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Steelers linemate accepts Faneca's absence

Marvel Smith has been a mainstay at left tackle. He's the first Steelers offensive lineman in recent memory to open his rookie season as a starter. Smith and left guard Alan Faneca formed the backbone of the line.

When asked what it would be like lining up without Faneca -- he has missed the first two voluntary organized team activity sessions because of a contract dispute and insists 2007 will be his last season with the Steelers -- Smith said he and Faneca make a perfect team.

"Now it's just at a point where we have our own communication out there," said Smith, who has started the past four seasons beside Faneca. "Somebody (else) that might play next to me, it's a completely different communication than what me and Alan use. A lot of times we don't even say anything to each other, because we know what each other sees out there at the same time."

Smith said that while cohesion and continuity are important to effective line play, Faneca's absence isn't a concern.

Faneca is expected to miss all 14 workouts, but he will report for training camp in July.

"The offensive line is the one position in football where if everybody's not on the same page, no play is going to work," Smith said. "Me, personally, I'm not worried about Alan not being here. We've played together for a long time. Him not being here right now isn't a big deal. It's not even mandatory. We all know what we're going to get from Alan when he gets here."

Smith said playing beside Faneca helped make him a better player. A second-round draft pick in 2000, he began as a right tackle before switching to the left side in 2003.

While making the transition to left tackle, which is difficult because it involves protecting the quarterback's blind side, Smith was hampered by a pinched nerve in his neck. He appeared in only six games that season and was placed on injured reserve.

"Moving to the left side was a challenge, but it's easier getting used to playing with a player that plays at his level," Smith said of Faneca. "He helps you play better, and mentally I know I've got to play at the level he plays at."

Smith, considered one of the best left tackles in the NFL, appreciates the shift in philosophy under new coach Mike Tomlin that will allow quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to make the offensive line calls. Previously, the center and two guards made those calls.

"It's good for Ben to see everything that's going on and not rely on us to make the calls," Smith said. "Last year, we made calls, but sometimes we weren't on the same page with him. In a loud stadium, he can't sometimes hear the calls that we're making. If he's back there making the calls, everybody knows what's going on. It makes things a lot more simplified, plus it will help him progress that much more reading the defense."

Asked to compare the Steelers under Tomlin and under Bill Cowher, Smith said, "It's almost like night and day. It's nothing like the way it was when coach Cowher was here. Everything's new, but it's all in how you interpret it and take in the knowledge they're trying to give us. It's some things added to the playbook that the offense didn't do in the past. Once we all get used to it, we're going to be that much better of an offense than we were last year."

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