An Old Face Could Give The Steelers Offensive Line A New Lease Of Life

By Cian Fahey

After Alan Faneca left the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008, the Steelers looked to the then 25-year-old Chris Kemoeatu to become his replacement. After a fine first year in the starting line-up, Kemoeatu received a five year deal worth $20 million.

Skip ahead to the 2012 off-season and Kemoeatu\’s status as a Steelers starter is gone while his position on the roster at all is under threat.

Because of a change-over in offensive philosophy, the Steelers have recently moved away from the running game in favor of their franchise quarterback and talented receivers, Kemoeatu\’s worst traits were highlighted while his talent went unused.

On the field, Kemoeatu was always a little rash with his discipline while also struggling in pass protection. What he did do was give the Steelers a fantastic pulling guard in the running game. Pulling both he and Heath Miller on a regular basis was a staple of Bruce Arians offense when Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall were the focus.

However once the Steelers moved away from the run, Kemoeatu\’s abilities became redundant. He rarely got the opportunity to show off his talent of crushing defenders instead becoming more (in)famous for costly penalties and crazy decisions such as more than once diving onto a pile of players at the end of running plays in critical situations.

Despite the fact that Kemoeatu is no longer a starter, his contract still makes him the sixth highest charge against the team\’s cap for next season.

Kemoeatu\’s $5.2 million cap charge makes him the highest paid non-starter on the team\’s roster. Considering that the guard position is one of the weakest sections of the depth chart entering the 2012 NFL off-season, it says about the fall of Kemoeatu that he isn\’t even capable of beating out Doug Legursky or Ramon Foster to be a starter.

Kemoeatu wasn\’t built for this team\’s offense. He is more suited to the Steelers\’ teams of years gone-by. Logic says that he likely won\’t be with the team much longer, but as of yet he still remains a part of the organization.

Coincidentally, a guard who perfectly fits what the Steelers offense should be trying to do next season lost out on a chance to be a starter prior to this season. That player, is Tony Hills.

Hills was the most impressive performer of the group of players who were competing to start at right guard prior to last season. In preseason games, he showed better strength, versatility and awareness than any of Chris Scott, Legursky or even Foster.

Obviously that consistency wasn\’t there in practices because Hills was released before eventually signing with the Denver Broncos. Hills did nothing in Denver, but considering how long it took him to adjust to the Steelers\’ offense and become comfortable on the field with his teammates, that is understandable.

Hills is not a free agent this year, he will be under contract with the Broncos. However bringing him back, much like the team did with Bryant McFadden and Byron Leftwich in recent years, wouldn\’t be difficult to do.

Why would they bring back a player who failed to even make the roster? Well, it\’s simple.

Hills was in contention to be the most athletic offensive lineman on the Steelers\’ roster prior to being released. Coming out of college, after being selected in the fourth round, Hills was a raw talent who blatantly needed time to adjust to the NFL game.

Just as he appeared to be grasping a handle of himself on the field, the Steelers released him. That adjustment and growth would not be something that Hills would have to deal with if he returns while he also would understand his role, and position, on the team without wondering where he best fit.

As a former offensive tackle at Texas, Hills is the inverse of Kemoeatu. He excels as a pass protector whether it be in space or in tight opposed to being a crushing run blocker. After losing Mendenhall late last season, and the overall transition to a new offensive style, Hills\’ pass protection would have greater value to the Steelers than it did 12 months ago.

Standing at 6\’6, Hills wouldn\’t be capable of being a pulling guard or blowing open holes in the mold of Kemoeatu, but he would provide a certain level of athleticism and potential which is lacking on the interior of the line.

The Steelers can\’t compete for guys like Carl Nicks in free agency while David DeCastro will likely be gone by the time that they pick in the draft. With holes elsewhere on the roster, the Steelers would be smart to consider re-signing one of their own.

At worst, they make a similar deal to the one they made with Arizona for McFadden and he just adds to the competition in camp. At best, his positive play shows on the field as part of Todd Haley\’s new offensive scheme.

  • DVDV

    Now if they actually would make this trade is one thing

  • SteelersDepot

    I see the angle here Cian. Hills though as you stated his not good pulling. He also struggled in space as a tackle. We just did not get a long look at him at guard. I have a feeling they have washed their hands of him.

