Ed: It's time for Steelers to address the O-line
It's time Steelers address the line
April 24, 2012
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The most important positions on a football team after the quarterback? The offensive line. At least that's the old football coach's tale.
The Steelers, though, treated their offensive line as if it were an afterthought for too many years. They picked an offensive lineman with a high pick in 2002, but didn't do so again until the past two years, drafting linemen with one of their top two picks: center Maurkice Pouncey No. 1 in '10 and tackle Marcus Gilbert No. 2 in '11.
Once the Steelers had a pretty good offensive line that included three Pro Bowl players -- center Jeff Hartings, guard Alan Faneca and tackle Marvel Smith. The two other starters were guard Kendall Simmons and tackle Max Starks. They drafted Faneca and Simmons in the first round. Hartings was a free agent signing and former No. 1 draft pick. They drafted Smith in the second round and Starks in the third.
The trouble began when virtually their entire offensive line grew old or lame at the same time. They lost Hartings, Smith and Simmons to age and retirement, and Faneca as a free agent they deemed too old for the money he commanded. Starks was the only one who hung around from that crew, and the more the coaches ignored him, the more the front office paid him.
The ultimate Starks story occurred last year when they cut him before camp, then recalled him after four games when no one else could cut it at left tackle. He started the rest of the season there. He is rehabbing from a torn ACL and remains a free agent but the Steelers may have to call him again to bring his life preserver to their offensive line.
That is, unless they can hit it big in this draft. The Steelers have Pouncey, who has made two Pro Bowls in two years. They believe Gilbert can make the transition from starting right tackle to the left side. They have Willie Colon returning after missing all but one game over the past two seasons because of injuries. They have two undrafted players as their starting guards, Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster. Their veteran backups are Trai Essex and Jonathan Scott.
"I never thought their offensive line was good enough," said Tom Modrak, former president of the Eagles and personnel man with the Steelers and Bills.
But Modrak said teams don't need great offensive lines to be successful, especially if they have great quarterbacks. And the Steelers have been proof of that theory.
"Everyone wants five [linemen], you don't need to have five," Modrak said. "You have a couple and you can play pretty well. If you get your left tackle and your center, and you're lucky enough to have a decent right tackle, and you can be workmanlike inside, you have a chance to be good.
"Teams get away with it. New England gets away with it because of the quarterback; they're not all that loaded up there, they move people during the year. If Matt Light retires, they'll still get away with it. Indianapolis, [Peyton Manning] threw so fast that they got away with it. You just need a couple, especially with Big Ben [Roethlisberger]."
Pittsburgh agent Ralph Cindrich, who has represented plenty of offensive linemen in his day -- including Steelers Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson -- agrees.
"You have to have a dominant couple of guys on your offensive line if you're going to be successful. The other ones you can put in and you can get by. You need the dominant ones."
The Steelers have at least one in Pouncey and hope Gilbert can fall into that category, but there's no one else close to dominant at the other three positions.
Perhaps this will be the third consecutive year they try to draft one in the first or second round. Available to them in the first round may be guards Cordy Glenn of Georgia and Kevin Zeitler of Wisconsin, perhaps tackle Mike Adams of Ohio State and Bobby Massie of Mississippi.
They could find their guard in the second round too, but there's not likely to be a dominant tackle there.
"At least three and possibly four or five of those big tackle types will go in the first round," predicted Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com. "Guard is a good crop. It's a solid class, just not an elite class."
The Steelers will draft some linemen this week, although whether they go for them in the first two rounds again is not a given.
"It's hard, really, with those guys to predict who's going to be able to do it and who isn't," said Tom Donahoe, former president of the Bills and personnel man with the Steelers. "But you keep trying because you never have enough; they get injured, it's a physically demanding position so you're always trying to make sure if you do get two or four injured a year, you have enough depth to fill in."
The Steelers were swamped by injuries last season in their line, starting when Colon left the opener with a torn triceps. They used nine starting offensive lines in 16 games last season.
And while they may not have paid attention to linemen in the first two rounds very often since they drafted Simmons No. 1 in 2002, neither have they ignored it. They drafted guard Kraig Urbik in the third round in '09, cut him, and he's starting in Buffalo. Tackle Tony Hills was drafted in the fourth round in '08 but didn't pan out, nor did guard Cam Stephenson (5th, '07). Tackle Chris Scott (fifth, '10) remains on the roster.
