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Steelers' Colon once again trying to walk in Faneca's footsteps

| Monday, June 11, 2012, 10:46 p.m.
Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon during OTAs June, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

His first reaction when he walked into the Steelers' locker room and saw he would dress next to Alan Faneca? Oh, no!

It's not that Willie Colon, a wide-eyed rookie from a school that doesn't even have football anymore, had heard bad things about Faneca. He simply was in awe of the perennial Pro Bowl guard.

Colon didn't dare talk to the legend to the left of him. And Faneca didn't talk to Colon until near the end of the 2006 season, after Colon had taken over at right tackle for the injured Max Starks.

“Once I started being a professional, that's when he acknowledged me,” said Colon, a fourth-round pick out of Hofstra in 2006. “As I'm sitting right where he (was), I can get it, because if you're right-minded, you're professional and you're strong-willed, you want people who are like that next to you. He didn't know how I was as a person or a ballplayer until I actually had a chance to show him.”

Six years later, Colon is hoping to measure up to another lofty standard set by Faneca.

Colon has moved from right tackle to left guard, the position Faneca gold-plated during 10 seasons in Pittsburgh. And his transition continues today when the Steelers convene for a three-day mandatory minicamp at their South Side headquarters.

Colon has worked at left guard since the start of offseason practice, and he could provide consistency the position has lacked since the Steelers allowed Faneca to leave as a free agent following the 2007 season.

Colon has the same nasty disposition as Chris Kemoeatu, the primary starter at left guard the past four seasons, and he is a proven NFL lineman, having excelled as a right tackle when healthy. What really gives the Steelers hope that Colon can become a premier guard is he has embraced change despite being an established veteran.

“If he was reluctant and didn't want to be a guard, it wouldn't work,” Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler said. “Willie wants to be the best guard he can be, and he's working on it. He's constantly there in the film room, constantly asking questions. Things he's made mistakes on, he wants to work on. I think he's going to be an excellent guard, and he's only going to benefit us up front.”

Colon started 54 consecutive games at right tackle from 2006-09, and he has had to adjust to his new position. The 6-foot-3, 315-pounder is playing in a more confined space and working more with the interior lineman. He also will pull frequently — if the Steelers' recent tendencies are any indication — something Colon didn't do as a tackle.

Pulling will require Colon to be patient yet explosive before the start of a play.

“Willie has a lot of the natural assets and skill to be a great left guard,” former Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks said. “He is a strong and powerful dude. He likes to get nasty in the trenches, so I think it is a really good move.”

Colon is the most experienced player on an offensive line that could start two rookies in 2012. That stature makes him shake his head when he recalls his first few seasons with the Steelers.

“I'll get a tap on the shoulder. ‘Hey, what were you thinking on this play?' Or ‘Why did you set like this?' ” Colon said. “It baffles me because I'm like, ‘Wow, I was that guy that was tapping Alan Faneca on the shoulder, and I was the guy tapping Marvel Smith on the shoulder.' I wear it with pride, but I (also) wear it with humbleness.”

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com.

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