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With the 24th Pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers Select… A Safety

Okay, I think I can anticipate the two most likely questions that are being asked about now:

When am I scheduled for drug testing?

Where can you get some of the same stuff that I must be using?

I understand and take no offense. But bear with me for a few minutes while I make my case, it may not seem so crazy at the end.

For this to make sense some prerequisites have to be established.

First, recent statements from Kevin Colbert and Art Rooney II have asserted the Steelers are in a retooling rather than a rebuilding phase. This is a team that has made the playoffs four of the last five seasons, won its division three of the last five seasons and played in the Super Bowl two of the last four seasons.

A number of players may be terminated, but these will mostly be for business rather than performance reasons. If you remember where people’s heads were at a year ago, there were seemingly huge and daunting problems, like the situation with the secondary. Those were solved with tweaks rather than infusion of talent. In this particular case, the additions of Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown were helpful, but the most important factors were probably the developmental evolution of William Gay, Keenan Lewis and Ryan Mundy; components that were already part of the toolbox.

With this in mind I think it’s unlikely that the team would trade up unless there was a really extraordinary opportunity involved.

Second, the idea that we absolutely must draft as many offensive linemen as we can, as high in the draft as we can, could be a misreading of the actual situation. With some luck in relation to injuries and some tweaking in terms of philosophy, the offensive line could look a lot better without a massive infusion of new talent - just like the defensive backs. How do you make the playoffs, win division titles and compete for championships with a terrible offensive line? Perhaps injuries undermining the stability and cohesion necessary for quality unit play are the culprit, not a complete lack of talent. There was also a lack of commitment to a balanced attack and pass plays taking 6-7 seconds to unfold can make any offensive line appear terrible.

We have drafted quality offensive linemen high in the draft in recent years with no real change in the accepted perception that the offensive line is a problem.

Third, NT Casey Hampton stays. NT Chris Hoke retired and DE Aaron Smith is likely to join him. Players, even great ones, don’t step right into this system executed by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and defensive line coach Johnny Mitchell and dominate. Parting company with a veteran like Hampton and suggesting a nose tackle can be drafted and fill his place immediate doesn't make sense, provided Hampton restructures his contract (a more likely event given his injury and age).

Fourth, no worries at running back. I’m not minimizing the value of RB Rashard Mendenhall or his injury situation. But If anything Mendenhall’s injury opens the door for the accelerated display and development of RBs Isaac Redman, Baron Batch, Jonathan Dwyer and John Clay. Colbert has said as much himself.

Fifth, no worries at receiver. The return of either WRs Hines Ward, Jerricho Cotchery, or both, increases depth. As Rebecca Rollett pointed out in a previous post, the alleged decline of Ward may have had more to do with a lack of opportunity rather than productivity, and may have been a possible factor in the exit of former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

The argument making the rounds is the No. 4 receiver must play special teams. This ignores the fact one of the top three receivers, Antonio Brown also is a key special teams player. But even if neither Ward nor Cotchery return, it's very likely the team retains WR Mike Wallace (a restricted free agent) and the draft and free agency pool are deep with receiving talent. Also, the team’s recent history with this position makes it unlikely that they will invest a high draft choice here.

So why a safety? This is, admittedly, a curious idea given the fact that we have two Pro Bowl caliber players as starters and quality backups.

SS Troy Polamalu has not been able to play a full schedule of games for each of the last three seasons. I am not arguing he is in decline, nor fragile in the conventional sense. He is vulnerable because his style of play and history points to a high likelihood of concussions.

The lawsuits and revelations of players like Tony Dorsett concerning head injuries was something I am convinced the NFL knew was coming down the pike.

Polamalu is at risk of being one hit away from being out of the picture for a considerable chunk of time, if not permanently (think Sidney Crosby). With Will Allen a likely cap casualty and Ryan Clark’s own health vulnerabilities, suddenly the situation at safety doesn’t look so solid. This may have been part of the motivation for obtaining S Myron Rolle, a player I am personally very high on based upon his character, if nothing else.

I also believe, vulnerabilities aside, that the Steelers are uniquely qualified to exploit an opportunity to invest in a safety.

This is where the drugs kick in.

I don’t have the background to suggest specific players to select in this regard, but I can tell you in fairly precise terms the type of player the Steelers should seek and why.

In the 1990s Dick LeBeau’s Blitzburgh revolutionized defensive football in part through the utilization of undersized defensive ends as pass rushing linebackers. In Super Bowl XLVI, the Giants established defense could still be relevant, in spite of the fears and concerns of many it couldn't offset the current offensive revolution.

With one draft pick the Steelers can usher in a defensive counterrevolution causing tears and the gnashing of teeth from New England to New Orleans to Green Bay.

Select an athletic, undersized, intelligent linebacker as a safety. This is not a new idea. Many younger fans may not know that current defensive backs coach Carnell Lake was a converted college linebacker. This is even more interesting when you consider Lake not only successfully converted to a Pro Bowl caliber safety, but when All Pro CB Rod Woodson went down during the team’s run to Super Bowl XXX in 1995, Lake made the additional adjustment to providing quality play at cornerback.

So what are the benefits?

One. Lake is uniquely qualified (as is LeBeau and Tomlin) to lead this counterrevolution. He is the living prototype for the position. The Lake Effect in full effect.

Two. Imagine a six defensive back package with three corners and three safeties, two of which are linebacker/safety hybrids (Troy and the No. 1 draft pick). The no-huddle can be somewhat neutralized because the defense can effectively work against the spread passing attack, rush the passer and defend the run without making personnel changes. It also provides an antidote to the Gronkowski/Hernandez conundrum. The multi-faceted tight end who can line up in the backfield, function like a wide out or a traditional tight end, is countered by the multi-faceted defensive back who can function like a corner/safety and linebacker. A lesser, but still notable, benefit is it would go a long way to shutting down this Tebow/Wildcat/option nonsense as well.

Three. Ryan Clark. We make much, and rightfully so, about the chemistry between Polamalu and Clark, but in doing so we sometimes underestimate Clark’s talent as a complementary player. Those of us residing in Redskin Country remember that Clark had a similar successful relationship with the late Sean Taylor. The possibility exists that each of them could have this kind of relationship with other guys (i.e. a draft pick for Polamalu along with Rolle for Clark).

Four. It buys time for the development of replacement inside linebackers and takes pressure off of Lawrence Timmons, another multi-faceted player whose own emergence has been stunted by having to compensate for injuries among the linebacking corps.

Finally, by adding a complimentary player, Polamalu's career could be extended, maybe even enhanced.

Pretty good drugs, huh. Where is the Super Bowl this year?

This is the sixth part in a collaborative effort from the editorial staff at BTSC, providing some arguments behind possible positional directions the Steelers may go with their first round pick - currently scheduled for the 24th overall. These will be posted each day this week, and will not be distributed based on order of preference.

Part I - Wide Receiver

Part II - Trading Up

Part III - Inside Linebacker

Part IV - Trading Down

Part V - Nose Tackle