Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
After being pummeled by pundits the past several months, Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Marvel Smith is looking forward to getting the 2008 season underway.
Smith and the much-maligned Steelers offensive line will get a stern test right away on Sunday with a young, up-and-coming defensive front of the Houston Texans. Led by former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams, Houston's battle with Pittsburgh at the line of scrimmage will help determine the outcome of the game, and it will be Smith's job to neutralize Williams.
"I'm looking forward to it," Smith said in a telephone interview with ESPN.com. "It's definitely going to be a big test. But it's no different any other week for me being a left tackle and always facing the best defensive player they got for the most part. But Williams brings all the tools to the table that you want in a good defensive end. He's strong, fast, uses his hands well, and like all the top defensive ends he is relentless."
Many were surprised when the Texans took Williams with the top pick in 2006. There was an exciting running back in Reggie Bush and a hometown quarterback in Vince Young that some felt the Texans should have selected before Williams.
But while Bush and Young have been inconsistent their first two seasons, Williams is steadily becoming one of the top edge rushers in the NFL. He was tied for third in the league last year with 14 sacks.
Pittsburgh's primary concern is protecting its quarterback after starter Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 47 times last season. The team has worked through training camp on every phase of pass protection this summer.
"I have no doubt about [improving]," Smith said. "The thing about pass protection it's more than five linemen. Everybody has to be on the same page and the more cohesive we are as a whole unit, we will be that much better."