  • SteelersDepot

    Let me also add, the more I study Cordy Glenn, the more I do not think he is an interior prospect and not first round material. Konz also is a center that can move to guard, but he has injury concerns staying healthy. I am starting to think unless the Steelers move up to get Decastro, they will go defense in the first round and wait until round 2 for a guard type.

  • Joe D

    Regarding Cordy Glenn… I don’t like OL over 325#…
    But he is more of an OT than an OG type… and too heavy in my opinion.

  • Delilah

    Instead of keeping Kemoeatu who is just a run blocker or bringing back Hills who is just a pass blocker, the Steelers should fill that roster spot with a guy who can do both. Probably with a high-round draft pick. Afterall, a good, balanced offense is going to do both, right? Should get a guy who can block for both.

  • That’s a very difficult thing to find. Very few guards actually are good at both. Most are better at one or the other(generally run blocking).

  • Steelerz357

    An old face vould give the whole line a new lease on life? Come on Steelers Depot – (And Especially “The Great Dave Bryan” – There, you have been called great and I mean it !) Why let articles such as this with misleading titles (And almost no probability of it ever happening) even be posted on this website. It’s almost as bad as Christina Rivers articles which I have since learned to ignore because she seems to do it just to ignite a reaction.

    Anyway, thanks Dave for all you do – this site is awesome – and I love listening to the podcasts too — PS: Yep, probably need a Zanax again

  • Eric87

    yea seeing Cordy Glenn makes me think he would not fit at guard, way too big and slow. Decastro looked like he would fit the team well, but will they move up far enough to get him, doubtful. Look at NT or MLB in the first round, prob guard in the 2nd

  • What’s misleading about it? What were you expecting from the headline?

  • SteelersDepot

    be nice people. put your arguments for or against and keep it civil.

  • SteelersHonolulu

    Just Ridiculous……..Come on S. Depot get real we need to draft or trade for the o lineman we need. A free agency pickup/ trade….maybe for ….Mendenhall. Some kind of bold move to improve the o line is what we need!

  • Steelerz357

    I guess I was a little thrown by “An old face”…. followed by an opening line of Faneca. I’ve also seen no credence to trading back for a Tony Hills, who obviously couldnt catch on to the Steelers playbook and was lost in “Space” and has not even really caught on with Denver — How long does a true athlete need to adjust to his teammates??

    Plus – urelated – as I believe Dave pointed out on his podcast Kemo was banged up all year and unfortunately will likely be a cap casualty.

    However – to say an old face that couldn’t make it with the Steelers or the Broncos could now “Give the Steelers O-Line a new lease on life” – That’s beyond a stretch to say the least. This guy has not proved anything on the field, there is no reason to bring him back or to even speculate why they would or what they would give up for him — Let alone semi-annoint him as the potential savior od a whole O-Line — Laughable, but civil

  • Footballplaymaker75

    Why do we need to get someone else when we could move colon to guard who has the perfect body and play there and draft a tackle like adams or martin

  • Steelerz357, I am sorry that you find my articles to be reaction-igniting. I would love to know what type of articles you’d like to read. I am adverse to simply reading what other writers and bloggers have to say and thus am not interested in recycling news – Dave can speak more to that. I think Dave, too, would be more than willing to hear objective ideas about what readers like to read. I’ll try to come up with something interesting in the next few days that may make you change your mind…but then again, not everyone likes reading anything from a female sports journalist I have discovered.

    And aerial spraying of Xanax is good for all of us once in a while. Trust me, I want to produce introducing articles…so please don’t think I am ungrateful in my response.

    A point in my defense…try Googling ‘NFL Combines’ and take a look at a couple recent articles that were written by and another news site and you’ll see that opinions about 1) the overall opinion of the combines and 2) trying to predict who the Steelers will pick to fix the OL are mixed and full of opinion.

    The fact is: No one will know until the final decision is made on draft day or Tomlin and Colbert confirm the news is true.

  • Daddeeekip

    IMHO as much as I hate to say this but the STEELERS were stupid in letting Hills go when you have invested so much time in developing him. Especially when you keep Chris Scott who by the way is terrible.

