In college, Justin Hartwig
played on an offensive line that once went up against Casey Hampton
, Shaun Rogers
and Corey Redding from the University of Texas
-- Redding is in his sixth NFL season with the Detroit Lions and last year finished second among defensive tackles with 10 tackles for loss.
-- Hampton, of course, is a four-time Pro Bowler for the Steelers.
-- Rogers has only been to two Pro Bowls, but is considered the most talented of the group, even though his reputation is that of an underachiever who only plays when motivated.
Hartwig's Kansas Jayhawks lost that game 51-16, at home. He was asked if he agrees with the assessments of those three former Longhorns. Hartwig looked up, smiled and shook his head. "I'm not about to call Shaun Rogers an underachiever," he said.
The new Steelers' center is coming off an outstanding game against the Houston Texans, but Texans nose tackle Travis Johnson isn't as big, strong or talented as the nose tackle he'll face tonight in Cleveland. That would be Rogers, the player Hartwig refused to disrespect.
"He better not say anything like that," said Hampton. "You don't want to get Shaun riled up. It don't take much."
Hampton and Rogers have been close friends since leaving Texas, and Hampton claims his friend is in great shape and is motivated for tonight's game, a game that's become a must-win for the 0-1 Browns.
"There ain't no question; he's coming," Hampton said of Rogers. "He can play, man. It's all about whether he wants to. If he wants to play, nobody can stop him. Then there ain't nothing to do but grab him and hold on.
If Rogers' motor is running tonight, he'll present the same problem the rest of the massive defensive tackles around the league have for the Steelers of late. But the Browns fill out the rest of their 3-4 defensive line with two other nose tackle types. And with 36-year-old Willie McGinest playing outside linebacker, and two ordinary inside linebackers, the Browns possess an extremely slow front seven. The Steelers might be able to win by throwing sideways to the fullback all night.
"That sounds like a good plan," said fullback Carey Davis. "Any time you talk about me getting the ball, that's a good plan. But, really, we have a pretty good game plan. Whether we're running at those guys or making them run laterally, we can do whatever needs to be done."
The Browns are slow up front, lack pass rushers, and are depleted by injuries in the secondary. Strong safety Sean Jones is doubtful and free safety Brodney Pool is questionable. The Browns lack depth behind their safeties, as well as at cornerback behind struggling second-year players Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald.
Wouldn't the Steelers be better off to forget about Rogers in the middle, spread the Browns out, and throw the ball all night?
"It could be as simple as that," said wide receiver Santonio Holmes. "But then again, they may run different schemes in their defense to protect those younger guys in the backfield. So we can't just say that's what we're going to do since they have a lot of young guys. We have to go out with a balanced attack and stick with whatever starts to work for us."
A week ago, the Dallas Cowboys rushed for 167 yards and passed for 320. They did whatever they wanted to do against the Browns and what's now the NFL's 31st-ranked defense. So "sticking with whatever works" shouldn't be difficult for the Steelers.
The Steelers and Cleveland Browns renew their Turnpike Rivalry tonight in Cleveland, where the Browns need a miracle on defense to stop the potent Steelers.
Browns need a miracle on defense to stop the potent Steelers.