Big Ben spent the 2007 season running for his life behind a line plagued by poor performance and offseason discord.
Last May in a heated statement, Alan Faneca made it clear that this past year would be his last as a Pittsburgh Steeler. He also questioned how much of his heart he could put into the season.
Add to that the retirement of Pro Bowl center Jeff Hartings, and things up front were not looking very good. Just ask Ben, who was sacked 53 times during 16 starts. It's hard to complete passes on your back.
So as a result of last season's poor performance and free agency, this offseason the Steelers will need to thoroughly revamp their offensive line.
Sean Mahan's performance at center last season was abysmal, and the Steelers need to make protection of Pro Bowl quarterback Roethlisberger priority one. Obviously, the Steelers will need to address the position of center first, but probably not through the draft—their significant deficiencies elsewhere make that an improbable scenario.
More likely, Willie Colon will try out at center if the Steelers draft a tackle. It’s also possible that Kendall Simmons might try the move to center.
Rather than go fishing for free agents, the Steelers have always preferred to develop their own talent. They look to the draft to fill most gaps on their roster, so don't expect much help from the free agency pool.
Unfortunately, this year's draft is not brimming with talented offensive linemen, but there are a few who could become solid performers.
A good first round possibility for the Steelers is tackle Jeff Otah from Pitt. He is a good run blocker, and that fits the Steelers style. He is also quick, strong, and aggressive.
However, there is a good chance that he will go earlier than the 23rd pick. If he's still around, look for the Steelers to grab him.
Chris Williams out of Vanderbilt could be considered if Otah goes to another team. He is nimble, mobile, and great at pass protection. However, he doesn't get great push and needs more strength, so Pittsburgh may pass on him.
Despite having a Pro Bowl quarterback, the Steelers are still a grind-it-out team and they need someone who can open up the run.
Gosder Cherilus, a tackle from Boston College, is another prospect. He is a good run blocker with a lot of strength. His greatest weakness is against quick edge rushers, but this deficiency will probably be easier to overlook than Williams' lack of push. I would put him at No. 2 on the Steelers’ wish list, right behind Otah.
The Steelers have some definite prospects for their first round pick. Most likely the Philadelphia Eagles will help narrow down the possibilities.
If the Eagles take Otah, the Steelers will probably make Cherilus their first pick. But, if the Eagles select Chris Williams, look for Jeff Otah to continue his career in the Steel City.
No matter who the Steelers select first, the player will be expected to make an immediate contribution on the line. With both a Pro Bowl quarterback and running back looking for protection, the Steelers need a strengthened offensive line to maximize their potential and bolster their chances for success in 2008.