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STEELERS DRAFT OFFENSIVE PRIMER

April 19, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

The biggest X factor entering this year’s NFL Draft for the Steelers is how the arrival of new offensive coordinator Todd Haley might affect strategy. Will Pittsburgh bring back a full-time fullback? Will they switch to a two-headed approach at tailback? Will they throw more to their tight ends? The draft might give us some clues.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The skinny: The Steelers have drafted more offensive linemen than any other position during the Kevin Colbert era, and seemingly have less to show for it. And there’s the rub. While media and fans consistently point to this as a weak link, the personnel people running the team have missed too many times on high choices here and had to consistently look to mid-round draftees and low-level free agent signings to shore things up. It would certainly seem the Steelers have needs at guard and tackle, but whether they’ll address them early is still a question mark.

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2012) 7

Timing: Possibly first round, but more likely second through fourth.

Possible selections: The Steelers brought in at least five OL prospects and all of them likely would be 1st-4th round selections. Mammoth Mike Adams of Ohio State once was projected as a Top 15 pick but his stock has been falling (and now comes word he tested positive for marijuana use at the combine). Conversely, guard Amini Silatolu of Midwestern State has skyrocketed onto a lot of first-round boards. A notch below those two is tackles Mitchell Schwartz of Cal and Bobby Massie of Mississippi State. Guard Brandon Brooks of Miami (Ohio) would likely be a late second or third rounder. Noticeably absent from the visit list are G-T Cordy Glenn of Georgia, linked with Pittsburgh in many mock drafts, and either Wisconsin prospect, Peter Konz or Kevin Zeitler, but keep in mind that visits don’t always equate with picks (last year’s #1 Cam Heyward did not visit the Steelers before the 2011 draft but five of the other six picks did).

If they went #1: Adams and Glenn both fit the Steelers first-round profile, but Adams is probably out with the pot tag, so that leaves Glenn. Silatolu or Massie might be a possibility in a “trade down” scenario.

QUARTERBACK

The skinny: The fact that Ben Roethlisberger’s name on the marquee sold out the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame banquet next week tells you how far the 2010 incident in Milledgeville, Ga., is from Steelers fans’ minds. The big question now for most is not whether Roethlisberger should be a Steelers, but how well he will mesh with Haley. The re-signing of Charlie Batch and the offseason signing of Troy Smith indicates both Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon are gonzo.

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2012) 4

Timing: Late round or free agent.

Possible selection: The Steelers did not bring a QB in for a visit but showed extra attention to Kirk Cousins at Michigan State’s pro day. BCS-program guys like Russell Wilson and Case Keenum also fit the profile of a late-round grab.

If they went #1: They won’t.

RUNNING BACK

The skinny: This is one giant question mark. Rashard Mendenhall is recovering from serious knee surgery and is unlikely to be ready for the season’s start. Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Mewelde Moore return but are they ready to pick up the slack? Will Baron Batch, who drew raves last year before a serious knee injury ended his rookie season before it really began, be able to contribute? It seems fairly certain the Steelers will take a back and it could be as early as the second round, where the prospects are quite intriguing. While it is highly unlikely Pittsburgh will draft a true fullback, keep an eye on the free agent signings in that regard.

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2012) 8

Timing: Second through seventh rounds.

Possible selections: Two RBs have visited the Steelers – Cincinnati’s Isaiah Pead and Oregon’s LaMichael James -- and they’re both cut from the same mold, speed backs who’d likely split carries or work in specialty packages rather than as a feature back. A guy like Temple’s Bernard Pierce fits the Steelers profile and would be a 4-5 possibility while Ohio Stat’s Dan “Boom” Herron might be a final-round selection.

If they went #1: They won’t.

WIDE RECEIVER

The skinny: With Hines Ward retired, Mike Wallace unhappy and Emmanuel Sanders injury prone, the free agent signing of Jericho Cotchery really shored things up here. Still, this is an area of need and we wouldn’t rule anything out, even a trade up scenario (likely for Michael Floyd) or a trade down (likely for Stephen Hill, who visited Pittsburgh).

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2012) 6

Timing: First through free agent

Possible selections: Georgia Tech’s Hill might be graded just below the Steelers first pick and just ahead of their second. Michigan State’s Keshawn Martin and Florida International’s T.Y. Hilton both visited and they’d be a 4-5 guys. The other WR visits (Colorado’s Toney Clemons and Arkansas’ Gregory Childs) are likely 6-7-FA prospects.

If they went #1: If Michael Floyd got into the 18-20 range and the Steelers think he’s a legit NFL #1 they might be tempted to jump up and grab him as Wallace’s heir apparent.

TIGHT END

The skinny: Things could get interesting here, and just how interesting depends on the Steelers intentions in signing free agent Leonard Pope. Whether Pope is considered just a stopgap to get through Weslye Saunders’ four-game suspension to start the season or whether he’s being considered a legit challenger for the #2 TE job will affect what Pittsburgh does at this position.

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2012) 5

Timing: First through FA

Possible selections: They brought four guys in for visits – Louisiana Lafayette’s Ladarius Green and Missouri’s Michael Egnew, who are 3-4 rounders; and Oregon’s David Paulson and Cincinnati’s Adrien Robinson, who are more like 5-6 guys.

If they went #1: If you subscribe to the “give the new OC a present” theory then Stanford’s Coby Fleener is in play here, with the logic being that a Fleener/Heath Miller combo would match/mimic the Patriots, Ravens and other AFC powers who seem to be going that route.

KICKER

The skinny: After Jeff Reed’s magnificent flameout in Pittsburgh, it was assumed Shaun Suisham was a stopgap who might not last a month. Well, here we are nearly three years later and Suisham continues to make just enough kicks to stay out of trouble.

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2012) 3

Timing: Free agent seems likely

Possible selections: The pickings are so thin this year that there might not be a place kicker drafted, at all. We wouldn’t even hazard a guess on a name.

If they went #1: They won’t.

NEXT WEEK: The defensive primer, the “15 Minutes” mock and grading the 2009 draft…

 
 
 

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