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Ariel Solomon, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 1991-1995

December 11, 2011

Ariel Solomon:

First, can you tell readers what you are doing with yourself these days post-football?

After retiring from football I  moved back to Boulder, CO and I now own and run a mortgage company here in Colorado.

You were a very versatile player in Colorado – you played on the defensive line and offensive line – do you think that was one of the reasons the Steelers drafted you in 1991? 

I think the Steelers drafted me because they felt I could adapt easily to the style of offense they ran. In college I was part of a tough run-oriented offense very similar to the Steelers philosophy.  I also was a bit of a raw talent with a lot of room to improve and mature and I think they liked that upside potential.

Were you surprised to be drafted by the Steelers – what did they tell you your role on the team would be then? 

The draft is almost always surprising. Yes, I was surprised to get the call from Pittsburgh, I didn’t know they had their eye on me.  They told me just to play hard and that everything including my role and my exact position would take care of itself.

Who helped mentor you as a rookie and helped you adjust to the NFL and team- on and off the field? And how?

I was fortunate to join a team with a great group of leaders and an offensive line that immediately took me in.  Tunch Ilkin was a fantastic player and a great mentor to me. He worked with me on techniques almost every day, showed me how to study film and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each opponent.

As I mentioned so many of the lineman at that time were exceptional players and people and they all helped me in their own way. I learned to play Center from Dermontti Dawson, Guard from Carlton Haselrig and Duval Love. It was hard not to improve with that group of mentors.

You played a number of positions on those Steelers teams, backing up every offensive line position and playing on special teams. At some point, did that versatility hinder your ability to become a starter at a specific position, or was that your key to securing a spot on the team?

I think it was a little of both.  There is no question that my ability to play all five positions and be the backup goal line tight end was an advantage to me and made me more valuable to the team. There were many games we only had seven lineman in uniform due to my ability and Justin Strzelczyk’s ability to play so many positions.  It did keep me from really mastering any one position and competing for a starting role in that one spot but I think generally it was a great benefit for me to be so versatile.

One of my knocks was that I was a “tweener”. Not quite big enough to be a tackle but taller and smaller than most guards and centers. I was able to turn that in-between physical ability to play all the positions.

You were there when the team transitioned from Coach Noll to Coach Cowher. How difficult was that for the team to adjust to a new coach and how did Cowher “win over” the team and turn things around?

It was a great honor for me to play for Coach Noll. I really appreciated the professional way he approached the game and his leadership role. He also gave me a chance to play and start as a rookie 10th round pick. 

When Coach Cowher came in he brought a fresh new approach to the game and to the team. He had a lot of energy and enthusiasm and was much closer to the teams’ age so he really related to the players. He changed way we practiced in the late season and really brought a spark to the team and kept us fresh for the playoffs.

How did the two coaches differ in terms of how they worked with their assistant coaches and players?

Coach Cowher really brought in an experienced group of assistant coaches that  brought to the team a great amount of knowledge and situational game experience.  Coach Noll really had that experience so he did not call upon his assistants to bring that attribute to the team as much as Cowher did. Coach Cowher also really brought a lot of outward enthusiasm and energy to the team. He coached us with a lot of emotion and that is how we played.

Who were the players on those Steelers teams that were the biggest characters – and what made them so?

We did have quite a few characters. I remember Justin Strzelczyk and his unique personality. We sat next to each other everyday for five years and I watched him turn from a clean-cut guy to “Harley” guy with a long beard and hair.  He took up playing the guitar and banjo – he was eccentric and a great friend.

Kevin Greene was also a great guy and his long hair and over the top WWF type personality on the field make him one of a kind in the league at that time.

Much of your contributions were on special teams for Pittsburgh. Did you enjoy playing on special teams and how much emphasis did both coaches put on special teams in practices?

I did enjoy playing special teams.  I played all my years on the kickoff return team. I always enjoyed getting the chance to start the game off with the first play of the game and the chance to take a shot a someone in the open field. That was something I did not get to do much on the offensive line.  I always considered myself an offensive lineman first and foremost but we did put a lot of emphasis on the special teams. 

Both coaches knew the importance of that phase of the game and it could turn a game for or against us.

Who were the toughest guys you faced in practice and on other teams – and what made them so tough to go against?

I played against so many great players.  In practice Joel Steed in the middle was tough and pass blocking against Greg Lloyd and Kevin Green was a handful. I think the two best D-lineman I ever played against were Reggie White as a rookie and John Randal. John was very quick and explosive.

After five years, you left Pittsburgh for Minnesota. How difficult was that move for you and why did it occur?

It was a very difficult move. I had made my home in Pittsburgh and thought there was no better place to play professional football. 

After my fifth year in the NFL I became an unrestricted free agent and the Vikings made me a business offer I could not refuse.  That is part of the business side of professional sports.

What are your best memories as a Steeler?

I have a lot or really great memories. The days spent in the locker room with my close friends like Jerry “O” {Olsavsky} and my other teammates are my fondest memories. Playing in two AFC championship games in Three Rivers were fantastic memories and of course going to the Super Bowl was a great experience as well.

Any last thoughts for readers?

I think the Steeler Nation is the best fan base in football! I made some great friends while I was there and the Rooney’s and the city continue to have the best franchise in the game.

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