Behind them is last year's seventh-round pick, Eric Taylor, who stayed on the practice squad all season.
Here are the stats from the last two seasons:
- In 2003, the linemen combined for 11 sacks and 50 quarterback hits/pressures and anchored a run defense that allowed an average of 3.9 yards per carry.
- In 2004, the linemen combined for 12 sacks and 63 quarterback hits/pressures. The run defense allowed 3.6 yards per carry.
The line improved in each category. So after losing only third-team NT Kendrick Clancy, it would appear the line's in great shape -- until you scratch the surface.
Von Oelhoffen is now 34 and his stats slipped from 40 tackles to 33 last season; 8 sacks to 1; and 17 pressures to 16. The decline's not drastic, but von Oelhoffen's entering the final year of his contract and logic dictates a replacement be groomed.
Two of those potential replacements - Hoke and Keisel - are also in the final years of their contracts. So is Hampton, and he'll be the one commanding the front office's renegotiation efforts this summer.
Since the defensive line is fine today, don't expect a first-day pick at the position, unless Marcus Spears of LSU miraculously slips to them in the first round. But because of pending depth problems, the Steelers will take a defensive lineman in the middle rounds next Sunday.
Fourth Round - Sione Pouha (6-3 3/8, 325, 5.06 40, 32 reps) of Utah turned 26 in February. A two-year church mission (1998-00), in Pittsburgh, is the reason for his high age. Pouha (pronounced bo-oo-ha) once was honored for heroism for pulling a woman from a smoke-filled apartment. This massive and active lineman has underachieved to a degree. Put him under Kimo's wing.
Fifth Round - Albert Means (6-4, 320, 5.35 campus) of Memphis was the innocent victim of a big Alabama recruiting scandal. His high school coach was allegedly paid $200,000 to steer Means to Alabama. Means played as a freshman but transferred to Memphis and played there three years. The Steelers mine Memphis, and Steelers D-line coach John Mitchell, that noted Alabama man, might have a soft spot for this kid.
Sixth Round - Jay Ratliff (6-5, 293, 4.85 campus) of Auburn was a "tweener" - not quite a 4-3 end and not quite a 4-3 tackle, and that makes him a 3-4 end. A former tight end, Ratliff is a project, but a player on the rise.
Seventh Round - A.J. Lindsay (6-2, 323, 5.05 campus) of Temple played as a freshman on the 2002 Joliet Junior College national championship team, along with Kelvin Handley, who visited the Steelers this week. Lindsay played two years at Joliet and one year at Temple. The nose tackle from Kokomo has upside.
Pitt defensive tackle Dan Stephens (6-1¾, 295, 5.2 campus) and Vince Crochunis (6-3 3/8, 295, 5.35) are interesting in that both are effective players and scholar-athletes. Stephens, from Wheeling, W.Va., is a two-time Academic All-American and Crochunis, from Schuylkill Haven, Pa., won the Big East football Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award. Either could be drafted, and both expect to be in an NFL camp this summer.