Steelers Draft Series: Process begins

A new chapter in Jim Wexell's draft series on the Pittsburgh Steelers' options will run every other day throughout the three weeks leading up to the draft. Here's his overview:

The NFL draft is less than three weeks away and the Steelers appear to have settled their roster in preparation.

They added a center (Justin Hartwig) and a backup running back (Mewelde Moore) in free agency and hope the problems encountered when Willie Parker was injured – 89 yards on 45 carries in two games – have been lessened.

The Steelers still have a couple of holes on offense. One is guard where Alan Faneca left and will be replaced by Chris Kemoeatu. Obviously, there isn't much confidence in Kemoeatu, who's working on a one-year deal.

One answer to the guard problem could be Virginia guard Branden Albert, whose versatility is making him a valuable commodity in pre-draft mock drafts throughout the media. Here's what retired scout Tom Marino, now working for, had to say about Albert:

"I really, really like him. He's a monster and he can get to that second level and cut off the play-side backer. He turns his body and is very, very impressive. He can locate on the move and adjust on the move and he's going to be real good. I don't think he's real strong, but you can get guys stronger; you can't get them to change direction and move like he can. I don't see him being a top 10 guy like a lot of the experts are saying right now, but he probably doesn't go down to 20 or 25. He could. There are a couple of tackles they could take instead."

Since three of the four Steelers' tackles are entering the final years of their contract, tackle could just as easily be their first-round consideration.

"My favorite lineman is the guy from Vanderbilt (Chris Williams)," said Marino. "But you've got to lose a lot of games to get him."

Marino also likes Pitt's Jeff Otah, who had an abysmal workout at the combine. "But I just watched tape of him kicking Chris Long's butt," Marino said. "That has to stand for something."

Another offensive hole is wide receiver, where Cedrick Wilson was cut after punching his girlfriend. His absence leaves a hole, and Ben Roethlisberger has asked management to fill it with a tall receiver. The tallest, James Hardy, not only has problems getting open, but has an incident of domestic violence in his past.

"Malcolm Kelly is the guy you want," Marino said of the 6-3¾, 224-pounder from Oklahoma. "He's a great competitor, a GREAT competitor. Boy he can reach for the ball and make catches."

On defense, the Steelers have depth problems at defensive end and outside linebacker. To that end, the Steelers on Monday hosted Auburn defensive end Quentin Groves, who projects to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Groves has Joey Porter size and was limited last season by playing with three dislocated toes.

"He's just a freak of nature," Marino said. "He's going to be the kind of guy who's going to come in and have 11 sacks as a rookie. He could be outstanding. But on the other side, something's missing. He's not finishing or he doesn't play hard; I'm not sure. Teams run at him at times, but he is a freak. He can close on the ball, man. He'll have a lot of sacks."

At defensive end, the Steelers are looking for 270-pounders who can run and eventually bulk up to 300 or more. Kentwan Balmer ran poorly at his pro day and is out of the picture. Philip Merling of Clemson has questions about his character that must be examined, but he fits the physical requirements.

"I really think he's a 3-4 end. That's what he'll eventually be," Marino said of Merling. He's not a very strong guy, but he's a good-looking kid and would be there. There are just some immaturity issues though."

The positions will be broken down further over the next 18 days as the Steelers prepare to pick 23rd in the April 26-27 draft.

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