Need Leadership?

The Steelers have been looking at quite a few first-round offensive tackles, but perhaps it's time to shift the focus inward, in particular to a couple of character-rich Wisconsin linemen. John Clay says to go for it.

Of the eight pro days Mike Tomlin and/or Kevin Colbert have personally scouted this draft season, one common theme, or position, emerged among first-round prospects: offensive tackle.

The Steelers' decision-makers looked at Riley Reiff, Mike Adams and Jonathan Martin – the three first-round tackles who have a chance of being available at pick 24.

Of course, Reiff has passed so many tests that he won't be there when the Steelers draft. But Adams and Martin could be available after both had below-average workouts following below-average seasons.

Perhaps that's the reason Colbert said a couple of days ago that he's still interested in re-signing Max Starks in spite of a torn ACL that will keep Starks off the field until September, at the earliest.

The Steelers do have Marcus Gilbert, Willie Colon and Jonathan Scott available to handle the tackle spots until Starks returns. What they don't have is much talent at guard, and that's where Colbert and Tomlin should shift their focus, particularly if it's leadership they desire.

At least one Steelers offensive player would agree.

"They'd fit right in," running back John Clay said of a pair of interior linemen he ran behind at the University of Wisconsin.

"Our offense here in Pittsburgh is about the same as the Wisconsin offense," Clay said. "By that I'm speaking in terms of running downhill and wearing down defenses with the guards and center going straight downhill."

Two of those interior linemen, Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler, were first-team All-Americans last year. They're also natural-born leaders, an asset that's always been valued by the Steelers but one that should be emphasized this draft season after the team released its three unit captains – James Farrior, Hines Ward, Arnaz Battle – and also lost core veterans Aaron Smith, Chris Hoke and Bryant McFadden.

Konz, the 6-5, 314-pound center, not only excelled on the field, but was a three-time Academic All-Big 10 player who wrote a long, heartfelt letter to Wisconsin fans after deciding to come out for the draft a year early. He also has great feet and a frame that could easily take on 20 more pounds.

On the down side, Konz missed two, two and three games the last three seasons with injuries, benched only 18 reps at the combine, and is a converted tackle who isn't confident that guard would be a good fit for him in the NFL.

Zeitler, on the other hand, has been a rock at right guard for Wisconsin the last three seasons. The 6-3.7, 314-pounder didn't miss a game in college with injury, and was twice named to the Academic All-Big Ten team. There's no question about his strength after he pushed up the bar 32 times at the combine.

"Both of them are hard workers," said Clay. "Pete Konz, the center, is a great guy. He's a real leader. He directs the offensive line and he gets everybody where they're supposed to be.

"Kevin Zeitler, we called him ‘The Machine.' He doesn't know when to stop. He's got just one speed and that's go. He's a real dedicated person.

"Zeitler's stronger but I think Pete has nice feet as a puller to the backside or front side," Clay said in conclusion. "Pete has the nice feet and Zeitler has the strong upper body strength." Zeitler was asked at the combine about being called "The Machine."

"'The Machine' joke came from John Moffitt when I first got there," he said. "I was very, very serious, just trying to be focused on football and weightlifting and I was kind of psychotic about it, and so people made jokes about it."

Is Zeitler "psychotic" in the weightroom?

"That's fair," he said. "I just love training. It's always been a passion of mine. I'm usually stuck in there for a very long time."

And with that, Zeitler laughed, perhaps a bit psychotically. He was also asked about the Steelers and quickly replied, "Great organization."

What does the Wisconsin native remember about the Steelers' last Super Bowl?

"Multiple Super Bowls," he said.

But the questioner was probing instead for a comment about Zeitler's Packers beating the Steelers.

"I know. I understood you," Zeitler said. "But what stands out to me about the Steelers is multiple, other Super Bowls. They know what they're doing. They know how to consistently produce winners. Great talent across the defense, across the entire team. It would be an honor to play there."

Zeitler would undoubtedly fit better than Konz on a team that needs more help at guard. But both players are regarded as late first- or early second-round players, and both are strong, sturdy, smart, dedicated leaders. The Steelers prize all of those characteristics.

"Both of them are very, very intelligent and love the game," said their quarterback at Wisconsin, Russell Wilson. "They're extremely hard-working guys. Their character is what makes them so much better than most guys across the country.

"Don't get me wrong; they have the ability to have fun. But they also turn it on when the lights come on. And I'm not just talking about game time. They have the ability to turn it on when practice starts and they have the ability to turn it on during film sessions. That's fun to be around. And when you're playing the quarterback position, you want to have guys that you can trust on every single play. That's why I truly believe we were so successful last season."


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