Kovacevic: Steelers have much to tackle

| Friday, March 15, 2013, 12:04 a.m.

Brief and to the Point …

So much about the Steelers is in flux right now, but here's what is settled, maybe for years to come: Ben Roethlisberger's offensive line will consist, left to right, of Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Mike Adams.

It's been a long time, a lot of money and a lot of high draft picks in the making, but there it is.

Pouncey and DeCastro were first-rounders, Gilbert and Adams second-rounders, and it was all glued this week by the retention of Foster, who … um, went undrafted in 2009 but now will be the highest-paid of the lot with his three-year, $6 million contract.

He'll be the elder statesman, too, at a ripe old … um, 27.

“Coming from an undrafted guy, to be able to say I'm the oldest person in the room now is truly a blessing,” Foster was telling me Thursday, taking a tease on that topic in stride.

But turning serious, he added, “It took a lot of work.”

No doubt, and the reward was well-earned. Willie Colon couldn't stay on the field, and Foster was the only lineman who could. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin made the right call.

What of the rest, though?

I like the potential. It's hard not to. Pouncey's a star. DeCastro has that pedigree, too. But those tackles, Gilbert and Adams, have as much to prove as anyone heading into Latrobe. Max Starks won't be the cavalry this time. Either Gilbert and Adams have Ben's back, or you'll get a whole lot of Bruce Gradkowski.

“I'm confident in this line,” Foster said. “We may be young, but every person in that room has played in this league against good competition. The tackles will be fine, too. They were drafted for a reason.”

• Just-for-fun Friday Q: The departures of Colon and Rashard Mendenhall leave the Steelers with nothing to show for Colbert's 2006 and 2008 drafts. How many classes before those are still represented?

Answer at end.

• Pitt's early exit from the Big East Tournament won't help NCAA seeding, obviously, but neither should it hurt much. The Panthers are still one of the nation's top 20 teams, and they lost by three points to another ranked team in a great conference. Realistically, they should get a No. 8 seed or higher.

• Spare me the Jamie Dixon complaints, please. He can't shoot the ball for these young men, and he can't simulate a Big East environment for freshmen. Steven Adams and James Robinson took some tough lessons Thursday.

• NHL realignment was officially finished Thursday, but the four divisions still don't have names. My suggestion: Lemieux, Gretzky, Orr, Howe.

Make them relatable.

• Ever wonder why the Pirates move prospects through their system more slowly than most?

Neal Huntington provided a glimpse Wednesday with this description of Jameson Taillon excelling in a four-inning World Baseball Classic start: “It was unnerving, as a GM, to watch a young pitcher with as high expectations as we have for Taillon pitch a make-or-break game against Team USA. But he handled himself well.”

Yeah, the kid threw a ball.

Taillon is 21. He ended last season by dominating at Double-A Altoona, with a 1.59 ERA, a .083 opponents' batting average, 18 strikeouts and one walk over three starts.

He'll begin this season with Double-A Altoona.

That's unnerving.

• No one has seen Sidney Crosby up close more than Brooks Orpik, a career-long teammate. This was Orpik's assessment this week: “It's the highest level I've ever seen Sid play.”

• If Team Canada execs are paying attention, Chris Kunitz will be Crosby's linemate in the Sochi Olympics, big names and profiles be damned.

• Temple and Charlotte are leaving the Atlantic 10 for football, and Xavier and Butler are widely reported to be leaving for the new Catholic 7. Saint Louis and Dayton could be next through the latter door.

That would leave Duquesne basketball weaker than ever, which is a near-impossibility.

And don't overthink why the Dukes aren't on board with those other Catholic schools: They don't win, they don't make much money, and they flat-out aren't wanted.

It's as stinging an indictment of Greg Amodio's eight years as athletic director as one could imagine. His contract expires after the next school year.

• If anyone can think of an intelligent reason why Dan Bylsma, an intelligent man, is scratching Simon Despres against teams the coach deems “physical,” I'm all ears.

The Penguins, current and future, have nothing to gain from scratching — never mind embarrassing — their top young defenseman.

• Seeing prospect Phillip Irwin pitch well for the Pirates this spring reminds me of this gem from Clint Hurdle in describing Irwin a couple weeks ago: “He's not a Dow Jones guy.”

Meaning Irwin keeps a straight-line even keel.


• Just-for-fun answer: All of them from 2000-05, assuming Casey Hampton (2001) returns. Plaxico Burress (2000) is the oldest.

Dejan Kovacevic is a sports columnist for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dkovacevic@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic

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