Steelers weighing quarterback options
By Ralph N. Paulk
Published: Monday, April 23, 2012
The top QBs for this week’s NFL Draft after Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III:
Player, school Ht. Wt.
1. Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M 6-4 221
2. Brandon Weeden, Okla. St. 6-4 220
3. Brock Osweiler, Arizona St. 6-7 242
4. Kirk Cousins, Michigan St. 6-3 214
5. Nick Foles, Arizona 6-5 240
6. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin 5-11 204
7. Case Keenum, Houston 6-1 210
8. Austin Davis, Southern Miss 6-2 220
9. Kellen Moore, Boise State 6-0 197
10. Dominique Davis, E. Carolina 6-3 215
The Steelers aren't likely to opt for a quarterback with either of their early-round picks, as there are greater needs, particularly on the offensive line.
Yet general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin face an inevitable reality about the team's quarterback situation — that two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger has become increasingly vulnerable to injuries, in part, because an often-injured, sometimes unreliable offensive line has left his blind side exposed far too often.
Roethlisberger limped through part of last season with ankle and foot injuries that limited his effectiveness, especially in a key regular-season loss to San Francisco and a playoff defeat in Denver.
"Ben Roethlisberger has been getting hit and getting hit a lot," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "This is a team that needs a strong draft. They're a team you would argue is on the decline. If Ben is going to keep getting hit ... they've got to get better, especially on the offensive line."
More troublesome, however, is the uncertainty surrounding Roethlisberger's backups.
Byron Leftwich, the expected No. 2 when training camp begins, missed last season with a broken arm. Charlie Batch enters his 15th season, his 12th with the Steelers. And former third-stringer Dennis Dixon is pursuing the free-agent market.
Tomlin indicated during last month's owners meetings that the Steelers were interested in either drafting or acquiring a young quarterback. Two weeks later, the Steelers and Batch, 37, agreed to a one-year deal.
"We could add to that, be it the draft or free agency," Tomlin said.
The Steelers signed free agents Jerrod Johnson and Troy Smith earlier this year. Smith, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State, spent three seasons with the Ravens.
Kiper projects that eight quarterbacks — including expected No. 1 Andrew Luck (Indianapolis) and No. 2 Robert Griffin III (Washington) — could be taken in the first two rounds. There's a chance a few first-round prospects could slip to the second round, including Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M, Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State, Nick Foles of Arizona, Russell Wilson of Wisconsin and Kirk Cousins of Michigan State.
"We aren't going to take a quarterback in the first round," Colbert said. "But beyond that I would never close the door."
The Steelers, like most teams, will probably carry three quarterbacks on their roster next season. But Batch was Roethlisberger's only backup for much of last season with Leftwich on injured reserve and Dixon on the inactive list.
Even if the Steelers find a potential successor to Roethlisberger during the draft, they must address the more pressing issue of a thin offensive line.
"The offensive line right now is a problematic area," Kiper said. "The bottom line is there's only two set positions on that offensive line."
The Steelers have the 24th overall pick. Unless they negotiate a draft-day deal, they will have 10 picks, including three compensatory selections in the seventh round.