Steelers could find LT late in 1st

Jim Wexell continues his draft series by examining the Steelers' needs and wants along the offensive line.

Two injuries added up to two finds along the Steelers' offensive line last season.

Subsequently, as those injured players return, it appears that the Steelers have more bodies along the line than needed. That's a great sign for a team that's resuscitated its line by using only one first-round pick.

However, there are still questions, and because of the lockout these won't be answered before draft day:

* Is Flozell Adams coming back for another season?

* Will Jonathan Scott re-sign as a free agent?

* Are Max Starks and Willie Colon as healthy as they claimed late last season?

Until those questions are answered, and answered affirmatively, the worst case – or close to the worst case – must be assumed.

So let's assume one of the two injured tackles will be slowed upon his return. And let's assume Adams will retire.

On the optimistic side, let's count one injured tackle as being healthy, and let's expect one of the free-agent tackles, RFA Tony Hills, to re-sign with the team. That's about as optimistic as Kevin Colbert should get.

At guard, let's count Trai Essex as a re-signee to go along with Ramon Foster, Chris Kemoeatu and incoming street free agent Nevin McCaskill. Backup centers Doug Legursky and Dorian Brooks can also play guard.

So with that in mind, and with the knowledge that Mike Tomlin demands versatility from his backups, the Steelers must look for tackle-guards such as Orlando Franklin as opposed to guard-centers such as John Moffitt in this coming draft.

In the first round, one of two highly rated left tackles could be available at pick 31: Nate Solder (6-8.2, 319, 5.05) or Derek Sherrod (6-5.3, 321, 5.28).

Colorado's Solder has incredible feet for a big man, but the worry is that with his Kris Farris-type height he'll have Kris Farris-type strength and leverage problems.

The better prospect is Mississippi State's Sherrod, who'll turn 22 during draft week. Sherrod regained his early-season luster with an outstanding finale against Ole Miss. While he may be a finesse pick-setter in the run game, Sherrod gets to the second level easily and his pass-blocking base and anchor are rock solid. In fact, it'll be a surprise if he gets past the tackle-hungry Baltimore Ravens at pick 26.

Franklin (6-5.4, 316, 5.20) of Miami is a left tackle with guard in his future because of his sloppy pass-blocking and his great strength as a mauler. But Franklin won't last until the second round for the Steelers. Neither will Villanova LT-to-G Ben Ijalana (6-3.5, 317).

Marcus Cannon (6-5, 358, 5.26) will be there, and with good reason. His poor pass-blocking and short arms were protected by TCU's quick-rhythm passing game. And in spite of his massive size, he didn't look like much of a run-game mauler last season, at least in the Rose Bowl.

The more likely second-round candidates for the Steelers are Alabama's James Carpenter (6-4.3, 321, 5.28), Lehigh's Will Rackley (6-3.2, 309) and Georgia's Clint Boling (6-4.4, 308, 5.3). All three played left tackle in college, but project better as either right tackles or guards.

Colbert told local reporters at the combine that he'll be able to find quality tackles at the bottoms of the first three rounds, and he may even fill his need with any of these prospects at the end of the fourth round: Lee Ziemba (6-6, 317, 5.6) of Auburn; Jason Pinkston (6-3.3, 317, 5.47) of Pitt; and Chris Hairston (6-6.1, 326, 5.43) of Clemson.

Value board

First round – Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State.

Second round – James Carpenter, Alabama.

Fourth round – Chris Hairston, Clemson.

Fifth round – Zach Hurd, Connecticut.

Sixth round – Jah Reid, Central Florida.

Favorite late-round sleeper: Willie Smith, East Carolina.


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