The Steelers, Their Guard Situation, and The Draft
With Kevin Colbert jumping on the “Keep Snack Bandwagon,” and Mike Wallace appearing to be franchised/staying with all the restructured contracts, the Steelers will begin to slash salaries and cut players over the following months. One such player will likely be former starting Left Guard Chris Kemoeatu, a player lost his job last season due to poor play before and after the whistle, and whose contract is in need of dumping so Mike Wallace and others can stay. Because Guard and Guard depth is one of Pittsburgh’s biggest needs to fix in the coming months, I thought I would discuss my feelings on the aforementioned matter as well as the Steelers’ options:
The Steelers’ Offense/Introduction
Pittsburgh has some terrific players on the Offensive side of the ball entering the 2012 season, and we should be collectively stoked that they play for the Steelers. Pro Bowlers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown are only scratching the surface of their collective potentials’, but are turning in highlight reel plays on a consistent basis and in 2011 both achieved 1,000 yard receiving seasons. Heath Miller is probably the most underrated Tight End in the N.F.L. and many would agree with that sentiment. If Miller is targeted in the passing game under Todd Haley in the Red Zone more often, he will be back putting up Pro Bowl stats again. While Rashard Mendenhall might be out for a while, Isaac Redman showed promise last season and during the Wild Card game that he is capable of picking up the slack. And of course, let’s not forget Big Ben. Multiple Super Bowl winner, Pro Bowler, and an overall “elite” “franchise” QB. That’s something that most teams in the League and most fanbases can only dream about for their franchise.
Yet if there in one weak link in the Steelers’ Offense that everybody can agree on, it has to be their Offensive Line. Don’t get me wrong, the team is improving in the trenches and has an All-Pro Center in Maurkice Pouncey, along with budding Left Tackle in the form of Marcus Gilbert. Furthermore, if Willie Colon comes back to 100%, he should be a solid contributor at Right Tackle in 2012. Stability at Center and possibly Tackle aside, one if not both Guard spots at least need to be considered “upgrade worthy” this offseason.
What They Have at Guard Now:
Don’t get me wrong, for the #6 and #7 O-Linemen on game-days, I think that both C/G Doug Legursky and G/T Ramon Foster are very valuable pieces for Pittsburgh to have on their 53-man roster. Both are “swing-guys” which are Linemen that have positional versatility and that can for all intents and purposes be inserted and do a serviceable job in case injuries occur on Sundays. Fantastic for depth purposes, but athletically Legursky and Foster aren’t the type of guys which can take the Offensive Line to the “next level,” and are not bringing back memories of Alan Faneca, Duval Love, Carlton Haselrig, or Kendall Simmons anytime soon.
A fantastic pulling Left Guard and a road-grading Right Guard can do wonders for a running-game, as well as protect the Quarterback when he drops back to pass. You put those pieces in place with Pouncey, Gilbert, and a healthy Colon, and you’ve got yourself a nice looking Offensive Line in Pittsburgh. You get a Line that can protect Ben and open up holes for the “RB by Committee Show” in 2012, and the Steelers’ Offense has the chance to be one of the best in the A.F.C..
The Draft Is The Only/Best Place to Seek Guard Help for the Steelers:
As I stated in the title, the Draft is essentially the only route for Pittsburgh to go to find Guards/Guard depth. Why you may ask? Well, if you hadn’t already noticed, the Steelers are in a bit of a financial bind right now in terms of where they are salary cap wise. Any and all dead contract weight (like Kemoeatu) needs to be shed at this moment to keep Wallace at this point. Sure, Ben’s and the others’ restructuring jobs helped, but the Steelers will likely be right at cap level during the Free Agency period, and will in essence have no money to spend on decent Free Agents at Guard (but then again the Steelers have never been a team to make splashes in F.A. with big money). When you combine the little to no depth behind Legursky and Foster (maybe Trai Essex, but he is a Free Agent), and being essentially “cash-strapped” for outside Free Agents, the Steelers must be doing their homework on the finest prospects that this Draft has to offer.
While it may not be “sexy” to target a Guard early, or multiple Guards in one Draft, the Steelers have to think about shoring up that position along the Offensive Line. Pittsburgh can select an upper-echelon type of Guard in Round 1 like the versatile Cordy Glenn (sorry, David DeCastro won’t be around, and it’s a shame. I’ve seen the dude play in person and he’s awesome). Or they can take advantage of the multitude of Guards in the middle Rounds 2-4 that have the potential to develop into quality starters like Brandon Washington of Miami (FL), Kelechi Osemele (G/T) of Iowa State, Kevin Zeitler of Wisconsin, Lucas Nix (G/T) of Pittsburgh, Brandon Brooks of Miami (OH), or even Ryan Miller of Colorado.
Luckily for Pittsburgh, the 2012 Guard Class is one which is extremely deep and talent can be found later in the Class in the event players at other positions of immense need (Inside Linebacker or Nose Tackle) are still on the Steelers’ Draft Board when they’re name comes up on the clock. Deep Guard Class aside, Pittsburgh can ill afford to ignore their need for help/chances to improve at Left and Right Guard in the future.
I’m excited to see how things fall into place this April because Pittsburgh could really benefit from this deep Guard Class and help their Offensive Line as a whole in the process. And I’m wholeheartedly sure that Cobert and Co. are doing their homework right now and finding out who can best benefit the team in the trenches.
I cannot stress this enough, but at least finding depth at Guard is a must at this point for the Steelers. Because in the event Pittsburgh decides to stick with Legursky and Foster as starters, and something happens to them injury-wise, or they are forced to start at Center or Tackle and cannot be used at either Guard spot during the regular season, the situation will get dire along the Offensive Line.
Anyways, chime in with your thoughts on the matter and tell me what you think. Can the Steelers make due with Legursky and Foster as starters? Who should they go after in the Draft at Guard? Are there some draftable guys I didn’t mention that you think would be good fits for the Steelers?
Enjoy The Combine!