April 12, 2009
By Donald Starver
Special thanks to reader Keith, who suggested that I follow up the series “The 3-4 and the Steelers draft” with a similar series on the Steelers’ offense. I don’t know if I will have enough time to finish this series before the draft, but I am going to give it a try.
I almost called this series “Arians’ offense and the Steelers’ draft”. But after thinking about it, I realized that I couldn’t write a series with that title. Using that title would imply that I actually understand Bruce Arians’ offense. But the truth is that I don’t.
I’ve watched Bruce Arians’ work as Steelers 0ffensive coordinator for 2 years now, and I still am not quite sure what he is trying to do. His offense is definitely not a traditional Steelers power running game. The Steelers have struggled to get the tough yards, particularly on the ground. The Steelers ranked in the bottom third of the league in rushing yards, so I’m not sure if they have much of a rushing attack, “power” or otherwise.
The Steelers’ don’t run a power passing attack. Ben Roethlisberger ranked 14th in the league in passing yards, and had almost 2,000 fewer passing yards than league leader Drew Brees.
They don’t run a classic West Coast offense. In fact, I struggle to place Bruce Arians’ offense into any particular category. The most accurate description that I can give it is probably the “gain as few yards as possible and then depend of the defense” offense.
To be fair, Bruce Arians’ offense did win the Super Bowl, so I guess I have no right to question him. But still……
With that in mind, I plan to look at the offensive positions generically, rather than specifically in the context of the Steelers’ offense (since I don’t understand it). I hope the readers won’t mind that approach.
I’ll start with the area of greatest need on the Steelers offense, the offensive line. Specifically, I will start with the most important position on the offensive line; the offensive tackle.
To illustrate just how important offensive tackles are, we need look no further than the 2008 draft. The first overall pick in 2008 was an offensive tackle, Jake Long. In addition to Long, 7 other offensive tackles were taken in the first round; more than any other position. Contrarily, no centers or guards were taken in the first round, nor were there any wide receivers selected.
Offensive tackles are usually the biggest linemen on the team. They are also typically the most athletic. Left tackles are valued more highly than right tackles, since most quarterbacks are right-handed, and many of the top pass rushers in the league (e.g. DeMarcus Ware, Joey Porter, James Harrison, etc.) play on the right side of the defense. The left tackle must protect the quarterback’s blind side.
Because of the greater importance of the position, left tackles are typically drafted earlier than right tackles, and they are paid significantly more.
Left tackles must have the speed and agility to handle speed rushers coming off the edge. They must also have the strength and base to anchor against bull rushers.
Contrarily, the right tackle doesn’t need to be quite as fast as the left tackle. Instead, right tackles must have tremendous leg strength to get an effective push in the running game. They need to be an “earth mover” who can successfully push back their defensive opponent. Most running backs are right handed and prefer to run to the right side, so having a mauler in front of them is important to the success of the running game.
Long arms are considered a highly desirable trait for an offensive tackle. This allows them to extend into defenders. Extension is important for two reasons. First, it allows them to get their hands on the defender from farther away, thus controlling the defender and preventing them from gaining momentum. Secondly, long arms allow the offensive tackle to protect a wider area. So an offensive tackle with short arms is going to be down-graded by scouts, regardless of how massive he may be.
Looking at this year’s draft class, there are a number of good offensive tackles available. Most projection have at least 4 offensive tackles being taken in the first round.
Eugene Monroe (6’5″, 311 lbs.), Virginia. Monroe is equally adept at run blocking and pass protection. He uses excellent technique, and is extremely consistent.
Andre Smith (6’5″, 340 lbs.), Alabama. A hugely talented player with great size. In college, he was always a man among boys, so he didn’t develop great technique. He will have to do so at the next level. Smith’s decision making and mental attitude have raised some questions.
Jason Smith (6’4″, 305 lbs.), Baylor. A converted tight end who probably won’t be ready to start on day one. However, he has great athleticism, and should prove to be a good investment for a team that is willing to put in the development time.
Michael Oher (6’5″, 309 lbs.), Mississippi. Probably the biggest risk among the top-rated offensive tackle. He had 3 different position coaches in 4 years, and will need coaching at the next level. He won the Outland Trophy in 2008.
Eben Britton (6’6″, 310 lbs.), Arizona. Not a great athlete, and he can be beaten by edge rushers. However, he is a scrappy player who has good size and solid technique. He will get the job done, although he may not look good doing so.
William Beatty (6’6″, 291 lbs.), Connecticut. Outstanding athlete who has questionable toughness. Doesn’t play with passion. Didn’t play against the best talent. May be taken in the first round, but it will be more due to potential than to actual performance.
The Steelers’ can use an upgrade on both sides of the offensive line. Willie Colon, in particular may be vulnerable to rookie competition. He has the longest tenure at his position on the Steelers starting offensive line, yet he continues to fail to impress. Max Starks played surprisingly well last year, but the Steelers still don’t seem to be convinced that he is their long-term solution at left tackle.
Eugene Monroe, Andre Smith, and Jason Smith will be long gone before the Steelers make their first pick. However, it is likely that Eben Britton and/or William Beatty will be available when the Steelers select at #32.
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