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NFL Offseason Roadmap: Pittsburgh Steelers

JJ CooperPosted Jan 22nd 2008 2:37PM by JJ Cooper
Filed under: Steelers, AFC North, Pittsburgh
NFL Offseason Roadmap is a series focused on the needs of NFL teams as they begin the offseason.

1-5. Offensive line. Pittsburgh won't go anywhere in 2008 if they don't fix some Football Outsiders offensive line stats, Pittsburgh was 19th in the league in run blocking and 31st in pass blocking. Things will only get worse when Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca leaves as expected in free agency. Pittsburgh already locked up Simmons to a long-term deal, which means they're likely stuck with starting him, but they go into the offseason seemingly understanding that Mahan has to be replaced. Considering the lack of inexpensive options in free agency, Pittsburgh will likely turn to the draft to pick up a tackle and a guard/center to try to fix a glaring need.

6. Defensive line depth. Pittsburgh's trio of starters (Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel) are very solid. But the Steelers saw how quickly things could fall apart with an injury when Smith tore a bicep. Without Smith, the Steelers once impervious run defense fell apart. The Steelers' top two defensive end reserves are both free agents, and Smith, Hampton and Keisel will all be on the wrong side of 30 next year, so there's a pretty glaring need for some young reinforcements. Drafting a long-term replacement for Hampton wouldn't be a bad idea either, as the nose tackle's tendency to pack on the pounds is starting to be reflected in his play.

7. Safety. Troy Polamalu battled a knee injury for most of the season that kept him from being the disruptive force Steelers fans expect him to be, but that should be a problem that an offseason cleanup surgery should fix. Ryan Clark's problem is a little more serious. Clark has proven to be an excellent partner for Polamalu thanks to his steady play and comfort at playing center field. But he's coming back from a spleen injury. He's supposed to be healthy for next season, but he's not a sure thing. With that being the case, Pittsburgh needs to bring in competition for Anthony Smith (too hotheaded and too prone to bite on play action passes) and Tyrone Carter (too small and slow) as a backup free safety.

8. Backup Taiback. Willie Parker proved again this season that he's a solid starting tailback. He was leading the league in rushing before he broke his leg in Week 15. Parker didn't have the big plays he's had in the past, but he made the best of a difficult situation with a poor offensive line. Najeh Davenport showed he can be an adequate No. 2, but may be better suited to be a No. 3 tailback while the Steelers find a solid young power back who can spell Parker and provide the goal line and short-yardage carries that can wear down a back like Parker.

9. Wide Receiver. Ben Roethlisberger may be talking about his desire for a tall wide receiver, but the reality is that wide receiver isn't one of the Steelers' big problems. Santonio Holmes is developing into a very solid No. 1 receiver running the deep routes, which allows Hines Ward to fill the role of the underneath receiver who makes the tough catches and blocks everything in sight. Nate Washington may drop more passes than we would like, but he's shown that he can get deep on almost anybody, which is a nice attribute for a No. 3 receiver.