Pittsburgh Steelers:Could They Turn the Offensive Line Weakness into a Strength?

Nick SignorelliSenior Writer IFebruary 26, 2011

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 05:  Chris Kemoeatu #68, Maurkice Pouncey #53, Ramon Foster #73 and Flozell Adams #71 of the Pittsburgh Steelers look on during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 5, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. Pittsburgh won 13-10.  (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Larry French/Getty Images

In the comment fields on a few of the articles I have recently written about Ben Roethlisberger, some people have mentioned the fact that Roethlisberger had the worst statistics in Super Bowl history for a winning Quarter Back during Super Bowl XL.

It is not possible to look at that particular game and know Ben did not have the best game of his career that day. It is also not possible to look at that particular game and not notice the offensive line was considerably better than it has been since that day.

LT - Marvell Smith.  Drafted second round in 2000 (38th). 

LG - Alan Faneca.  Drafted first round in 1998 (26th).

C - Jeff Hartings.  Drafted first round in 1996 (23rd) by the Lions. Signed in 2001 to play G for Steelers. Moved to Center when Dermonti Dawson was no longer able to handle the position.

RG - Kendall Simmons.  Drafted first round in first round (30th).

RT - Max Starks.  Drafted third round in 2004 (75th).

The Steelers drafted two of these men in the first round, one in the second and one in the third. Only Jeff Hartings was not originally drafted by the Steelers, who was brought in as a free agent, and he was a former first round pick.

Broken down, the Steelers had all three of their interior offensive linemen taken in the first round and a second and third round pick at the tackle positions.

All respectable, and people wonder why the Steelers were having so much success running the ball.

Now, lets take a look at the starting offensive line for the Steelers in 2010. (The reason I am not mentioning the Super Bowl roster is because I don't want to discount that the Steelers have already addressed the position).

LT - Jonathan Scott. Drafted fifth round in 2006 (141st). First year with the Steelers.

LG - Chris Kemoeatu. Drafted sixth round in 2005 (204th).

C - Maurkice Pouncey. Drafted first round in 2010 (18th). Earned his first Pro Bowl in his rookie season.

RG - Ramon Foster. Signed with Steelers as undrafted free agent in 2009.

RT - Tony Hills.  Drafted fourth round (130th).

With Willie Colon basically saying he was not going to be with the Steelers next year, and Flozell Adams still trying to decide if he is going to retire or not and the uncertainty of Max Starks being able to return from his neck injury, I put the best player the Steelers have left at tackle in.

Does anyone else see a major disparity here? People wonder why the Steelers have had such a hard time keeping Roethlisberger standing up straight?  This MIGHT have something to do with it. 

With the exception of Maurkice Pouncey, there is not a single player listed from the 2010 season who was drafted higher than any player from the 2005 team.

I am not saying players taken later in the draft cannot become some of the best in the league, only that the obvious investment the Steelers used in their prior offensive line is greater than what it is today.

Entering the 2011 NFL Offseason, people are quick to jump on the fact the Steelers need help in their secondary. That is another issue for another article (which I plan on writing).

The Steelers have amazing players at their skill positions. They have a TRUE franchise quarterback in Roethlisberger, a TRUE all purpose running back in Rashard Mendenhall, and Mike Wallace is becoming one of the top wide receivers in the NFL, finishing last season second in yards per attempt and seventh overall in receiving.

Heath Miller is the most unheralded tight end in the NFL, and Hines Ward still has the ability to beat any defense. Add to that, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, neither of whom will be rookies next year, and both possess similar explosive abilities as Wallace.

The only thing they are lacking is the offensive line to protect them, so the skill players can make the plays.

So, how should the Steelers fix this problem?

For starters, as I said, they have already taken the first step last year, drafting Maurkice Pouncey in the first round. Having already earned his first Pro Bowl nomination, Pouncey looks to continue the trend of Mike Webster, Dermonti Dawson and Jeff Hartings and be one of the best centers in the NFL for the next 10-13 years for the Steelers.

Look at what you have, and decide where the positions need to be addressed.

Both tackle positions need to be addressed. The Adams (age), Starks (injury) and Colon (FA) issues make those two positions the most important coming into this offseason. Count on none of them being available, and if they are, then they will be good back ups.

I believe the Steelers need to bring in someone with experience for at least one of the two tackle positions. I would suggest any of the following people for one of the slots.

Tyson Clabo (Atlanta Falcons). Though Clabo did not become one of the best at the position overnight, he did earn his way there. Clabo may be one of the most sought after players at his position but someone the Steelers might want to consider.

Jared Gaither (Baltimore Ravens). The upside is that he knows the AFC North and the Baltimore Ravens. The down side is he missed the 2010 season with a back injury, so do you really want to risk signing someone that may not be able to contribute?

Who should the Steelers take?

Jamaal Brown (13th pick in 2005 NFL Draft). Brown was traded to the Washington Redskins prior to the 2010 season for a fourth round pick by the Saints. He was in the last year of his contract, and the Saints already had his replacement, so they traded him.

With the Redskins, Brown was not as successful. That can be attributed to a decline in skill, or that he was in a system that did to work for him. If Brown was able to pass protect for Drew Brees in his best year as a professional, then he could do the same for Roethlisberger.

To me, Brown would be worth the risk.

Depending on availability, a tackle and guard should be the Steelers first two picks in the 2011 NFL Draft. To try and sit here and determine WHO the Steelers should take, is an exercise in futility. There is no way anyone could tell who is even going to be available to pick.

I will say, the Steelers SHOULD NOT trade up in the draft for ANYONE. With their first two picks being offensive linemen, this is how the Steelers starting offensive line will look in 2011.

LT - Jamaal Brown.  Drafted first round (13th).

LG - Steelers first/second round Pick 2011.

C - Maurkice Pouncey. Drafted first round in 2010 (18th). Earned his first Pro Bowl in his rookie season.

RG - Chris Kemoeatu. Drafted sixth round in 2005 (204th).

RT - Steelers first/second round pick 2011.

I moved Kemoeatu to the right side because I think it would be a mistake to put two rookies side by side on the right side of the line. Kemoeatu was selected because he has been a starter and seems, at least in my opinion, to be the best option available.

The Steelers running game prior to the emergence of Roethlisberger was the Steelers bread and butter. If they would have the ability to be able to establish the running game and protect Roethlisberger, the Steelers could have one of the best offenses in the NFL for the next 10 years.

Sometimes, you have to make unpopular choices. Sometimes, in business, you have to do what you really don't want to do.

The Steelers need to take the two best offensive linemen they can in the Draft, and someone is going to have to be brought in as a free agent.

If the Steelers do this, there is a good chance they will have the best offense in the NFL, to go with the best defense.


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