Steelers' focus: Protect Roethlisberger

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
11:08
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Mike AdamsPhil Sears/US PresswirePittsburgh drafted Mike Adams in the second round, its second offensive lineman of the draft.

Something tells me that the Pittsburgh Steelers' plan for the draft started and ended toward the end of the 2011 season when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle sprain, his latest and most severe injury of the year.

This became clear to the Steelers, as well as anyone owning a Terrible Towel: Pittsburgh can't make a Super Bowl run with a limping Roethlisberger.

Fast-forward from the deflating playoff loss in Denver to this week's NFL draft. Pittsburgh used its first-round pick on Stanford guard David DeCastro and its second-rounder on Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams. Roethlisberger has to be smiling after hearing the Steelers picked up the best guard in this draft class and a potential franchise left tackle.

The Steelers aren't building an offensive line. They're putting together a security detail for their most valuable player.

The days of plugging in Jonathan Scott and Doug Legursky are over. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this marks the first time since 1968 that the Steelers drafted offensive linemen in the first two rounds.

Taking DeCastro ranks as one of the best picks in the entire first round. While I think it's a risk, albeit a calculated one, to select Adams in the second round with his character issues, you have to respect that the Steelers laid out a plan and are sticking to it.

It's difficult to frown about the Steelers' intentions after watching Roethlisberger grimace in pain week after week, year after year. From 2005 to 2010, Roethlisberger fractured his right thumb, tore cartilage in his right knee, separated his right shoulder, broke his nose and fractured a bone in his right foot. In 2011 alone, he sprained his left foot, fractured his right thumb again and suffered a high ankle sprain.

The scary part for the Steelers is that defenses were hitting Roethlisberger without blitzing. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he was sacked 26 times against a standard pass rush of four or fewer defenders last season. It was the second most sacks allowed against a standard rush in the NFL.

Some might say that's a result of Roethlisberger holding onto the ball too long. But this is really a poor reflection on a struggling offensive line. There were times when you expected Roethlisberger to shake his head after getting to his feet following a sack. That is, if Roethlisberger didn't break a bone.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarLast season Ben Roethisberger was sacked 26 times against a standard pass rush.
Pittsburgh now can line up in the season opener in Denver with four starters who were drafted in the first or second round recently. This rebuilding project started in 2010, when the Steelers used the 18th overall pick on center Maurkice Pouncey. It continued last season when they selected offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert in the second round.

The big push to fortify the protective wall for Roethlisberger came Thursday and Friday. DeCastro is a Steeler because of luck. He landed in Pittsburgh's lap after 23 teams passed on the best guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson in 2001.

"David was one of the guys we had targeted to move up to get," general manager Kevin Colbert told reporters Thursday. "Excellent intangibles. Character. Tough. Leader. Smart. Everything you can ask for in a football player, this kid encompasses it."

Adams is with the Steelers because the team took a leap of faith with him. According to the Post-Gazette, Adams tested positive for marijuana use at the NFL combine in February and lied about it. A native of Farrell, Pa., and a lifelong Steelers fan, Adams requested a face-to-face meeting with Colbert, Art Rooney II and coach Mike Tomlin to explain himself.

Colbert informed Adams that he was taken off the Steelers' draft board. But, because Adams made the drive, the team gave him a chance to redeem himself. After Adams met all of the Steelers' requirements, which included counseling, Colbert said he was back on the board with a first-round grade.

"Quite honestly, I’m not so much worried about the reward as I am about the young man getting his life in order," Colbert said. "In this case, we felt comfortable that he is going to do that. Whether he does or not, nobody knows, including me, him and everybody associated with this."

Adams is definitely a question mark. But the Steelers feel he can be the answer, much like Gilbert proved to be last year after being selected in the second round. The alternative is more instability on the offensive line. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Steelers used a league-high 25 different offensive line combinations last season.

So while other teams in the NFL are reaching for wide receivers and taking a punter in the third round, the Steelers are making the smart moves. The focus of this draft is protecting Roethlisberger, and Pittsburgh has done everything in its power to do that this season.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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