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Steelers draft primer: OFFENSE

April 25, 2011 - Ray Eckenrode

When we last saw the Pittsburgh Steelers in uniform, they were losing a Super Bowl game they should have won and sending us into a funk that is going on four months now. The fact that we don’t know when we’ll see the Steelers in uniform again adds to the weird tableau surrounding the 2011 NFL Draft. We’ll prepare for the event with an offensive primer today, a defensive primer Tuesday and our annual “15 Minutes” mock (which correctly predicted the Steelers top pick in four of the past seven years) on Wednesday. Of course, we’ll follow up next week by grading the Steelers 2008 draft.

At this time last year, we were talking about a rebuilding year and the need to get a lot of fresh blood onto the field – and we were half right. The fresh blood came in the form of 2010 picks Maurkice Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, but there was no rebuilding to be found as the Steelers veteran core bounced back to deliver a memorable season. And with the uncertainty surrounding the NFL labor negotiations, it looks like the Steelers are in “adding some key pieces” mode in 2011.


The skinny: Just when you thought the Steelers offensive line couldn’t get any more unsettled, along comes an apocalyptic spate of injuries that almost overshadowed the emergence of a new star. Maurkice Pouncey, an All Pro as a rookie, will be back to anchor the line, but what kind of shape will Max Starks and Willie Colon (who might or might not be a Steeler after a labor deal is reached) be in after serious mishaps? And will Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert gamble that Flozell Adams has one more year in him? The answer to that question might we determine which way the Steelers go in rounds 1 and 2.

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2011)

Timing: Second round

Possible selections: Two names linked with the Steelers in early mock drafts, guard Mike Pouncey and tackle Tyron Smith, will be loooooonggggg gone by the time Pittsburgh picks. The Steelers brought in two guards (TCU’s Marcus Cannon and Nebraska’s Keith Williams) and three tackles (James Carpenter of Alabama, Marcus Gilbert of Florida and Jariel King of South Carolina) for visits. Carpenter would be the highest pick of that bunch, but not a first rounder.

If they went #1: Guard Danny Watkins of Baylor, a 26-year-old mauler who didn’t start playing football until he was 19, is the name most often linked with the Steelers now in mock drafts but we’re guessing Pittsburgh will stick with their current mauler, Chris Kemoeatu, and go another way in the first round.


The skinny: Last year at this time, we were wondering if Ben Roethlisberger would still be a Steelers after the draft. This year, we’re wondering where he and his fiancé are registered. The re-signing of Byron Leftwich solidifies the backup role and we’re expecting Dennis Dixon back to handle most of the preseason reps (if there is a preseason).

Level of need; (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2011) 1

Timing: Free agent

Possible selection: None

If they went #1: They won’t.


The skinny: Rashard Mendenhall is about halfway through his window of productivity and Mike Tomlin has made it clear he’s going to run Mendenhall until he drops. That being the case, the Steelers are desperately, desperately thin here with Isaac Redman as the best backup. If this falls apart on Pittsburgh in 2011, remember this: In the sixth round of the 2010 draft, they decided to select Jonathan Dwyer, who they had not visited with, over LeGarrette Blount, who they did have come in. Dwyer showed little last year, while Blount blossomed in Tampa Bay, which means you’ll see another RB selected this year.

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2011) 7

Timing: Third through sixth rounds

Possible selections: Pittsburgh brought in Taiwan Jones of Eastern Washington, speedster Da’rel Scott of Maryland and, of course, has gotten a good, long look at Dion Lewis.

If they went #1: They won’t, but if Alabama’s Mark Ingram fell this far (and a lot of boards predict he will), they’d be tempted.


The skinny: What a difference a year makes. What was a huge question mark last year look like a big strength this year with Mike Wallace emerging as a star and Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown injecting precise route-running and dangerous speed into the Steelers passing game. Still, with Hines Ward back for what likely will be his swan song, we expect Pittsburgh take a receiver and perhaps take one on the first day. There. We made it through that entire spiel without once mentioning Limas Sweed. Doh!

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2011) 5

Timing: Second through sixth rounds

Possible selection: Probably the most intriguing guy the Steelers brought in is Boise State’s Austin Pettis, who would probably be a fourth-round pick. If they went higher than that it could well be for Pitt’s Jon Baldwin.

If they went #1: They won’t as there’s not really a 1st-2nd tweener prospect out there.


The skinny: Heath Miller is a stud. David Johnson can handle the No. 3 duties. It’s Matt Spaeth (who might be gone anyway once a labor deal is reached) who’s wearing out his welcome as the second tight end. Since whatshisname wasn’t fired as offensive coordinator, look for the Steelers to take another TE somewhere along the way. (And yes, this is exactly what this section said last year…)

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2011) 3

Timing: Fifth through seventh rounds

Possible selection: Visiting Pittsburgh were Weslye Saunders of South Carolina and Julius Thomas of Portland State. Both would be late-round selections.

If they went #1: Again, they won’t, but Notre Dame’s Kyle Rudolph will be there and would be intriguing selection (last year, we said the same thing about Rob Gronkowski).


The skinny: Wow. Last year in this space we were predicting a big year and big contract for Jeff Reed. By the end of the year, we were chanting, “Shaun Suisham smokes Swisher Sweets.” We should probably get used to that because there are no stud kickers to be had in this year’s draft. The Steelers will, of course, bring in a free agent or 10 to compete with Suisham in training camp.

Level of need: (10 = desperation, 1 = set for 2011) 7

Timing: Free agent

Possible selection: None. As usual, the Steelers did not bring a kicker in for an official visit.

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The great wall of Watkins?