The answer is ... Balmer

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The PG spends the week getting fans ready for the NFL draft Saturday and Sunday.
Today: The answer is ... Balmer.

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Here's how the NFL draft should not work for the Steelers today:

They have obvious and various needs in their offensive line, so no matter what, they draft an offensive lineman in the first round.

Or ...

Ben Roethlisberger wants a tall wide receiver, so no matter what, they draft a tall wide receiver in the first round.

How it should work, how it works best, is when a team drafts a player the way it has him ranked overall, within reason. The Steelers then, should not draft an offensive tackle at No. 23 if they have him rated as the No. 50 overall player. Doing that -- and it does happen, even with the Steelers on occasion -- causes teams to miss better players that could help them in later years at the cost of short-term thinking.

Now, as Steelers football operations boss Kevin Colbert has said many times, if the rankings are close, you go with the more needy position player.

That is why it says here the Steelers will draft a defensive lineman on the first round today.

A core of players the Steelers have in mind as possibly being available with the 23rd pick include offensive tackle Chris Williams of Vanderbilt, running back Jonathan Stewart of Oregon and defensive linemen Kentwan Balmer of North Carolina and Calais Campbell of Miami.

Each would address various needs, but then the Steelers have depth issues everywhere as they look to the future. They have little depth at outside linebacker, defensive line and wide receiver. They need a strong No. 2 running back, preferably a bigger man more suited to a power game. They need to get better in their offensive line, and they can always use a good cornerback.

Because of such needs, they truly can take the best available player on their board when they pick at No. 23, as Colbert has said, as long as he's not a quarterback or tight end.

Williams would be a pick for the future. After Willie Colon, the Steelers have three tackles with NFL experience (Marvel Smith, Max Starks and Trai Essex), but none is signed beyond next season.

Yet, Williams likely will be selected ahead of the Steelers and, unless they would move higher in the first round through a trade, would not be available.

Stewart would fit the bill as a running back to share time with Willie Parker. They would be 1 and 1-A on their depth chart and could line up at the same time, a revolutionary tactic that came to an end here in the 1990s ,when the Steelers switched to a blocking-only fullback.

Stewart's name has been all over the place in the draft -- from high in the first round to low -- after he had toe surgery in March. The Steelers passed him medically and would not pass on him were he to slip to No. 23. It says here.

The two defensive linemen are contrasting cases.

Balmer did not blossom until last season under Butch Davis' coaching staff. He is powerful at 6 feet 4 1/2, 308 pounds, a tackle who would move to end in the Steelers' 3-4 scheme.

Campbell was the opposite; he had a great season in 2006 and fell way off last year as a junior. Had he continued his previous play in '07, he would have been a top-10 pick. He had 20.5 tackles for losses and 10.5 sacks in 2006, but those totals fell to 12.5 and six last season. He stands 6-7 1/2 and weighs 290 pounds. He is perfect as a 3-4 end, but not a great pass-rusher. Pair him with Aaron Smith in the four-man line in the dime defense, and they could take the short, middle passing game away merely by raising their arms.

Campbell almost surely will be available to the Steelers at No. 23. It appears Balmer may be as well, although some mock drafts have him gone before then.

The Steelers need another defensive end. They need one to rotate with Smith and Brett Keisel, to keep them fresh, and to pair with Smith in the dime defense inside. They also must get younger at the position.

Coach Mike Tomlin has said he needs young, big people. All the Steelers' experienced linemen will be at least 30 by September, including their top three backups.

"When you look at some of the great teams in the history of our game or the great defenses in the history of our game, they have dominant men up front," Tomlin said.

Campbell fit that bill at Miami in '06 and Balmer waited until '07 to shine. Both are big and young.

Balmer, though, has done it more recently. When the final verdict arrives, Campbell's dropoff last season will be hard to overlook, and the Steelers, it says here, will go with Kentwan Balmer of North Carolina.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at .


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