NOTE -- Dawson will announce the team's draft picks in the second and third rounds in New York Friday night.
Last edited by hawaiiansteel; 04-24-2012 at 12:25 AM.
Steelers could be on guard in first round
By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The Steelers' offensive line hasn't been a strong point over the past five years. The team has made do with low draft picks and castoffs from other teams.
That trend started to change in 2010, when the Steelers selected center Maurkice Pouncey with their first pick in the draft. Pittsburgh followed that by selecting tackle Marcus Gilbert in the second round last year. Each player became an immediate starter and a building block for the future.
The Steelers will try to add to their offensive line when the NFL draft begins Thursday.
"Yes, I think at some point, we'll be able to do that, along with some other positions," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
There are some holes to fill.
Max Starks, re-signed early in the 2011 season to play left tackle, suffered a torn knee ligament in a playoff loss at Denver and is a free agent.
The Steelers plan on moving Gilbert, who started 13 games at right tackle as a rookie, to the left side, hoping that Willie Colon can step back in at right tackle. Colon missed most of the last two seasons with injuries.
Pouncey is set at center, and the Steelers re-signed free-agent guards Ramon Foster, Doug Legursky and Trai Essex, but released Chris Kemoeatu, who lost his starting job midway through last season.
Matt Kalil of USC is considered to be the best offensive line prospect in this draft and is a likely top-five pick.
After that, however, things could get interesting.
At tackle, Iowa's Reilly Reiff, Stanford's Jonathan Martin and Ohio State's Mike Adams are considered first-round prospects. None of the three was as dominant as expected in their final college season, and Adams compounded that by testing positive for marijuana at the NFL combine. That positive test means Adams has likely been taken off the Steelers' draft board.
The Steelers have met with several offensive tackles, including Mississippi's Bobbie Massie (6-6, 316) and California's Mitchell Schwartz (6-5, 31. Each are viewed as second-round prospects.
Much of the Steelers' interest in offensive linemen has been at guard. Stanford's David DeCastro (6-5, 317) is rated the top prospect and should be selected in the first 20 picks. If he gets close enough to Pittsburgh's draft spot No. 24, the Steelers might be tempted to trade up.
Georgia's Cordy Glenn (6-5, 345), Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler (6-4, 314) and Midwestern State's Amini Silatou (6-3, 311) are considered the next three best guard prospects, though Wisconsin center Peter Konz (6-5, 314) could also fall into that group. Each would be a solid pick after the first 20 selections. Glenn is the biggest of the group, but also the least nimble, while teammates Zeitler and Konz are a little more agile.
Though a small-school prospect, Silatou has been solid in his pre-draft workouts and won't last longer than the middle of the second round.
"I think there's a lot of small college guys in this draft who could have an impact," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper. "Some of them may even go early. They're not just going to be fifth-, sixth-, seventh-round picks. ... Amini Silatolu, who played left tackle, will be a guard. He's probably going to end up being a second-round draft choice."
Other guards the Steelers might select in later rounds include Brandon Brooks of Miami (Ohio), Kelvin Beachum of SMU, Pitt's Lucas Nix and Washington's Senio Kelemente.
Need to add some bodies that represent the future of the OL and quit treading water year to year. Essex, Foster and Legursky are one year solutions..they only signed one year tenders. I also think Scott is out of his contract at the end of 2012. That is four OL you expect will be on the opening day roster not under contract when 2012 ends.
IMO you have to get two OL in this draft and maybe a third late. I'd love Glenn or Zeitler in Round 1 and maybe Nix later in Round 3.
No one is saying we need FIVE dominant linemen. All I've ever said in relation to our O-line is to bring in intelligent, quick-minded players.
Kemoeatu highlights the problem I've seen with a lot of our linemen. We bring in these guys who were big brutes, but were terrible in terms of picking things up, the cohesion, and the self-starter mentality that you want. We have had a lot of sleepy guys, who need someone to spark them to work, to motivate them, and it showed.
DeCastro epitomizes what I would like to see. Zeitler too. Which is not to say we need a 1st round type. DeCastro/Zeitler are self-starters, bright, and tough. You can certainly find guys like that in Rounds 2-5. I'd be fine with that.