The Arizona Cardinals named Larry Zierlein, a former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach, as their new assistant offensive line coach on Tuesday, and on Wednesday he was a guest on 93.7 The Fan to talk about his new job and his time spent in Pittsburgh.
During the interview Zierlein was asked to talk about his offensive line unit that won Super Bowl XLIII against the Cardinals. If you remember, that was a unit that had lost two starters to injury early on in the season.
“I am very, very proud of that group of kids,” said Zierlein. “They got a lot of criticism and I think a lot of it was really underserved. Darnell (Stapleton), that was the last snap that he ever played. He was on 40 year old knees that year and just gutted his way through it. Justin Hartwig played in that game with a knee injury, that throughout the week in practice, and we never asked him, and he couldn\’t get up to the second level. He would snap the ball and take a couple of steps and that was all that he could do. He took a lot of criticism on the safety where they ran a twist, and you can see on the tape that Justin sees the twist coming, he knows to pick it up, it\’s not like he missed it, he just couldn\’t push off to get it and we got the safety.
“Then of course, Juice, Chris Kemoeatu, he was playing with, I forget, shoulders, knees, elbows, you name it. So that was a beat up group of kids. Again, they had a lot of criticism, but I tell you what, I\’m very, very proud of them and I just thought they did a heck of a job in that game, and I really thought they did a pretty darn good job throughout the year. You know we had some injuries early on and had Darnell jump in became a starter for Kendall Simmons, and then Max (Starks) moved over and became a starter after Marvel Smith went down. So I\’m very proud of that group.”
The Steelers started the season with Smith at left tackle, Kemoeatu at left guard, Hartwig at center, Simmons at right guard and Willie Colon at right tackle. That unit made it through the first three games of the season together until Simmons tore his Achilles in the Week 4 game against the Baltimore Ravens and he was replaced in the lineup by Stapleton. By Week 7 a back injury had forced Smith out for good and he was replaced by Starks. Luckily that was it in the way of serious injuries, as Kemoeatu, Colon and Hartwig were able to stay on the field. In fact, Kemoeatu played every snap that season despite being very banged up by the time the Super Bowl rolled around.
In all, the Steelers were only forced to use three different starting lineups that season and they had the same starting five from the sixth game on. Simmons and Smith were both gone after the season, and Stapleton was placed on injured reserve prior to the start of the 2009 season, his last in Pittsburgh, with a knee injury suffered during the first week of training camp.
Zierlein, as many remember, was fired by the Steelers following the 2009 season and had been out of the NFL until this week.