That's a Wrap

Mike Tomlin's mantra is "moving forward" so he'll use Thursday's press conference as the start of the new season. It also allows me to use this column as a wrap on this season of Pittsburgh Steelers transition:

OFFENSIVE LINE – The weakest unit on the team remains in a state of flux. The front office met with the key coaches this week and was told that Max Starks is still not considered one of the two best tackles on the team, that the staff prefers Willie Colon at right tackle. Marvel Smith is expected back and healthy at left tackle, so that leaves Starks out of the picture since he expressed an interest to return to Pittsburgh but only as a starter. Dan Rooney is still mulling it over, but a source close to him reiterated the stance that the team is going to "make a run" at potential free agents Starks and Alan Faneca. There's been no talk about the center position, only that Faneca has the mental acuity to finish his career at the position. Also, in-game No. 2 center Kendall Simmons is NOT under consideration to make that position switch.

RUNNING BACKS – Willie Parker needs a running mate and Najeh Davenport is still under contract. However, Mike Tomlin-favorite Gary Russell could make a move past Davenport since he acquitted himself well enough in big games late in the season. Carey Davis is the fourth back. A fifth back should be able to back Davis up at fullback, too.

QUARTERBACKS – It's time to begin grooming a backup, since Charlie Batch, 33, is heading into the final year of his contract and Brian St. Pierre is a free agent. The Steelers will need to add a rookie, probably in the last round or after the draft, to compete with St. Pierre.

WIDE RECEIVERS – Any sharp personnel man monitoring young talent will watch how the Steelers treat Nate Washington in restricted free agency. If the Steelers extend to him the lowest – or normal – tender, Washington could be had without compensation. The Steelers want to match any offers and keep their top four here under contract. Willie Reid will be a fifth, but any rookie with return skills could knock him off the roster. Dallas Baker is No. 6 here. He's made some great catches in practice – practice – lately.

TIGHT ENDS – If Jerame Tuman's back mends, he could be back for one last season. Matt Spaeth's development as a blocker lessens an immediate need in that area, so the position could be set for another year.

DEFENSIVE BACKS – All of the sudden the free safety position is a disaster. Tyrone Carter showed his lack of speed in the playoff loss and Anthony Smith gave up too many big plays down the stretch. Ryan Clark had his spleen removed, came back to the facility looking fit, and then developed gallstones and came back to the facility looking sick. He can't be counted upon either. Can Kevin Colbert find a guy who's as smart as Clark, as physical as Smith, and as tough as Carter? And can that guy return kicks, too? While the O-line needs serious attention early in the draft, the choosing of one of the many first-round cornerbacks with exceptional return skills would not surprise with the defensive-minded Tomlin calling the shots.

LINEBACKERS – The play of LaMarr Woodley causes a quick goodbye to Clark Haggans. Clark, we don't mean to be cold here, but you know how fans feel about young pass-rushers. Lawrence Timmons will enter the lineup with the first injury at – probably -- any of the four positions. For now, he's being groomed as an inside backer and none of the coaches has any doubt about his future success. James Farrior, 33, enters the final year of his contract.

DEFENSIVE LINE – Aaron Smith turns 32 in April and he's coming off an injury-plagued season. His backup, Travis Kirschke, will probably retire after his best performance as a Steeler. Chris Hoke will also turn 32 in April and rookie Ryan McBean has shown little progress. Quality depth must be added here.

COACHING STAFF – Fans want the heads of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and special teams coach Bob Ligashesky, but Arians is deeply rooted in the Steelers' plans. In fact, he's helping shape those plans right now. Ligashesky is only the latest special teams coach to finish in the bottom half of the league in any type of ranking used. But his work ethic, attitude and personality are respected by Mike Tomlin. As for defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, he'll remain for his 50th season in the league.


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