Steelers should've drafted an O-lineman?

Rashard Mendenhall gets his first NFL start on MNF, but some think the team would've been better drafting an offensive lineman.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gene Collier has lost his mind. Considered the best columnist in town, Collier has taken leave of his senses in recent weeks. In August, he upset Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin when he described Anthony Smith's training camp antics as "thuggery" (to be fair, I'm hardly Smith's biggest supporter, but I can understand why Tomlin might've taken issue with Collier's choice of words), and yesterday, he penned quite possibly the worst column of his storied career.

Rookie first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall is overrated, folks. That's basically what Collier has surmised after three short weeks, a handful of plays, and the fact that the offensive line is, as we all predicted last year, in shambles. Genius. And if Monday night doesn't produce a Pro Bowl effort, well, it'll undoubtedly jump-start the "why did the Steelers draft the next Ki-Jana Carter" discussions. At least to hear Collier tell it.

Look, I was as dumbfounded as any Steelers fan after watching what transpired in Philadelphia last Sunday afternoon, but to suggest that drafting Mendenhall instead of much-needed offensive line help isn't just revisionist history, it's, well, insane. We've had this conversation countless times since Pittsburgh fell to Jacksonville in the wild card game in January. The o-line is a joke. Shocking, I know. Losing Alan Faneca didn't help things, although, franchising him wasn't the answer, either. He was already angry about not getting a new deal and keeping him in town against his will for another season wouldn't have been good for anybody. Not only that, but have you seen him with the Jets? In retrospect, the front office did the right thing. Whatever, I was driving the Branden Albert bandwagon early this offseason, and even suggested that the Steelers might trade up to get him because he could immediately start, if not at tackle, then at guard. As it turned out, his stock rose right through draft day and the Chiefs ended up selecting him with the 15th overall pick. In fact, seven offensive linemen went before Pittsburgh settled on Mendenhall with 23rd selection.

But Collier just waves blithely at the facts as he neatly builds his straw man:

Roethlisberger spent a few minutes with Mendenhall after practice [Wednesday], as did head coach Mike Tomlin, as did running backs coach Kirby Wilson. Presumably, they were not making him aware of how much they'd have liked to have had Jeff Otah, the Pitt offensive tackle who has started his first three games with Carolina, which swiped him four picks in front of the Steelers April 26. Nor were they expressing any second thoughts about passing up left tackle Duane Brown, who has started both games for the Houston Texans.

It's true the Steelers weren't the only club that desperately needed offensive line help that day. Seven of the first 21 players taken were blockers. It's also true the Steelers had no business waiting until the fourth round to attempt to get help up front. Tony Hills of Texas, your fourth-round pick, hasn't given much indication that help is even on the way.

Sigh. I'll admit that Otah has played well in Carolina, but I was under the impression the Steelers weren't all that enamored with him in the weeks leading up to the draft, and even if they were, THE PANTHERS TRADED UP TO TAKE HIM. I suppose some of the eggheads at Carnegie Mellon could lend Kevin Colbert their top-secret time machine stored in the bowels of Hammershlag Hall (allegedly, of course) and he could go back to that fateful Saturday in late April and find a way to snag Otah ... or, maybe, as Collier writes, the front office could revisit the possibility of taking Brown with the 23rd pick. The same Duane Brown, by the way, who was summarily abused in the season opener.

Collier also fatuously claims that "the Steelers had no business waiting until the fourth round to attempt to get help up front." Because if Pittsburgh had used their first four picks on offensive linemen, Ben Roethlisberger wouldn't still be writing his name on his hand for identification purposes after what happened in Philly last week. There's absolutely no way any rookie, no matter what round he was drafted, would be in Pittsburgh's starting lineup right now. The only player available in Round 1 was Brown, and the NFL Network's Mike Mayock had him with a third-round grade. The Colts selected Mike Pollak at the end of the second round, and even if the Steelers had taken him instead of Limas Sweed, all he would be doing is occupying Sweed's spot on the sidelines. You see where I'm going with this; unless the team finagled their way into the the top 15 -- four times -- Marvel Smith, Chris Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig, Kendall Simmons and Willie Colon were still going to be on the field when the season started. Why is that suddenly so hard for Collier to fathom?

And while bellyaching about the o-line woes has become a tiresome exercise (and I take full responsibility for contributing to the madness), why is Collier bringing it up now? I mean, I know why, but if this was weighing so heavily on his mind, why not mention it prior to Week 1 or Week 2 or, hell, Week 3? My guess: he didn't think it was a concern, and like many of us, was lulled into a false sense of security after watching Big Ben emerge relatively unscathed from the Texans and Browns game. Of course, prior to the draft Collier wrote these words under the headline, "For Every Faneca, There Is a Bust":

A week from today, the Steelers will use the 23rd pick in the NFL draft on an offensive lineman, or at least they should, so you might want to hope they don't.

Collier then spent several hundred words explaining why using a first-round pick on a lineman is wrought with pitfalls, which is a perfectly defensible position to take. Too bad he didn't take his own advice.

On Wednesday -- one day before Collier penned his "Duane Brown RULZ!1!11!" masterpiece, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Joe Starkey wrote a thoughtful column explaining that the Eagles debacle was a team effort ("an equal opportunity disaster on offense") before calmly pointing out that it's way too early to "render a verdict on the offensive line."

Consider that left guard Chris Kemoeatu was making just his second road start, against a very good defense.

Could we give him, oh, another quarter or two before we write him off? Lastly, while it's true the Steelers haven't drafted an offensive lineman in the first two rounds since 2002, taking linemen high in the draft hardly is a prerequisite to winning Super Bowls.

Starkey offers two examples: the Steelers teams of the '70s featured exactly zero first-round picks along the o-line, and of the last five Super Bowl winners, only the Steelers "had a front built with high draft picks." Collier might want to read the whole thing, and it would serve him well to peruse the papers before putting forth hare-brained theories generally reserved for the tin-foil-hat crowd, or the five people who still read Mark Madden.

As long as we're making out a reading list for Collier, might i suggest this. Hours after Pittsburgh selected Mendenhall and Sweed, Tomlin made it clear that there was more than one way to protect the quarterback. Cobbling together a capable offensive line is the convention, and that's something I think Roethlisberger would fully support (well, when he's not lobbying for tall wideouts; note to Ben: in the future, you might want to keep your mouth shut). But surrounding a quarterback with gobs of talent at the skill positions creates all sorts of problems for a defense, and, in theory, can also provide the quarterback some cover. Bruce Arians is still working out the kinks, but I understand the philosophy. (Although, I'm still unconvinced Arians is the guy to carry it out; that's a discussion for another time, however.)

Remember, Gene, the more you know...

Oh, and one last question: if the Steelers had drafted Duane Brown, who's the starting running back with Willie Parker out?

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