Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and top reserve Chris Hoke have led the Steelers to a top 3 finish in run defense each of the last six seasons. But, they are aging. Hoke, Smith, Hampton, and Keisel will be 34, 34, 33 and 32, respectively, by the middle of September this season.
The rebuilding process began last year with the first-round selection of end Ziggy Hood. He came on by season's end and appears to be a cornerstone for the future line. Sixth-round pick Sunny Harris, another end, was cut and re-signed and did not play enough to give an indication one way or the other, so the Steelers won't pass on an end who provides solid value in this draft.
All season long, Jared Odrick (6-5, 304, 5.06) of Penn State appeared as if he could provide that solid value as a first-rounder. Odrick has Aaron Smith-type length, with an array of pass-rush moves as well. But scouts feel he doesn't have the lower-body strength to hold up against the run, leaving Alex Carrington (6-5.2, 285, 4.93) as the next 3-4 end candidate.
Carrington, who met with the Steelers last week, was a four-year starter at left defensive end for Arkansas State. He recorded 19.5 sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss the last two seasons.
Carrington's considered a weight-room warrior whose on-field strength has been questioned. That's why the ripped 285-pounder is expected to be available in the second round.
The Steelers also hosted South Carolina underclassman Clifton Geathers (6-7.4, 299, 4.98) this month. Geathers is the son of former player Robert Geathers, the nephew of former player Jumpy Geathers, and the brother of current player Robert Geathers, Jr. Clifton is raw, but has freakish height, strength and arm length (37¾) and would be an exciting mid-round developmental prospect.
The Steelers also brought Purdue defensive tackle Mike Neal (6-3, 294, 4.89, 31 reps) in for a visit. Under former coach Bill Cowher, Neal would've been written off as a 4-3 tackle, but Coach Mike Tomlin last year drafted Hood, who had similar combine numbers (6-2.7, 300, 4.87, 34 reps) and is showing positive signs as a 3-4 end. So, Neal could be one of Tomlin's targets in the middle rounds.
The Steelers also hosted nose tackle Linval Joseph (6-4.4, 328, 5.13), an underclassman from East Carolina who's value has been rising as the draft season moves along. Joseph is another workout warrior. He brought his weight down from a preseason high of 358 to a pro-day low of 319 (all numbers in parenthesis are combine numbers).
Since the Steelers re-signed Hampton to a three-year contract last month, don't look for the team to draft another nose tackle such as Dan Williams in the first round. Joseph or perhaps Cam Thomas (6-4, 330, 5.33), Jeff Owens (6-1.2, 304, 4.99) or Torrell Troup (6-2.6, 314, 5.13) could be found later amongst a bountiful crop of tackles.
Second round – Alex Carrington, Arkansas State.
Third round – Linval Joseph, East Carolina.
Fourth round – Mike Neal, Purdue; Cam Thomas, North Carolina.
Fifth round – Clifton Geathers, South Carolina; Jeff Owens, Georgia; Torrell Troup, Central Florida; Arthur Jones, Syracuse.
Sixth round – Doug Worthington, Ohio State; Vince Oshobasse, Duke.
Seventh round – Boo Robinson, Wake Forest.