“Reality Unfolds at its Own Pace.”
- Jerry Brown
It might seem odd to begin a post on the Steelers offensive and defensive lines with a quote from a California politician, but his observation is quite relevant, particularly in light of line up changes leading into the Denver game.
Mike Tomlin’s Apocryphal Declaration
At the close of the 2007 season, Mike Tomlin offered that the Steelers needed to “get younger and stronger on both lines.” The need was obvious. The NFL is a young man’s league, and the average age of the Steelers starting offensive line in 2007 was almost 28. The average age of their starting defensive line was 30.
Despite that, fourth round pick Tony Hills was the only lineman, offensive or defensive, that the Steelers selected during the 2008 draft.
The Steelers opening day starting line in 2008 featured two new starters in Chris Kemoeatu and Justin Hartwig, yet the average age was just over 27 years old.
Father time has a way of working his will in the NFL, and his means of choice is injury. Week’s 4 and 5 of the 2008 season brought back-to-back street fights with Baltimore and Jacksonville, during which the Steelers lost starters Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons.
Max Starks and Darnell Stapleton took their place, and viola, almost two years had been shaved off of the average age of the Steelers starting front five. (From 27.4 years to 25.6, for those who insist on precision.)
Things Different on Defense, for a Little While…
Things were a little different on the defensive side. Not only was the average age of the starting line higher, but the so were the backups, whose average age was actually a little higher.
Unlike their counterparts on the offensive line, the Steelers defensive front three escaped the injury bug and remained intact through the 2008 season, save for a few games when Bret Kiesel was out.
The Steelers added Ziggy Hood in the 2008 draft, but returning players from 2008 average age was 32, and Hood only dropped the defensive line’s mean age to just under 31.
But Once Again, father time has worked his will, this time striking down Aaron Smith for the season with a torn rotator cuff. When Smith went on IR the Steelers have replaced his roster spot with Sunny Harris, who reduced the average age of the line by almost two years.
With Travis Kirschke out for the Denver game, defensive line’s average age drops to a full three years below the average of the opening day starting lineup. Mike Tomlin also said Ziggy Hood's playing time would be limited, as he sort of planned to phase him into the line up.
It appears that that plan might have to change too, as the Steelers will need to rotate linemen frequently in the thin Denver air.
Which just goes to show you, Jerry Brown was right. Reality does unfold at its own pace.