Always one of my favorite contributors to this site, Homer J's A few lines about Lines post really got me thinking about the Steelers own struggles with building a consistent, effective Offensive Line. I started writing this in the comments section, but then decided that I would dig a little deeper and write my responses here.
First off, here is what we know about the Steelers philosophy when it comes to adding pieces either via Free Agency or the NFL Draft:
- The Steelers do not reach for players, even when at a position of Need, particularly in the 1st round
- The Steelers do not overpay free agents, or do not align themselves in bidding wars over players of need.
- Very few rookies who are not a skill position (RB,WR, TE) see early game time, we prefer to take players, mold them into the Steeler way, and then they start after 2 or 3 seasons if they show enough progression.
- The Steelers seldom sign free agents over the age of 30, as they prefer to draft younger depth. Free agency is really for stop gap, 1 season solutions, or for depth, very rarely are our Free Agent signings instant starters.
The other thing that has hampered the Steelers in recent years has been injuries to the members of our Offensive Lines, which really can not be game planned for.
Lets look at the 2005 Superbowl winning season first. This was really the last solid offensive line that we have had. The Starters that season were:
Not one of those players remains on the team 6 years down the track, and many of them due to injury. Marvel Smith had a horrid back which eventually ended his career. Kendall Simmons had similar problems, and also retired. Max Starks stuck around for awhile longer and played pretty well, but has now fallen victim to the injury bug. Jeff Hartings retired due to knee problems after 2006, and Alan Faneca moved on in Free Agency the same year.
So since the build up to the 2007 NFL Draft, fans have been clamoring for Offensive Lineman in the 1st rounds of NFL Drafts.
But it is not that simple. Especially when you understand the Steelers way of drafting. They do not reach for a player of need, they chose the best possible value, or best player available, at their given slot.
2007 NFL Draft, the Steelers select 15th overall and take Lawrence Timmons, Linebacker, Florida.
The next Offensive Lineman off the board were OT Joe Staley at 28, and then OG Ben Grubbs at 29. Whilst Joe Staley has been a mainstay on the San Francisco 49ers at LT, he has been streaky and was certainly not deserving of being the 15th overall pick. Likewise, Grubbs has been solid in Baltimore at Guard, but has never been in the conversation about being among the best at his position.
Steelers made the correct pick. Timmons is the future leader of this defense with huge potential.
2008 NFL Draft, the Steelers select 23rd overall and take Rashard Mendenhall, Running Back, Illinois
The next Offensive Lineman off the board was Duane Brown at 26 to the Houston Texans. Whilst he has been a starter for much of his career, again, he has not quite lived up to his billing as a 1st round pick and has never been considered among the best at his position. The next Offensive Lineman doesn't come off the board until G Chilo Rachal (who?) came off the board at 39,, and the next Tackle didn't get selected until the Rams selected John Greco at 65.
Steelers made the correct pick. Mendenhall is an every down back who should start for at least 5 more years in this league.
2009 NFL Draft, the Steelers select 32nd overall and take Evander "Ziggy" Hood, Defensive Tackle, Missouri
The next Offensive Lineman off the board was Eben Britton at pick 39. Britton has been an adequate starter thus far in his career at Right Tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but does not seem to have the physical talent to be a consistent nor overly effective starter for his career.
Steelers potentially have made the correct pick. Certainly in terms of position, as Ziggy Hood has made the transition well to 3-4 End and has flashed great ability. This year is a big one for him as he will likely be the starter for a long time once he succeeds Aaron Smith.
2010 NFL Draft, the Steelers select 18th overall and take Maurkice Pouncey, Center, Florida.
Here, the Steelers finally pick an Offensive Lineman, and why? Because Need and Value found themselves in alignment. The main question in the fans war room was picking Brian Bulaga or Maurkice Pouncey. I remember being in that very war room here on BTSC that day and can say that Bulaga had an overwhelming fanbase compared to Pouncey. As it was Pouncey was the pick, and has moved on to be an All Pro Center, and leader of our Offensive Line for the long term. Bulaga meanwhile has been very inconsistent for Green Bay and has yet to make his mark on the game.
Steelers made the correct pick.
Lastly, this years draft, the Steelers selected Defensive Tackle Cameron Heyward with the 31st overall pick, one slot ahead of Offensive Tackle Derrick Sherrod. Time will tell how this one pans out.
So as you can see, it is easy to sit on your couch and yell at the television "Draft a Linemanz!!" but the fact is that the Steelers just have not had the chance to draft quality Offensive Lineman in the 1st round. There is not one Offensive Tackle or Guard who was taken around the same point in the draft who would have upgraded our much maligned line and still been a value pick.
As Colbert understands, you cannot miss with 1st round picks. Take the surer product, rather than shoot blindly and hope you hit your target. No one remembers that a 3rd round pick didnt pan out. But you will be horse-beaten for years if you miss the 1st rounder, and it can set your team back years. Just look at the Lions in the Millen era.
The Puzzle that is building a team is not as simple as placing pieces together. You have to take the right piece of the puzzle, and put it in the right place at the right time. Otherwise you look like a three year old trying to force pieces of the puzzle to connect when they never will, just because you are impatient.