  • Nobody will give anything for Mendenhall right now. He won’t even be fit enough to be active come the start of next season and because of his running style, harsh cutting with a heavy top which puts a lot of pressure on his knees, he may never get back to his previous level of production.

    As for free agents, this site has detailed the Steelers’ cap situation in depth. They may be compliant now but they won’t have any hope at bringing in a guard who would fit a “bold move.”

    It may seem ridiculous to you, but the Giants came very close to cutting Victor Cruz last year. There is a long list of players who either go undrafted or wait around on other rosters before returning and establishing themselves. Cutting players isn’t black and white, just because you are cut once doesn’t mean that you are a bad player.

  • Cian,
    If people read the title correctly, they’d see that you are hypothesizing. You said “COULD”, not “WOULD”. The fact that Chris Kemoeatu was one of the most flagged/penalized offensive linemen and players on the entire team last year says a lot about his lack of discipline on the line. And some of the penalties were flagrant fouls, not just moving too early…so I think that the fact that Kemoeatu could be replaced by someone like Hills (even if it isn’t Hills) is a legitimate argument.

  • It would be great to get a two-in-one, but the guards situation this draft may not produce the perfect fit, even if the Steelers were to get the top pick and the top prospect. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that someone comes out of the combines and pro days showing some great moves.

  • Aiden

    I’m a comedian at heart and gentle in nature. Kevin Colbert after read this either uttered… um… interesting or…simply facepalm’d.

  • Joe D

    ur right… the christina rivers articles are bad!!!

  • I presume you actually read the article and not just the headline. Im sorry if you think I made it look like he was going to be a savior but that is not what I get from what is written above.

  • It depends on the direction you want to take. Personally I want them to draft a NT in the first round ie: Poe, because I think it is more important to shore up that area of the field opposed to the offensive line because the team has won previously with that level of offensive line play.

    If you draft a tackle early, it limits what you can do elsewhere at other positions of need.

  • As much as I admire his work, Kevin Colbert, like every GM in the NFL, doesn’t get every single decision he makes right.

    I would expect more sense from fans of the organization which cut James Harrison on multiple occasions.

  • SteelersDepot

    The reason you see new authors like Christina, Jeremy & Cian is because the site needs different viewpoints and I like the writing styles of all three of them. I have had several writers contribute over the years and was dissatisfied with the quality that I received. All three that are contributing now at times will have much different viewpoints than I do and I think that is good as to not constantly have my views shoved at you.

    All three are always open to topics to write about as well, so if you have something in mind, suggest it. If you are going to come in here and just gripe, then it will not be doing anyone any good. I refuse to babysit the comment section as it takes away from my time doing research and writing.

    If you disagree with a writers viewpoint, tell them why, if you just want to say “you suck”, then please stop reading.


  • kevin

    I would be happier with a run blocker who is at least competent at pass blocking. Kemo is not. Hills might be a competent pass-blocker, but we do not know that yet. I think it is fair to say that he is not a competent run blocker at LG. Also, the LG can get help from C or LT on many occasions. I understand that teams will try to isolate a weakness on the line one-on-one, but a competent guy can win most of those matchups.

    It I had to choose between Kemo and Hills though, I think I would cut Kemo and try to bring him back at a lesser salary if it made sense financially.

  • JerryCola

    Kemo needs to be replaced in the starting lineup next year, just not by Tony Hills.

  • No, he doesn’t, especially on the OL, but he was right about Hills. Hills had THREE YEARS to make it on the team, and failed to ever show he could put it together in games that mattered. There was little to justify keeping him (some potential, he always had that), and definitely nothing to justify trading a draft pick for a backup in Denver.

    When I first read this article, I thought it was going to be about bringing Faneca back. I am not sure that would have been much worse.

  • Personally, I think if you are going to mention a guard they let go too early, you should mention Kraig Urbik before Hills. Urbik at least has some NFL starts now, even if for a bad line. They gave up on him too early.

  • Steelerz357

    Yep, read the whole article – issue was a new lease on life – for an O-line – Seemed like one guy that cant even sustain a starting position and there was no actual rumors about a re-acquisitionas a new lease on life was just sloppy at best. I do agree I would like to see a NT like Poe in the 1st round, but will trust the Steelers brass as always pretty good track record lately.

