In mid-January, Art Rooney II suggested that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger needed to "tweak" his game and offered a reason.
"He is turning 30 and we do need him to stay healthy, and taking fewer sacks would probably help that equation," the Steelers president said.
And just like that, the Steelers provided some tweaks of their own in the draft, completing the reformation of an offensive line that was the butt of too many jokes and too many Roethlisberger sacks.
By drafting guard David DeCastro in the first round and tackle Mike Adams in the second, the Steelers threw two more big logs on a line longing for fuel. Within three drafts, the Steelers have overhauled the weakest area of their team and set it up to be a strength through the early teens of this century.
How about a line that could look like this from left to right: Adams, Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert? That also could be tweaked itself, based on a few things such as Colon's health and the ability of Ramon Foster and/or Doug Legursky to improve and hold down one of the guard spots. And while DeCastro played right guard at Stanford, there's no reason he ultimately could not play on the left side with the Steelers, although moving him there as a rookie might be asking too much.
Either way, drafting two linemen who carried first-round grades by the Steelers has to be as welcome to Roethlisberger as that elusive tall receiver might be.
"I'm excited," Roethlisberger told the Altoona Mirror Saturday night before he spoke at the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "You know, at least on paper, it looks awesome. But, you never know until you take the field and the bullets start flying. I'm really excited. We got some good guys on offense and defense to help add to a team that was good already."
For too long the Steelers ignored the offensive line high in the draft. They had drafted a total of one tackle, one guard and no centers in the first two rounds of 11 consecutive drafts from 1999-2009. Over the past three drafts, they chose two linemen in the first round and two in the second. They drafted another tackle/guard in the seventh.
Someone finally started paying attention to what many believe is the most important area of a football team after the quarterback.
"The higher you pick the greater the expectation is by everybody, us included," general manager Kevin Colbert said. "It was no grand design, that's just how these drafts work. ... Really, this year we got three young offensive linemen, so add to that mix and see how it shapes out. You want to get younger and provide competition at every position, but sometimes it breaks where there are more on one side or one position. It really isn't by design; it's just how this class looks like."
It looks more by design.
Five years ago, with their linebackers aging and having cut Joey Porter, the Steelers drafted linebackers one-two. With their defensive line aging, the Steelers drafted two defensive ends in the first round over three drafts. With Casey Hampton turning 35 and recuperating from ACL surgery, they made a trade so they could draft a nose tackle.
However they want to sell it, Roethlisberger was buying.
"They kept me in the loop a little bit," he said in Altoona. "When DeCastro was there, you got to take him. Some are saying he's one of the best guards in college since Alan Faneca. We hope he can live up to the hype."
What had been a crumbling line has been invigorated, but now the job is for the coaches to put together five so they can begin working cohesively, the most important ingredient of an offensive line after talent.
"We're going to see how things go," line coach Sean Kugler said. "We want to get the guys in the best spots. Realistically, I don't want moving parts. It has been more of a necessity for us to have moving parts. We love to have guys at five stable positions and keep them there. We'll get the right five and see where we go from there."
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said he will introduce his new playbook to the players this week.
"We'll be allowed to talk this week coming up, so I'm looking forward to it," Roethlisberger said in Altoona. "I know it's going to be a lot different offense as far as the wording, the verbiage. It's a lot tougher. I don't want to say we're taking a step back, but we're starting over in learning the offense. You'll see differences in calling plays. But how much we'll run or pass, I don't know."
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published April 30, 2012 12:00 AM