Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was hampered by knee injuries last season.
By Ron Cook Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Maybe a healthy Troy Polamalu and a healthy Aaron Smith in 2010 will cure all that ailed the Steelers' defense last season.
Maybe the presence of Polamalu and Smith will strengthen a pass defense that sabotaged the team in '09 when it blew five fourth-quarter leads and gave up nine pass plays of 40 yards or more.
Maybe Polamalu and Smith will make cornerback William Gay a better player.
Or maybe not.
That maybe-not possibility is frightening.
Is it just me or is it hard to give the Steelers a high grade for their work during the first two days of the NFL draft? That isn't to say they didn't help themselves by getting Florida guard-center Maurkice Pouncey, Virginia Tech outside linebacker Jason Worilds and Southern Methodist wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. But how do you give them an A or even a B when they didn't address their biggest need? When they didn't draft a cornerback? When they're looking at another season with Gay as a starter at the position opposite of proven and capable Ike Taylor? When they're probably going to have to hope that one of their two second-year cornerbacks -- Joe Burnett or Keenan Lewis -- can play in passing situations, which seem to be just about every play in today's NFL?
Polamalu and Smith had better make an enormous impact.
Only one cornerback -- Florida's Joe Haden -- had been drafted when the Steelers were set to pick No. 18 in the first round Thursday night. They selected Pouncey, which made sense in a lot of ways. He will provide valuable interior line depth and might even beat out Trai Essex for the right guard spot on a team that wants to re-establish its running game and knows it must do a better job of protecting its quarterback, be it Dennis Dixon, Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch early in the season or Ben Roethlisberger after his conditional six-game suspension ends.
I'm not knocking the Pouncey pick at all.
I'm just wondering if the Steelers might not have been better off with Alabama's Kareem Jackson, Rutgers' Devin McCourty or Boise State's Kyle Wilson, cornerbacks who went in the next 11 picks of the first round.
I'm thinking we're going to be seeing a lot of late blown leads again next season.
That's a legitimate worry after the Steelers couldn't get their man at cornerback in the second or third round Friday night.
Worilds, who will back up James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, clearly is a pick for the future. "It's going to be hard to get on the field for him this next year," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "[Harrison and Woodley] are pretty extraordinary. They don't like coming off the field and I don't like taking them off the field. [Worilds] is going to have to earn his keep on special teams for a couple of years."
I don't know about you, but I was sort of hoping the Steelers would make a pick for this season in the second round. I'm not minimizing the value of special teams at all; they killed the team last season. I was just wishing for a player to fill a little bigger need a little sooner on a team that likes to think of itself as a Super Bowl contender -- or at least did before the Roethlisberger mess.
You know, a cornerback.
As for taking Sanders in the third round, well, I'm not among those who think a wide receiver should have been high on the Steelers' priority list even after the giveaway trade of Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets earlier this month. Hines Ward still has plenty left. Mike Wallace is ready to be a star. Antwaan Randle El and Arnaz Battle were signed as a free agents. Limas Sweed is going to get one more chance to save his career.
I sure as heck liked the Steelers' wide receivers better than their cornerbacks going into the draft.
Obviously, director of football operations Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin disagreed. They weren't available for comment Friday night to share their thinking.
Maybe Gay, Burnett and Lewis will justify that faith and turn into great players.
Maybe Colbert and Tomlin will find a jewel of a cornerback today in Rounds 4-7 of the draft.
Maybe Polamalu and Smith really will make up for all of the cornerbacks' weaknesses.
Or maybe not.
. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.