Steelers Draft Series: Offensive line

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 are his offensive line prospects.

The O-line coach's son said it best:

"The Steelers need to get more athletic at tackle but stronger on the interior."

That's Larry Zierlein's son Lance, a draft expert for the Houston Chronicle and a former college lineman.

He's probably heard some dinner talk in his time, too, but, really, that problem was easily identifiable last season. The only disconnect from the brain to our typing fingers is the amount of money the Steelers will be paying their two biggest culprits: Max Starks and Kendall Simmons.

It's just fact that Starks lacks foot-speed and Simmons lacks strength. Throw the latter in next to 290-pound center Sean Mahan and you have a hobbled quarterback running a sweep behind Trai Essex on the most important third-down of the season.

But don't get me started.

Anyway, the younger Zierlein chose right tackle Gosder Cherilus for the Steelers in his mock draft. It makes sense schematically, but in terms of value Cherilus doesn't deserve to be drafted that high.

"I don't like Gosder," said Scout.com's Tom Marino, a pro scout for 35 years.

Here's Marino's write-up on the 6-6½, 314-pound tackle from Boston College:

"Big, athletic guy with good feet, balance and body quickness. Will come off the ball and strike, but overall wasn't a big finisher. Was disappointed in his playing awareness (stunts, blitz pickups and awareness at the second level). Has some nasty in him and looks like Superman, but something appears to be missing."

Marino put a late second-round grade on Cherilus, but that doesn't mean the Steelers will. They love players who've at least attempted to play left tackle. They rated Starks, Trai Essex and Simmons higher than the rest of the league did, and the common thread was that all three played left tackle. So did Bo Lacy.

Obviously, the Steelers would love to have one of the blue-chip offensive linemen fall to them in this draft, but that's unlikely. Jeff Otah re-established himself as a blue-chipper with his workout last week. Jake Long might be the top pick of the draft. The other three are Chris Williams, Branden Albert and Ryan Clady, blue-chippers all.

If the five blue-chip linemen are gone, the Steelers would be left with Cherilus, a massive man who played well at right tackle his first three years at BC, but who struggled last season at left tackle.

He reasserted himself in the Senior Bowl at right tackle and could be the big man with quick feet the Steelers have been searching for at right tackle since Leon Searcy left following Super Bowl XXX.

Cherilus would theoretically learn right tackle behind Starks for a year and force Colon to his more natural right guard position. The Steelers have already bolstered the center position with the signing of Justin Hartwig to a two-year deal. Last year's rookie backup, Darnell Stapleton, is the project. His weight's up to 315 and he's now working to shave off a few pounds for conditioning purposes.

At left tackle, Marvel Smith is expected to recover from back surgery and enters the final year of his contract as a soon-to-be 30-year-old who's missed eight games in the last four years. A project could serve as his protégé, or the Steelers could hope the light flashes for Trai Essex. A backup guard is also a need, even if Colon moves over. Marino provided some sleeper picks at both positions. His favorite is Northern Iowa guard Brandon Keith (6-5 ¼, 345).

"He went to Oklahoma and started as a freshman and played well," Marino said. "But he quit, came back, and quit again. You don't like guys who quit twice because they had time to think about it the first time. He's a mama's boy and not really tough, but boy this guy's pretty damn good. He's as fluid a big man as you want to see.

"The best pure left tackle is Chris Williams. You have to lose a lot of games to get him. Jeff Otah's not a natural knee-bender but I just watched him kick Chris Long's (rear). They were a man and a boy out there. It was a dominating performance. I'm not as big on Sam Baker. I don't trust Carl Nicks. I think Gosder's dumb. Anthony Collins, I wouldn't bet on him. He's an underachiever with bad footwork. Tony Hills was the best tight end in the country coming out of high school. He came back from drop foot, which is very hard to do, but he's overcome it. I think he's a sleeper if you can afford to take the chance. Another sleeper is the guy from Louisville, Breno Giacomini (6-7, 304). He's a down-the-line guy, a project."

< b>Value Board

1st Round – OG/OT Branden Albert, Virginia.

2nd Round – OG Chilo Rachal, USC; OG/OT Oniel Cousins, UTEP; OG/OT John Greco, Toledo; RT Gosder Cherilus, Boston College.

3rd Round – OG/C Mike McGlynn, Pitt.

4th Round – OG/OT Brandon Keith, Northern Iowa; OT Tony Hills, Texas; OT Breno Giacomini, Louisville.

6th Round – OT King Dunlap, Auburn.

7th Round – OG Chris McDuffie, Clemson; OG/OT James Blair, Western Michigan; OG/C Fernando Velasco, Georgia.


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