- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
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As the NFL draft approaches, "SportsCenter" is putting every NFL team with a first-round pick "On the Clock," and Scouts Inc. will break down each team and look at what questions still need answering.
Although the Steelers won the AFC North in Mike Tomlin's first season as a head coach, this team fell apart late in the season. Much of the blame for Pittsburgh's problems goes to injuries, namely DE Aaron Smith's biceps tear and RB Willie Parker's broken leg. Regardless, the way the Steelers finished the 2007 season must be a concern. Pittsburgh struggled to put teams away for much of the season, and this was especially true in the home playoff loss to Jacksonville. The offensive line allowed an inordinate amount of sacks and was unable to push the pile when the Steelers needed it most in the running game. However, Ben Roethlisberger established himself as probably the top quarterback in football outside of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Tomlin's first full offseason is crucial in determining whether the Steelers are to be a contender.
The Steelers are not big believers in spending a small fortune for other teams' free agents, but RB Mewelde Moore was an excellent economical signing. Tomlin is quite familiar with the do-it-all running back from their time together in Minnesota. Moore will do quite a bit for Pittsburgh, including spelling Parker, who was overworked last season. Moore will be the third-down back and give Roethlisberger a fine safety value option out of the backfield. However, he will contribute the most on special teams as the primary kickoff and punt returner. Plus, he will help on coverage teams. His special-teams contributions cannot be overlooked for a team that really struggled in this phase of the game. Keyaron Fox was signed from the Chiefs, also to help on special teams.
Pittsburgh recently inked Justin Hartwig. Center was possibly the weakest position for the Steelers last year, and although Hartwig isn't a Pro Bowl-caliber center, he is an instant upgrade over Sean Mahan and eliminates a draft day need. Plus, though it wasn't an addition, locking up Roethlisberger for the long term was also extremely important for the future of this franchise.
The obvious loss for the Steelers was perennial Pro Bowl LG Alan Faneca. The Jets paid outrageous money for his services, but even before free agency opened, it was a foregone conclusion that he would leave town. Pittsburgh felt he was replaceable and not worth investing a fortune in at this advanced stage of his career. Although he is still a very good player, the arrow is beginning to point down on Faneca and his fantastic natural skills are beginning to decline. However, the Steelers' offensive line was a real weak area last year, even with Faneca, who was probably their best lineman. WR Cedrick Wilson was released last week, and it also is expected that starting outside linebacker Clark Haggans will sign elsewhere and give way to LaMarr Woodley.
There are several starting spots on the line up for grabs right now. The offensive line remains a question mark for Pittsburgh. Faneca is gone, and the Steelers will have to rely on the draft to improve their front five. It seems very likely that Pittsburgh's transition player, Max Starks, will be back, and his ability to play both tackle spots is certainly valuable. Pittsburgh's defensive line also is getting up in age, and the Steelers absolutely need to find young, developmental depth at defensive end. A big wide receiver is also on the wish list, and they could use one more contributor in their secondary.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
Scouts Inc. puts the Steelers on the clock, breaking down their offseason moves and looking at what questions still need answers.