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Old 04-20-2008, 05:07 AM   #1
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Default For every Faneca, there's a bust

For every Faneca, there's a bust
Saturday, April 19, 2008
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A week from today, the Steelers will use the 23rd pick in the NFL draft on an offensive lineman, or at least they should, so you might want to hope they don't.

I hope that's clear, in its own convoluted way.

Look, don't blame me for your confusion. Seven days remain. The draft stopped making sense weeks ago. Players at every position are moving up and down the mock draft boards based on every conceivable blip of data, dubious and otherwise, right down to their apparent letter writing skills.

Here's a recent mailing from Michigan wideout Mario Manningham, reportedly addressed to all 32 clubs.

To whom it may concern:

In recent interviews with representatives of your football organization, I might have mischaracterized my past and/or current use of marijuana. This, fortunately, is easily correctable by merely going to the transcript of our conversation and substituting any of the following words or phrases for "no" and "never":

"Rarely," "Sometimes," "Occasionally," and "OK sure, but not like Ricky Williams or anything."

I hope this finds you well and doesn't affect my current draft status as a plummeting second-rounder.



U of M.

That might not be it exactly, but that was the thrust, and it's especially useful for the Steelers in the event they'd ever confuse Ben Roethlisberger's suggestion about getting a tall receiver for getting a high one.

More than anything else, the Steelers need help in front of Roethlisberger and Willie Parker, but their draft position at 23 makes for a hair-raising situation. The best offensive linemen, the kids that I read can move mountains, slam revolving doors and protect the passer around the clock, could well have vanished by that 23rd pick.

Michigan's Jake Long, the best of 'em by most accounts, might not last until the second pick. Long allowed two sacks in 40 starts for the Wolverines, which would seem to be just the prescription for a Steelers' offense that sometimes allowed two sacks in 40 seconds.

Ryan Clady of Boise State, Branden Albert of Virginia, Chris Williams of Vanderbilt, Jeff Otah of Pitt, and 6-8 Gosder Cherilus of Boston College might also be gone, but, even if one highly reputable giant is available, some long Steelers memories in the war room might preclude drafting a blocker this late in Round 1.

Alan Faneca, whose departure via free agency made the offensive line a very pointy issue around here, was taken by the Steelers with the 26th pick in 1998, wound up in seven Pro Bowls, and hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

So it can be done.

Jamain Stephens, whose tremendous upside failed to match his tremendous backside, who brought to the table so much less than he took from the table, was taken with the 29th pick in 1996.

So it can't be done with any assurance.

Kendall Simmons, who has been highly serviceable at a couple of positions and part of some of the best offensive lines in Steelers history, also handled the Super Bowl hardware. He was taken with the 30th pick in 2002.

So it can be done.

Tom Ricketts, who blocked up a storm at Pitt but couldn't block traffic in the Squirrel Hill Tunnel at 5:15 as a pro, was taken with the 24th pick in 1989.

So it can't be done with any assurance, even when you draft as high as ninth, as the Steelers did in 1986. They took Temple guard John Rienstra, who was said to the next John Hannah, but on balance did not outperform Hannah Montana.

On top of all that, the draft nomenclature of the new century makes the offensive line a pitfall. You're apparently looking for players who can slide well, meaning they can move laterally without crossing their feet and falling down, but you want to stay clear of sliders, those whose reputations are falling by the minute as the draft approaches. Offensive linemen who are better drive blockers than pass blockers are now called "road graders," so beware of the heavy equipment tags relevant to your purposes. You don't want to draft, say, a backhoe, or worse, go looking for a bulldozer and come home with a weed-whacker.

I'm assuming the Steelers' personnel department has all of this worked out.

One more thing, though. You might want to avoid players who developed late in their college careers because, as the scouts sometimes explain, "all of a sudden, the light went on."

The light went on for Pac-Man Jones too. Unfortunately, it was in pink neon and read, "All Nude Revue!"

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