PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger is again, however in every week, not less than one of many males who protected him the previous six seasons possible will not be.
Pittsburgh Steelers left deal with Alejandro Villanueva, 32, will hit free company when the league yr opens on Wednesday, and the Steelers did not give him a brand new contract to maintain him from coming into the open market. His play — together with the remainder of the offensive line’s — dropped final season. That, coupled with the tight wage cap, paves the way in which for a youth motion inside the typically veteran unit.
Rebuilding that unit within the wake of Villanueva’s possible departure and Maurkice Pouncey’s retirement is a precedence — particularly after a season wherein the run sport crumbled and Roethlisberger was pressured to get the ball out of his palms rapidly earlier than the pocket collapsed.
“Al [Villanueva] is a free agent, Matt Feiler is a free agent, Maurkice has retired, Zach Banner is coming off an ACL, so it’s an unsure group that we now have up entrance,” normal supervisor Kevin Colbert stated final month. “Once more, I do not know the place the free-agency half will go for each Matt and Al. We all know Maurkice will not be again with us. How that comes collectively, will probably be ongoing.”
With the salary-cap drop to $182.5 million, the Steelers can be one of many many groups trying to fortify their offensive line with cheap but NFL-ready tackles. The way in which Colbert sees it, now is an effective time to be a tackle-needy staff.
“The draft itself, it’s stronger on the deal with place than it’s on the inside,” Colbert stated. “Heart and guard, historically, just isn’t a really sturdy group. In any draft, the tackles are unusually deep this yr. I believe we are able to add gamers by way of the draft. Hopefully, we will do some kind of enterprise in free company. And we’re at all times going to take a look at our personal gamers first.”
ESPN NFL draft analyst Matt Miller agrees.
“In my prime 50 total, I’ve seven tackles,” Miller stated. “So it’s actually deep. … There are a number of tackles who will go 33-45 in all probability who may very well be starters within the NFL. They may have one a part of their sport that should get cleaned up somewhat bit.”
The Steelers have a late-round decide in every of the primary two rounds of the NFL draft. At No. 24 total, the perfect offensive tackles within the class — Oregon’s Penei Sewell, USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker and Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater — will possible be off the board.
The following tier, although, nonetheless possesses loads of NFL-ready tackles.
“Teven Jenkins from Oklahoma State is a very good participant,” Miller stated. “I spoke to him final week. He looks like he may very well be a Day 1 proper deal with.”
Chukwuma Okorafor, who began practically each sport at proper deal with final season, is slated to return to the Steelers within the final yr of his contract. But when the staff re-signs Banner, there may very well be a positional battle there, or one may transfer to left deal with and the opposite may compete for the beginning proper deal with spot with a newly drafted participant.
The Steelers may additionally take North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz. He missed out on a fall season as a result of the FCS moved soccer to the spring, however he was named a first-team All-American in 2019 as a junior. To ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., Radunz moved into rivalry to be an early spherical draft decide with a powerful exhibiting on the Senior Bowl in Cellular, Alabama.
“Dillon’s acquired numerous potential,” Kiper stated. “He is a plug-and-play left deal with. He was a shot putter in highschool, all-conference basketball participant. He is acquired the size. I believe he is a man to consider there now.”
Cincinnati’s James Hudson can be another choice within the second spherical. An under-the-radar prospect who has only one yr as a starter beneath his belt, he may very well be an eventual beginning left deal with.
“He is an outstanding participant,” Miller stated. “Very, superb athlete. He is somebody, early-to-mid second spherical who comes off the board.”
Samuel Cosmi from Texas, a flexible participant who allowed only one quarterback hit final season, additionally matches the invoice as a borderline first- or second-round offensive deal with.
“He is imply, he is robust within the run sport,” Miller stated. “He is simply acquired to get somewhat extra affected person within the go sport.”
Mentioned Texas DL/LB Joseph Ossai: “I am unhappy the mix wasn’t a factor this yr as a result of individuals would have seen how freakish and explosive [Cosmi] is.”
If the Steelers miss out on any of these prospects within the early rounds, or wish to pad their depth much more, there are additionally choices like Jackson Carman from Clemson. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Matt Canada had been at Clemson’s professional day on Thursday, although Carman didn’t work out.
Carman spent the final two years of his collegiate profession as Trevor Lawrence‘s left deal with. After Clemson’s professional day, he stated NFL groups had been evaluating him as a left deal with, however in addition they talked with him about his capabilities as a guard. With that versatility, Carman may very well be a stable mid-round addition for depth.