A Youth Movement in Pittsburgh?

Story posted April 10, 2012 in NFL Draft by Bryan McSorley.

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Mike Tomlin’s new look Steelers team will look to get back to dominance in 2012

When the dust settled at the end of the 2011-2012 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, two things became clear. The first was that the Steelers would be $11 million over the salary cap going into the offseason. The second was that the Steelers were an old team in desperate need of youth, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert handled the financial problem and the age problem with few fatal blows. Wide receiver Hines Ward, defensive end Aaron Smith, and inside linebacker James Farrior, three longtime Steeler greats, were released from the team. To Colbert's credit, all over the previously mentioned players were well past their primes.

Other players that became former Steelers this spring were guard Chris Kemoeatu (free agent), defensive tackle Chris Hoke (retirement) and cornerbacks Bryant McFadden (free agent) and  William Gay (free agent, now signed with Arizona). After their release, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a few other highly paid Steelers restructured their contracts to get the Steelers under the salary cap.

With no cap room, the Steelers have been stagnant this offseason not signing a single player. Their biggest win so far this offseason has been that no team has poached Pro Bowl restricted free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace. With their lack of action in the offseason, it is imperative that the Steelers use the draft to implant quality youth players into their aging organization.

Look for the Steelers to target these positions to gain youth on their roster during the NFL Draft in a few weeks.

Offensive Line

Although the offensive line is fairly young for the Steelers, the position as a whole is a serious need. There is a tremendous lack of depth on the line, which every year is riddled with injuries. It may be considered such a pressing need that it is addressed in the first round. If history is any indication, the Steelers will wait until the second or third round to nab a versatile lineman that can player either the guard or tackle position. Offensive linemen often have an easier time transitioning from college to the pros, so a middle-round lineman could yield the Steelers a starter from day one.


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All world safety Troy Polamalu needs some help in the secondary

The Steelers secondary has been consistently solid since 2007.  The problem is that 2007 was five years ago, and the players that were playmakers back then are now exiting their prime.  With the exception of 25-year old projected starting cornerback Keenan Lewis, every other starter in the secondary is 30 years or older (Troy Polamalu, 30, Ike Taylor, 31, Ryan Clark, 32). The Steelers need to upgrade at the safety position, but this year's crop of safeties is weak. So, despite taking two cornerbacks in the 2011 NFL Draft, Pittsburgh may look to take a cornerback who has the ability to move to the safety position. Still, the Steelers had the best pass defense in the NFL last season, and may wait another year to address its need for more young talent.

Defensive Line

The years of nose tackle Casey Hamptom (first round pick in 2002) as the anchor of the Steeler defense are numbered. He is getting older and has definitely lost a step in the last few years. It may be the reason that Pittsburgh’s rush defense dropped from first in 2010 to eighth in 2011. Beside Hampton will be the 34-year old Brett Keisel and either Ziggy Hood or Cameron Heyward. The Steelers used their first round pick last year on Heyward, so unless Pittsburgh scouts find their prototypical nose tackle in the first, they will wait and add defensive line depth in the later rounds.


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Dont’a Hightower may be a late first round steal for the Steelers

Although linebacker is by far the strongest position on the team, another inside linebacker is needed for their defense to be successful. Incumbent Lawrence Timmons is asserting himself as the premier linebacker on the team and will need another guy beside him to be a compliment and allow him to range around the field.  If the right player is available, like Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower, it is likely that he will be taken in the first round.

With age and money being the problems, this may be been the perfect year to reload in the draft. Getting cheaper, younger talent is a must for Pittsburgh to sustain their recent success.

Bryan McSorley is a sophomore majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email bmm5264@psu.edu.