On the Steelers: Offensive line has improved, just ask RG Essex
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The Steelers' offensive line is better than last year. Flozell Adams will start at right tackle. And the new commitment to the ground game is real.
At least those are the observations of one man, starting right guard Trai Essex. Before anyone might be tempted to dismiss them as nonobjective, he came armed not only with opinions but some early statistics, too.
One, the numbers are there for the running game both in production and in commitment. Two, the only sack the New York Giants' sometimes fierce defense got Saturday night came on a screen pass. As Essex said, "the O-line didn't give up any sacks in pass pro."
But first, the budding controversy that is the play of Adams, the 35-year-old former five-time Pro Bowl left tackle with the Dallas Cowboys. Adams has whiffed several times in two preseason games that led to at least one sack and one interception. There has been talk about moving Essex to right tackle, about Adams not even making the final roster.
That talk has not gone on inside the Steelers, Essex insists. He called Adams starting the season at right tackle a "pretty much done deal. ... There's nothing that tells me otherwise."
"He's been in another system for 12 years and he's had different offensive coordinators. This is a whole new thing for him. Even from the first to the second game he's made excellent strides. It is different playing from the left to the right, there's a whole balance and body weight thing. He's adjusted well."
Essex also noted that he has not lined up at right tackle one time, and that it appears he has won the starting right guard position.
"I had a goal set in mind coming into camp that I wasn't going to lose this job. It's good to know the coaches had that much faith in me that I could play this position."
He played it last season after Darnell Stapleton was lost in the preseason to a knee injury. Now he has taken on the dual jobs of helping Adams adjust to right tackle and aiding rookie Maurkice Pouncey with his calls at center.
• Preseason Game 3: Steelers vs. Denver Broncos.
• When: 8 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Invesco Field at Mile High.
• TV: WPGH.
"That's just extra film work for me," Essex said. "I don't mind. Whatever helps this O-line succeed. We've caught a lot of flack the last few years for not being on the same page, for not being as good as we should be, for whatever reason. So, if my job is to help the guys on the left, help the guys on the right, I'm going to do it."
Several offensive linemen made their preference for the running game be known last season, and the coaches seem to be taking heed. Perhaps they were encouraged by team president Art Rooney's declaration for a need to run better, but whatever it was, Essex says the line loves it.
The Steelers have run 76 times in 120 plays or 63.3 percent of the time through two preseason games. They ran only 42.2 percent of the time during the 2009 regular season.
"We've placed a bigger emphasis on the run and as an O-line, that's what you want," Essex said. "So just from that standpoint I think we improved a lot."
He said new line coach Sean Kugler is a running-game advocate.
"Our whole mindset as an O-line this year has completely changed. We always wanted to run the ball, but now I think even with [coordinator Bruce Arians] placing more emphasis -- and the owners -- on running the ball and now Kugs coming in, he's a mauler himself, he brings a toughness to our group and we love it."
Steelers safety Ryan Clark will not play in Sunday night's game in Denver for preventative health reasons.
Clark, who lost his spleen and gallbladder after playing in the high altitude in Denver in 2007, was held out of the Steelers game there last season, a Monday night game Nov. 9. As he did last season, Clark will make the trip to Denver and be with his teammates on the sideline.
"I still want to play but I understand if I'm not going to play a Monday night game, I'm definitely not worried about this one," Clark said. "We'll still go through the same process. I'm glad it's not as big an ordeal as it was last year."
Clark, who has sickle cell trait, wanted to play last year after doctors told him he was not likely to experience the same blood reaction that caused him to lose his spleen and gallbladder. However, coach Mike Tomlin took that decision out of his player's hands and said he would not dress him for the game.
The Steelers re-signed linebacker Matt Stewart and released wide receiver Isaiah Williams.
Stewart, who also snaps the ball for punts and place-kicks, was signed in June and released before training camp by the Steelers. Long-snapper Greg Warren has missed the brunt of the past two seasons with separate ACL surgeries but has been healthy so far this summer as the only long-snapper in training camp.