Watching Alabama’s offensive line push Notre Dame’s defensive front all over the field was a reminder that games can still be won in the trenches. It was also a reminder that the Pittsburgh Steelers need to fix their offensive line.
Many will expect that the Steelers will go defense early in the draft with seven defensive starters over 30 years old—including unrestricted free agents Casey Hampton and Larry Foote. Or it could be because the defense lacks the necessary playmakers to get to the quarterback and force turnovers.
Of course, there are also the questions on offense such as who can replace Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall if they leave via free agency. Do the Steelers feel comfortable with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders starting at receiver and Jonathan Dwyer at running back?
But when it comes down to it, the Steelers can win without adding impact players early to those positions.
Dick LeBeau’s defensive system can put even average players in position to succeed. They finished this season as the top defense in total yards allowed and passing yards and second against the run.
The offense can succeed without elite weapons at wide receiver and running back as well, that is if there is a top offensive line in place.
A big step was made toward solidifying the line last season when the Steelers selected guard David DeCastro in the first round and tackle Mike Adams in the second round.
While injuries limited the impact of both DeCastro and Adams, each player will be expected to start in 2013. DeCastro will be plugged in at right guard while Adams could potentially start at left or right tackle.
Adams will likely remain at right tackle where he had success this year meaning that Marcus Gilbert will move to left where he will protect Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side.
Gilbert will be expected to take over for Max Starks who told Mike Bires of the Online Times that he is not expecting to be back with the Steelers in 2013.
With Maurkice Pouncey at center, that leaves only the left guard position available.
Willie Colon mans that spot now, but he is owed $5.5 million over the next two seasons and $6 million in 2015. Combine this with the fact that he has finished the season on the injured reserve for three straight seasons, the Steelers may decide to move in a different direction.
They could plug that spot with Ramon Foster, Kelvin Beachum or with a rookie draft pick.
Which position is the Steelers biggest need in the 2012 draft?
No knock on Colon, Foster or Beachum, but getting a player such as Jones or Warmack would give the Steelers three talented interior players who could help re-establish a power running game.
It became clear last season that the Steelers were not going to be able to put up points with the elite offenses in the league by throwing the ball. Even though he may never admit it, Roethlisberger is at his best when his team has a strong running attack.
A strong running attack would help set up the play action, ease the pass rush and open things up in the red zone where the Steelers have struggled to put points on the board.
Warmack could be the ideal player to take Pittsburgh’s offensive line to the next level. He is solid in pass protection and dominant against the run.
Against Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game, Warmack demonstrated his dominance as Alabama rolled up 265 rushing yards on the Irish. He consistently got to the second level with his blocks as he opened up gaping holes for the running backs.
These are the types of holes that we have not seen from the Steelers’ offensive line in years.
Whether it is Warmack or another top line prospect, the more talent on the line the better the offense will be. If the line can establish the point of attack, it won’t matter who the Steelers have at running back because a great offensive line can make any running back look good.
A return to the ground game will allow offensive coordinator Todd Haley to fully implement his offense and provide Roethlisberger with more opportunities to make big plays off of the play action.
Beyond the ground attack, Roethlisberger should have more time in the pocket without facing pressure from opposing defenses. Less pressure means fewer sacks and fewer sacks means a healthy Roethlisberger and a good Steelers team.
It all starts with the offensive line and the Pittsburgh Steelers have a chance to get it to where it needs to be with one more high draft pick.