  • Cian, you mention James Harrison and Victor Cruz as people who were cut/almost cut and became great, but that is using the exception to prove the rule. For every one player like that, there are 50 Limas Sweeds or Alonzo Jacksons…

  • Steelerz357

    Sorry if I offended you Dave – not my intention. As for Christina Rivers, you are going to play the woman journalist card – really???? I stated my differing opinions, not a discrimmination thing – Maybe you had too much milk of amnesia.

    Dave – I will not be a problem on this website – I enjoy reading your articles and will try refrain from commenting on at least one other person’s articles. Please keep posting and dont worry about moderating my @ss ! To all – have a good one !

  • True for the most part, but this is a talented draft class at OG. Aside from Glenn, there is Decastro is he falls, Osemele, Nate Potter, Silatola, and others. They are also looking at Nix from Pitt. Or, pretty much any OL player from Wisconson or Alabama. Seriously, I am pretty sure they have the most starting OL in the NFL. I think 5 of Wisconsins last 6 LTs are NFL starters or something ridiculous like that.

  • The more I think, the more I see them going for Barron or Hightower. They can get an OG and an NT in later rounds.

  • Wills vs Scott was an interesting debate last year, but I think ultimately an indictment of Colberts later round OL picks that it even needed to be debated. Neither is any good IMO.

  • CIan, what are your thoughts on a lter round NT like Te’Amu (personally I would take him in the second over Poe in the first), Chapman or Nix?

  • I completely agree that Kemo will be replaced, but not by Hills. In fact, he likely already has. Even without a draft pick, Legursky and Foster figure to be the starting guards barring injury. I would prefer a draft pick to push them as well. Kemo won’t be on the roster if they want to keep Wallace. Likely even if they don’t.

  • I, for one, would LOVE to see a discussion comparing the prospects at NT (Poe, Te’Amu, Chapman, Nix, etc) including their relative values by expected round. I like Poe, but I am not sold that he is that much better than Te’Amu, who may have a bigger upside. Same scenario for OG.

  • Not that anyone asked me. 🙂

  • SteelersBall

    Seems like the SD contributors are feeling defensive today. I love this site, heck this site is my favorite. If the readers are allowed to express their (humble) opinion, then I think the point is clear, this article fails to meet our expectations. Probably the worse article I have read on this site, of so many great articles. Surprised by the defensiveness too. Disappointed to see C Rivers play the female writer card.. Other compliaints about this article, pretty much the same as everbody elses complaints.

  • ToddinSyracuse

    I think the author needs to review the tape on Hills again. When I charted him for one of the last preseason games, I opined that he would be cut. Multiple pressures, missed blocks, etc.

    As you say he is very athletic, but is really a finesse player that is tackle capable only (and a poor one at that).

    Certainly not worthy of granting the OL a “new lease on life”.

  • You’ve got it Steve! Expect those this week!

  • I apologize for pulling the female journalist card. I was having a bad day.

  • I asked for suggestions and am listening.

  • Steelersz357, I am sorry that it seemed I was pulling the female journalist card, so to speak…but it wasn’t aimed at you at all. It was an observation and I’d love to retract it.

    And seriously, I do not want you to stop reading the site. It is absolutely the best Steelers blog/news site on the web.

    Don’t refrain from commenting. Everyone has a right to their opinion…and sometimes as writers, we put a lot of work into something we think will be engaging only to find that people are put off by it. It’s frustrating, but just because we’re writers, we have to understand that not everyone agrees. Maybe I did drink too much Milk of Mag. LOL

    No hard feelings.

  • Eric87

    Would like to see Hightower on the team, and even though he is a supposed head case, I would take a chance on Burfict if he fell to round 3

  • Thanks!

  • SteelersHonolulu

    You make some good points …I think would it be worth trading Mike Wallace (bold move but because we have A.B.and E.S.) for a pick or free agent OL. We keep not being able to address the OLine and we need to take a risk since we have lots of talent at the receiver spot. Can Ben last another year of this kind of pounding?……..He never finishes strong at the end of the season because he’s so beat up. I say take take a shot if we can get what we need via a Wallace trade. What say you Clan?

  • Burfict won’t fall past the Ravens in one, but I would take him in 3 also.