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Steelers evaluating draft needs

By Scott Brown
Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011

For all that figures to be written about the Steelers' need to address their offensive line early in the 2011 NFL Draft, the team could find itself with a surplus at the all-important position of tackle.

The Steelers want Flozell Adams, who proved to be a revelation at right tackle last season, to return for 2011, and the 13th-year veteran has given every indication that he intends to do so. Max Starks and Willie Colon, the team's starting tackles for most of '08 and '09, are expected to make full recoveries from their respective neck and foot injuries.

If all three are with the Steelers next season it could give the team the flexibility to experiment with Colon at guard -- or simply make it harder on the coaches to settle on the top five linemen.

"Those are problems I'd like to consider at some point," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Monday. "There's a lot of unanswered questions involving that."

The first one is whether Colon will even be with the Steelers next season.

Colon, who had started 54 consecutive games at right tackle before rupturing his Achilles tendon last June, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.

What that means is anybody's guess since the owners and players have yet to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement.

The current one runs out March 3, and if the two sides don't agree to a new deal by then -- or at least make significant progress toward one -- the owners likely will lock out the players.

Most league business would be suspended in the event of a lockout but the draft still we take place in late April.

Preparations for the draft begin in earnest this week when more than 300 prospects as well as NFL general managers, coaches and scouts convene in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, which starts Thursday.

The combine gives teams a chance to check out prospects from a medical standpoint, test them physically and mentally and meet with them.

The Steelers, for example, will interview 60 prospects in Indianapolis -- that is the most any team is allowed -- for 15 minutes at a time.

"At this point in the process, I'm trying to, more than anything, get a sense of what the class is about, the strengths of the class," Tomlin said.

He said there's "no question" the Steelers will give cornerbacks a long look, especially because starter Ike Taylor and William Gay are set to become unrestricted free agents.

But bolstering the offensive line also could be a point of emphasis for the Steelers, even though they used the 18th overall pick on center Maurkice Pouncey last season.

The 2011 cornerback class isn't particularly strong at the top, several draft analysts have said, and it's considered a good year for offensive linemen.

"If you're looking for a cornerback at the end of the first round, you might have a problem," NFL Network's Mike Mayock said.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said the Steelers, who pick 31st in the first round, need to improve their depth along the offensive line. Mayock said the Steelers have to become more athletic up front, particularly at tackle.

He said as many as five offensive tackles could get picked in the first round.

"As far as the offensive line (class)," Mayock said, "I think it's real deep."

Tomlin's takes

On whether the Steelers will bring back all four quarterbacks who spent time on the 53-man roster in 2010:

"Yes. That's a good problem to have, isn't it• We needed all four of them. I don't fear competition, and I don't think any of those men do either. Of course, it's not a slam-dunk that that's a good experience when you're in those situations, but I think that group and who they are as people and how they interact and relate I think makes it fun and special. All of those guys have been awesome."

On how long it took him to get over the Super Bowl loss and start planning for the 2011 season:

"When you're in my position, there's not a lot of time to lick your wounds. There just isn't. I made sure the staff is getting ample time to refresh, but I've got to turn the page and catch up to what (director of football operations) Kevin (Colbert) and his group has done. It's a new challenge, and this process kind of helps me turn the page."

On the uncertain labor situation and how it affects the Steelers' offseason schedule:

"I'm hanging loose like everybody else in football."

On how active he expects the Steelers to be in free agency this year, assuming that period occurs:

"It's just too early in the process of our team building for me to kind of forecast or speculate on the necessary moves that are going to have to happen. Those things are going to occur over the course of many meetings over the next several weeks, two months, particularly with the questions of when that process is going to happen."



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