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Pittsburgh Steelers

Stadium: Heinz Field | Coach: Mike Tomlin
Team RankingOverallRushingPassing
Offense6th113.0 (17th)289.0 (5th)
Defense19th174.0 (29th)182.0 (6th)

Roethlisberger would love another target

The Sports Xchange
 
Notes, Quotes · Strategy And Personnel · Roethlisberger would love another target
 

On the surface, the Steelers would not appear to need another wide receiver. They have their all-time leading receiver in Hines Ward, the NFL's second-best deep receiver in Mike Wallace (21.0 yards per catch) and two 2010 rookies who have good promise in Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown.

So, where's the room for another wide receiver?

It's not a great need, but a case can be made that it could become one in a hurry and if the right one is there, the Steelers just might grab him.

Ward, 35, may have a few more years in him but those years will not be among his best as he slowly inches toward retirement. There is no guarantee that either Sanders or Brown will develop into good, every-down receivers. If Wallace is the only one, they'll take him right out of games by doubling him.

They need another to develop and replace Ward, which would make Sanders then a good No. 3. No one knows that more than the quarterback.

"We still have to bring in depth there too because at some point Hines will retire," Ben Roethlisberger said. "I don't know when but I assume he's going to retire at some point, he's been doing it for a long time."

Roethlisberger has pined for a tall receiver ever since Plaxico Burress departed after the quarterback's rookie season. They tried to give him one when they drafted 6-4 Limas Sweed in the second round in 2008 but he has had emotional and physical problems and probably will never again pull on a Steelers uniform in a game.

Antwaan Randle El didn't give them much after he returned last year as a free agent and Arnaz Battle is almost solely a special-teamer. So, there is room for another. He may not be a high pick, but there is room.

There is one who practiced on the same fields as the Steelers the past several years and he fits the bill - Pitt's Jonathan Baldwin stands 6-41/2 and has speed and strength and agility. The Steelers, though, would have to grab him with their first pick if they have any interest.

It's more likely they'd get one later, someone such as a Darvin Adams of Auburn, Austin Pettis of Boise State, Tori Gurley of South Carolina - all reasonably tall wide receivers.

But wide receiver is not the only pass-catching spot they may be interested in. They have an excellent tight end in Heath Miller, but No. 2 Matt Spaeth will be an unrestricted free agent if they go back to the old rules this year. Again, not high, but the Steelers could draft another tight end.

Roethlisberger has expressed a desire to use the no-huddle offense more and said both he and coordinator Bruce Arians wanted to throw more often than they did in 2010. If that's the case, they must continue to supply him with the receivers to catch his passes.

--Even though they added end Ziggy Hood in the first round two years ago, the Steelers need to keep stocking their line. End Brett Keisel will be 33 at the start of the season, end Aaron Smith is 35 and nose tackle Casey Hampton turns 34 with backup nose tackle Chris Hoke 35.

For the second time in the past two years, Smith missed most of the season with an upper-body injury. In 2009, he played only five games before his season ended with a torn rotator cuff. Last season, he played in just six games before his season ended with a torn triceps. Although coach Mike Tomlin kept him on the 53-man roster all season with the hopes he might return at least by the Super Bowl, Smith did not.

Hood did a nice job replacing Smith the rest of the season, but at his age, it would be no surprise if Smith isn't near or even at the end.

Hampton has started the past 10 years, ever since they drafted him No. 1 in 2001 and while he's still playing at a high level, it's also time for them to develop his replacement. And Keisel's game is predicated on his quickness, which also won't last much longer.

Their linebackers in the 3-4 provide most of the pass rush, but the Steelers have always had a strong three-man line to get a push and take on the blockers to free up those linebackers. It's not too soon for them to add another and it would be no surprise if they do so high in the draft, perhaps even on the first round.

Among those prospects in whom they have a keen interest are Baylor's Phil Taylor and Hampton's Kenrick Ellis as nose-tackle prospects and Cameron Heyward as defensive end. Alabama A&M nose tackle Frank Kearse paid them a visit, although he's considered a late-round possibility.

Cornerback is their obvious need, but the Steelers always have put a premium on their front seven, considering them much more valuable than the guys behind them. So, going defensive line in the first round is a distinct possibility.

"Defensively, it generally starts with the men up front," Tomlin said. "I think you look at how players are drafted, it bears that out. Big people go first. If you're applying pressure to the quarterback, you don't have to cover. If you're stopping the run, you don't have to cover."

Pittsburgh has drafted two defensive linemen in the past 10 years, Hampton and Hood. They began their long run as a dynasty with Chuck Noll's first draft pick in 1969, Hall of Famer Joe Greene, and their philosophy of good, big men has not changed.

