind, the Steelers need to put their best five offensive linemen on the field Sunday in a do or die game against the Bengals. With Smith out, those five include Kemoeatu at left guard and Faneca at left tackle.
The Steelers might even find that when Smith returns, Kemoeatu is still one of their five best linemen.
After failing to gain 100 yards rushing in each of the past two games with Essex at left tackle - at least in part because they've had to help him so much - the time has come for a change.
Besides, better to make such a move against Cincinnati's defensive line rather than the following week against the imposing Chicago Bears front four.
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