During the Pittsburgh Steelers' most recent run to the Super Bowl, two glaring deficiencies appeared within the the makeup of the roster, particularly due to key injuries. As a result, Pittsburgh's trenches were under siege during the 2010 campaign.
With the draft looming less than a month away, the team is doing its due diligence to potentially address both the offensive and defensive lines.
Wednesday, head coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau made the three-hour trip west to Columbus to see Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward participate in his individual pro day.
Heyward had injury issues of his own after suffering a severe hyperextension of his left elbow during the Buckeyes' 31-26 victory at the Sugar Bowl against the Arkansas Razorbacks, hence he did not participate in Ohio State's regularly scheduled pro day which occurred March 11.
Since the bowl game, Heyward has twice visited famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Heyward detailed he received a complete UCL reconstruction in his left arm when asked specifically about the injury. He did not attempt the bench press during the activities, but has started to lift as he continues to work through rehabilitation.
The need for a player such as Heyward may be the result of Aaron Smith's unfortunate set of circumstances the last few seasons. Smith tore his left triceps muscle in week five against the Miami Dolphins. Smith may be the most unheralded, yet one of the best defenders in the NFL when healthy. It simply hasn't been the case in recent seasons.
In 2009 Smith tore a rotator cuff in a game against Detroit. In 2007 he tore a biceps muscle. Three out of the last four seasons have seen Smith finish each campaign on the injured reserved. Despite his talent and importance along Pittsburgh's three-man defensive front, the end cannot be relied upon as the team looks to recoil after a disappointing championship effort.
Heyward is still generally considered a solid first-round prospect even with his lingering health concerns. His size at 6-foot-5, while hovering around 290 pounds, coupled with the strength he presents at the point of attack make him an ideal 5-technique (the defensive end in a 34 base defensive front) candidate to replace Smith. Heyward would seemlessly transition into a defensive front which saw the bearded wonder Brett Keisel and former first round selection Evander "Ziggy" Hood as the team's starting ends. Keisel will be 33 years old next season and may be better served in a reserve role, thus opening a doorway for another potential high selection at the position.
His lineage, the son of former NFL running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, and mindset may make him the perfect fit within the Steelers' organization, if the two coaches saw something they liked and made him the 31st overall selection.
"We're both just guys who love to pound", Heyward said at the combine while comparing his style of play to to his father's. "He was trying to pound linebackers. I'm trying to go after tackles. We always had that toughness that God gave us. So why shouldn't we use it?"
Meanwhile, the team must address its offensive line sooner rather than later. The unit the Steelers fielded during Super Bowl Sunday was the worst to grace the championship spectacle in its history. A large reason as to why was losing Pro Bowl rookie phenom Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey simply could not overcome a high ankle sprain suffered during the AFC championship game against the New York Jets to anchor the struggling unit in its biggest game.
Pouncey's injury only compounded a situation which saw right tackle Willie Colon and guard Darnell Stapleton lost for the season before it began. Left tackle Max Starks was lost to the injured reserved list due to a neck injury after week nine. Only left guard Chris Kemoeatu and Pouncey still stood as the playoffs began, before the center missed the Super Bowl.
A dearth of talent along the offensive line made juggling the starting lineup a weekly chore before the team eventually fell to the Green Bay Packers to end its season.
The Steelers could simply adhere to a catchy jingle once seen on television to rectify the situation ...
I love playing two-hand touch
Eating way too much
Watching my team win
With the twins
I love quarterbacks eating dirt
Pom-poms and short skirts
Fans who won't quit
And those twins
And I love you, too
Here's to football!
The key word in the former Coors Light commercial is "twins."
Maurkice Pouncey left his twin brother, Mike, for the first time in their lives as he declared for the NFL draft as an underclassman in 2010. Michael decided to stay in Gainesville and play for the Florida Gators another season after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL advisory committee when he tested the draft waters.
Mike took over for his brother at the pivot as a senior and struggled, particularly with botched snaps early in the season. His best position may reside next to his kin as powerful drive-blocking guard.
Despite sharing the same genetic material, the two aren't the same exact player. Mike is more powerful at the point of attack and can uproot down lineman. He has shown the ability, whether in games or practice situations, to play all five line positions. Maurkice displays better feet and the ability to get to the second level more consistently.
Sources around the organization state the team is quite partial to reuniting the two as the first round comes to a close April 28. Although, Mike Pouncey is highly regarded around the league because of his aforementioned versatility. The odds of being available in round one for Pittsburgh seems to be decreasing.
If the tackle position is the team's pleasure, Gabe Carimi has been said to hold a great interest within the walls of the team's facilities.
Carimi was a four-year starter for the Wisconsin Badgers after taking over for former All-American and current All-Pro Joe Thomas. He stands 6-7 and weighs 315 pounds.
As an underclassmen, Carimi appeared to be a pro-ready pass blocker who was smooth and nimble in his set. He did struggle against the bull rush when stout defensive ends attempted to drive the blindside protector into his quarterback. The tackle prospect added 15-20 pounds this offseason to become much more powerful at the point of attack. It may have also hindered his athleticism to a degree while currently being projected to right tackle at the next level.
Carimi may draw interest from teams as high as 19th overall to the New York Giants. A bevy of teams including Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and Chicago share voids at the tackle position before the Steelers select.
If the decision were in the hands of Carimi, he certainly sees himself being drafted sooner rather than later.
"I know I am the best tackle out there," he said confidently at the combine.
Each of these three aforementioned talents are all garnering interest from the Steelers and deservedly so. The team would be wise to select any of the listed prospects to significantly address the team's biggest issues, while they look to bounce back without suffering the same Super Bowl swoon many teams have after losing in the title game.