Critical Mass

Mike Tomlin missed the workout Tuesday of a player who would help remedy what SCI's Jim Wexell feels has become a crisis situation.

No, I didn't give up guards for Lent. It's just that I had lost my passion a bit.

After making Jonathan Cooper my No. 1 Steelers draft prospect on March 4, the Steelers re-signed free agent Ramon Foster and in effect penciled him into the lineup at left guard.

So, I moved on to other problems, other holes in the depth chart, and there are many and they are great.

But, really, none of those holes is greater than the problem the Steelers are facing at guard.

Or, really, even tackle. And some people – those like me who've developed a nervous tic over the reported/alleged move of Marcus Gilbert to the hot corner/blind side – have inner rumblings that the holes at tackle are more gaping than those at guard.

Let's take a quick look.

Starting guards: Foster and David DeCastro.

Backup guards: Kelvin Beachum, John Malecki, Justin Cheadle.

Analysis: Foster has 9 career starts at LG; DeCastro has 3 career starts at RG; Beachum hasn't played guard in the NFL, or college, and showed zero push in the run game last season as a rookie 5-game starter at RT; Malecki is the backup center/emergency guard with 1 career appearance (second half of last season's 16th game); Cheadle was picked up off the street last November and hasn't appeared in an NFL game.

Yeah. Yikes.

But with Beachum inexplicably listed at guard, the depth at tackle is worse.

Starting tackles: Gilbert and Mike Adams.

Backup tackle: Joe Long.

Analysis: Gilbert has 18 starts at RT in two seasons and reportedly is being moved to the left side; Adams was Ohio State's LT but is so shaky in pass protection and such a good run blocker that he'll reportedly begin his second season at RT where he has 6 career starts; Long, picked up off the street last November, is the younger brother of Jake Long and hasn't appeared in an NFL game.

So, with the four young linemen set to start around Maurkice Pouncey, depth is a major – major – question mark.

A simple solution would be to re-sign veterans Max Starks and Doug Legursky, who haven't made any visits to other teams throughout this first month of the fiscal New Year.

Could they, would they, agree to return at the vet's minimum?

The Steelers can afford little more than that, particularly if they sign Ahmad Bradshaw, who's visiting on Thursday. And, even if they could, the Steelers would most likely need an assurance from Starks that he will graciously accept a reserve position behind Gilbert after saving their rear ends the last five years!

Sorry about that. Lost my head.

But as for Legursky, he played so poorly at guard last season that the Steelers had to move Pouncey to guard and insert Legursky at center in two games. So even if Legursky does decide to return, he would only displace Malecki as the reserve center.

No, as hard as I have tried to ignore this entire position in my draft analysis this month, even after this team drafted 9 offensive linemen in the last 4 drafts (5 were top-two picks), and also finding Foster in the 2009 undrafted bin, the Steelers most likely need to draft 2 more offensive linemen next month.

Not that Mike Tomlin seems to care. Either that or he's sending up some deft smoke signals because he attended the Texas pro day Tuesday while North Carolina's Cooper was wowing the rest of the league at the same time.

I've written about Cooper in the past. In summation he was asked to lose weight to play in a fast-break style of offense and didn't seem to have elite power at 285 pounds. But he showed up at the combine weighing 311 and pushed up the bar 35 times, one off the OL high.

Cooper looked even bigger Tuesday in the pro day tape run by "Path to the Draft," and yet he still flashed those Dermontti Dawson feet.

Cooper just might be available to the Steelers at pick 17. If not, his stronger and road-grater styled brethren Chance Warmack could be.

There will also be three legitimate offensive tackles available to the top 17 teams in this draft, and then there's Alabama muscle man D.J. Fluker, who could play RT or OG, as a fourth first-round OT. In the second round Dallas Thomas of Tennessee would provide OG-OT flexibility as well.

This wasn't supposed to be an analysis of the offensive linemen available in this draft. That will come in the middle of April when I run my draft series. But with the developing emergency frazzling my draftnick nerves, this column couldn't wait.

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