Another intriguing prospect at nose tackle is Stephen Paea of Oregon State. He's only 6-1, 305, but fiercely strong. Another late-round prospect is Auburn's Zack Clayton, who is 6-2, 299 and a nose-tackle prospect considered a late-round possibility. Clayton is visiting the team this week.

--Of Pittsburgh's top three tackles, one had his season ended by neck surgery, the other missed the season after surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles and a third, while healthy, turns 36 in May. In order they are Max Starks, Willie Colon and Flozell Adams.

Colon is a free agent (unrestricted or restricted depending on the rules for 2011). Jonathan Scott, who replaced the injured Starks as the starting left tackle for the second half of the season, is unrestricted. So too is guard/tackle Trai Essex, a valuable swingman who started five games and filled in across the board except at center.

This team has a crying need to draft a tackle if not a guard as well. They went through three starting right guards last season before settling on Ramon Foster, an undrafted player in his second season. Chris Kemoeatu, their starting left guard, is average at best and not very good at pass blocking.

Only one of their linemen has ever made a Pro Bowl with the Steelers and that is center Maurkice Pouncey, as a rookie. Adams made it five times, all with Dallas.

The Steelers have not drafted an offensive tackle in the first round since 1996 when they took Jamain Stephens, a flop. Since then, they have drafted two guards, one center and two wide receivers in the first round but no tackle.

They also have not drafted one in the second round since 2000 when they selected Marvel Smith, who made one Pro Bowl, the only instance a Steelers tackle has made it in the past 21 seasons. Maybe it's just as well because the Steelers never had a Pro-Bowl tackle in the 1970s either.

But how long can they keep putting together a patchwork offensive line? They took a giant step last season with Pouncey, but they need more than one good lineman. Maybe this year they'll try to add a second.

The candidates aren't sure-fire Pro Bowlers with the 31st pick in the draft, but they should be able to find one to come in and possibly start as a rookie. It looks like no linemen will go in the top 10, maybe even top 15 this year but there will be a run on them after that and the Steelers will find themselves waiting for that run to end with possibly four gone and only Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State left to consider at that position.

If they deem the tackle available not worthy at No. 31, they could turn to a guard. They had their eyes on Maurkice Pouncey's identical twin a long time ago, but Mike Pouncey has risen to perhaps the middle of the round and it would take too much ammunition for them to trade up and get him. They believe he is a clone of Maurkice in every way, including on the field and they loved how their rookie center played last season.

Guard Danny Watkins of Baylor might be the fall-back position if they go that way.

--The Steelers haven't had a Pro-Bowl cornerback since Rod Woodson made it for the seventh time after the 1996 season. The only other cornerback to consistently make the Pro Bowl since the NFL merger in 1970 was Mel Blount, who made it for the fifth time after the 1981 season. J.T. Thomas made it once, after the 1976 season and that's it for Steelers Pro-Bowl cornerbacks.

They believe Ike Taylor is of that quality, but he's now 30 and he's an unrestricted free agent. Taylor wants to return and they want him to return but that remains to be seen. He has the size they prefer in their corners and he's also their best coverage man. He has good ball awareness but has no hands as his 11 interceptions in eight seasons will attest.

Even if Taylor does return, they need a cornerback badly. Bryant McFadden returned to start on the left side for them last season but he has severe shortcomings and was picked on aplenty, especially in the Super Bowl. William Gay lost his starting job from 2009 to play nickel last season and is below average. After that they have Keenan Lewis, a third-round draft pick in 2009 who has done little in two seasons. Crezdon Butler has some promise after playing sparingly as a rookie.

If Taylor signs elsewhere, the Steelers would be in dire straits at the position. Their whole defensive scheme relies on them getting pressure on the quarterback and they are among the best at it. It's why they succeed. But a quarterback with a quick release can kill them, as Tom Brady and Drew Brees did last season. An injury to Taylor would also be devastating.

So they need to draft a cornerback and that likely will be done in the first round this year. But who? Director of football operations Kevin Colbert says this draft is deep at the position and a good one should fall to them at No. 31.

The best might be Jimmy Smith of Colorado but the Steelers may already have taken him off their draft board because of character issues and what is seen as a poor attitude.

Patrick Peterson of LSU and Prince Amukamara of Nebraska will be long gone, probably in the top 10 for both.

That leaves Brandon Harris of Miami and Aaron Williams of Texas. Both have the qualities the Steelers covet in cornerbacks - good in coverage, good against the run. One may be drafted before the Steelers' turn at No. 31 but they're not both likely to go.

So, which one? Harris is the more physical of the two but they are both aggressive. Harris is a couple inches shorter at 5-10 but stockier and with excellent speed. The Steelers won't have to move up in the round to take one or the other and then they can get their offensive lineman in the second round and still have a third-rounder to perhaps go for another cornerback.

You can't have too many corners and the Steelers right now don't have enough.

Copyright (C) 2011 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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