The annual offseason owners meetings that happen in the spring are always great to get some information from coaches and owners about how things are going. We get tidbits here and there before then but other than the combine this is the first time that coaches will generally talk with the media for a significant amount of time; this is especially true for Mike Tomlin.
Coach Tomlin has been quiet since his season ending presser, only addressing the media briefly at the Todd Haley press conference and a few quotes at the combine. He met up with members of the local media on Tuesday morning and touched on multiple topics about his team and what we can expect heading into the draft and beyond this offseason. You can listen to the entire interview audio by clicking here, it’s about 52 minutes in length but it’s worth the listen if you have the time.
Anyways, one of the many things I took from it was a question that Tomlin was asked concerning the long term health of Emmanuel Sanders. Right around the 35 minute mark of the interview he talks about the concerns he has with both Sanders and also mentions offensive tackle Willie Colon. As of right now he’s not convinced either can stay healthy and contribute for an entire season. He did mention that as far as he knows Sanders is healthy and ready to go but given their injury history, both positions are a possibility for draft picks or free agency moves this offseason. We shouldn’t take this as a knock on either player, performance wise necessarily but as a head coach you have to always be thinking of all possibilities and prepare for the future as such. As much as we all love Sanders especially, his foot injuries are a legitimate concern; more on that shortly…
We all know that the offensive line is a definite need and could be addressed with multiple draft selections next April. I don’t think anyone would complain if the Steelers spent 2 of their first 4 picks on guards, but we’ll have to see how that plays out. The need is certainly there but even with Gilbert taking over at left tackle there is obvious concern on the other side. Perhaps Colon could be moved to the guard, something many feel he’s better suited for, and the team takes both a guard and tackle in this draft. Given Colon’s injury issues the last 2 seasons you can hardly blame them for not wanting go through another year of seeing their starting tackle on the bench. Kevin Colbert was asked about Colon moving to Guard previously and said that would be up to Mike Tomlin. Wherever he ends up, if he goes on IR again though this could be his last year in Pittsburgh coming up.
Nobody can predict injuries but with Max Starks’ future up in the air and Colon’s problems, you could argue that tackle is nearly as big a need as guard. Speaking of Starks, the team hasn’t ruled out bringing him back after he’s had more time to rehab.
Wide Receiver seemed to be a position full of depth and talent, as much of a sure thing as you can get in today’s NFL. Both Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders were drafted 2 years ago and have shown serious potential, especially Brown who had a stellar 2011 campaign and of course Wallace was still on the roster. Fast forward to 2012; Ward is gone, Wallace is still a restricted free agent (teams have until April 20th to take a crack at him), and Jerricho Cotchery is exploring his options. Arnaz Battle was released as well so now the only legitimate receivers for Ben Roethlisberger currently under contact are Brown and Sanders and they are both restricted free agents next year. We shouldn’t jump the gun and expect either or both to leave next year; Mike Wallace knows that situation all too well. It still warrants watching though nonetheless and the Steelers will make sure the bases are covered at this position.
At this point everyone expects Wallace to be back in 2012 even if it’s only on his 1 yr. tender. Cotchery has not signed anywhere yet and it appears that he and the Steelers can still come to an agreement. Getting Jerricho back would be great insurance if nothing else because unless they sign Wallace to a long term deal before the regular season starts it’s no guarantee he’ll be back beyond this coming season.
Could the Steelers draft a wide receiver with an early pick? It seems unlikely given the needs at middle linebacker, nose tackle, and offensive line. It’s still about a month before the draft though so many things can still unfold. Don’t be shocked if the Steelers buck the popular thinking of the fan base and go in a different direction with an early round pick; it wouldn’t be the first time they did so.