Steelers' All-Pro not caught off guard by move to tackle

Updated: October 23, 2003, 5:59 PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Making a position switch at midseason, even midgame, is common in the NFL. Bears quarterback Kordell Stewart was nicknamed "Slash" in Pittsburgh for playing as many as three positions in a game.

Switching an All-Pro player at midseason, especially to a position he hasn't played in years, is something entirely different. But that's what the Steelers are doing with Alan Faneca, an All-Pro left guard for the last two seasons who now finds himself starting at left tackle.

Faneca, who is only in his sixth season but might already be the best guard in the Steelers' 71-season history, originally moved to left tackle on an emergency basis for their 17-14 loss at Denver on Oct. 12.

Left tackle Marvel Smith (shoulder) needed another week off, so line coach Russ Grimm felt more comfortable putting his best player at the most vulnerable position on the line. The left tackle protects a right-handed quarterback's blind side and often takes on the defense's best pass rusher.

Faneca made the move despite not having played tackle since high school.

"At left tackle, you're the last line of defense out there," Faneca said.

Now, with the Steelers even more beaten up along the offensive line than they were in Denver, Faneca's supposed one-week trial might last a lot longer.

Smith's recovery is taking longer than expected, so Faneca will start at tackle again Sunday against St. Louis. Once Smith is ready, there's a possibility he might go back to right tackle, where he started in 2001 and 2002.

Todd Fordham is currently at right tackle, but he played the least of the eight linemen Grimm rotated constantly in Denver. That group was reduced by one when tackle Mathias Nkwenti went on injured reserve this week with a back injury.

Faneca and Smith are signed long-term, so there's a possibility that the Steelers could keep them at tackle and go shopping for another guard during the offseason. Traditionally, guards cost less to sign than premier tackles.

"If that's where they want me, if that's what best for the team, that's where I'll go," Faneca said. "I can't think of a problem necessarily."

Even if he's a tackle earning guard's money? Even if it costs him the All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors he received the last two seasons?

"That's not a problem," Faneca said. "(Being) 2-and-4 is a problem."

The Steelers' slow start and an inability to generate the power running game that traditionally carries their offense explains not only the Faneca move, but the decision to bring back Jerome Bettis at running back. The Steelers think they can be effective running against St. Louis (4-2), which is allowing 4.5 yards per carry.

The way Faneca explains it, he'd be willing to move to fullback if he thought it would make a difference in the Steelers' season.

And while Faneca is moving only a few feet to his left, the switch is much more complicated. The technique a tackle learns is much different from that of a guard, who often blocks in a more confined area.

"Probably the biggest difference in me moving from guard to tackle is someone trying to beat me off the edge," he said. "That's the real difference in my pass protection that I've been getting used to."

Should he make the move fulltime, the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Faneca might need to add a few more pounds, but otherwise will work mostly on his technique.

"It's just getting comfortable with it," he said.

This story is from's automated news wire. Wire index