Posted Apr 4, 2008
Here we sit three weeks away from the biggest weekend of the offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers and we really don’t know anything more about the team’s plans than we did a month ago.
Despite the signing of center Justin Hartwig, the Steelers still have a need for players on their offensive line. He’s not a capable replacement for All-Pro guard Alan Faneca, who signed with the Jets, but he could push Sean Mahan to the bench.
And after flirting with signing Booger McFarland to improve their defensive line depth, the Steelers instead re-signed Nick Eason, a player who failed when given a chance to replace injured Aaron Smith in 2007. Add to that the re-signing of Travis Kirschke, and the defensive line right now has the exact same group of performers that it did last season.
So other than adding Hartwig, the Steelers have done nothing to improve their play up front – something head coach Mike Tomlin said was a necessity after last season’s collapse down the stretch.
Where does that leave the team?
Virginia guard Branden Albert – the player most linked to the Steelers now on draft boards – is said to be a player on the rise as teams are beginning to look at the athletic junior as a possible left tackle prospect.
If Albert is gone, the Steelers won’t panic. They’ll still make a pick or trade down – with only six picks, a trade up is very unlikely.
But looking at the current draft boards, their options will be limited. The only other first-round lineman the team has met with is tackle Gosder Cherlius.
The release of No. 4 wideout Cedrick Wilson last month after assault charges were filed against him leaves an opening at that position, though some in the organization think Dallas Baker, a seventh-round pick last year, may be ready to jump into that spot.
Still, Hines Ward isn’t getting any younger and adding a talented receiver such as Michigan State’s Devin Thomas would make sense. But the Steelers haven’t hosted any high-profile wide receiver prospects and it appears they won’t make that position a priority.
The Steelers have hosted Kansas State cornerback Aqib Talib, a first-round talent who should be available at pick No. 23. And given Deshea Townsend’s advancing age, he would be a sensible fallback option as well should Albert be gone.
Tracy Porter, another cornerback with a low first, high second-round grade, will also visit the team next week, showing that may be what the team is thinking.
The only other players who have visited thus far who have possible first-round grades are linebacker prospects Quentin Groves and Cliff Avril, though some consider defensive tackle Dre Moore – another visitor – a late first-rounder.
They would improve the depth in the front seven and would also make sense, particularly given the age concerns the team has to have in that group.
We’re closing in on the pick, just as, I’m sure, the Steelers are as well.