AFC North team needs: Steelers

March, 12, 2012
3/12/12
4:49
PM ET
Free agent officially kicks off at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, so let's take a look at the three biggest needs for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are historically minor players in free agency:

1. Nose tackle: Casey Hampton turns 35 before the season begins and had ACL surgery in January, which means the Steelers need to find their future anchor of the defensive line. Longtime backup Chris Hoke retired, and Steve McLendon isn't a full-time starter in the middle. The Steelers might consider starting Ziggy Hood at nose tackle, even though he is a little undersized for that position. The Steelers would be ecstatic to take Memphis' Dontari Poe in the first round, but he's now considered a top-15 prospect. Other nose tackle prospects who could be on the Steelers' radar include: BYU's Loni Fangupo (second round), Washington's Alameda Ta'amu (third round) or Alabama's Josh Chapman (fourth round). In free agency, Ravens backup nose tackle Brandon McKinney would be an upgrade over McLendon.

2. Offensive line: The Steelers have a hole at left guard and need to improve their depth at offensive tackle. Pittsburgh benched mistake-prone Chris Kemoeatu at left guard and replaced him with Doug Legursky, whose strength is being a versatile backup. The Steelers could stick with Legursky at guard, but that wouldn't be their top choice. Pittsburgh is expected to switch Marcus Gilbert from right to left tackle, a move he handled well in the playoff game in Denver. The risk is giving the right tackle job back to Willie Colon, who has missed two seasons with injuries. If something happened to Colon again, the Steelers would turn to Jonathan Scott, who has struggled mightily every time he has stepped onto the field. The Steelers could always go back to free-agent stand-by Max Starks once he is recovered from ACL surgery.

3. Inside linebacker: The Steelers need another starter to go with Lawrence Timmons after they released James Farrior. Pittsburgh still has backup Larry Foote, but he isn't an every-down linebacker anymore. The Steelers don't have a great amount of cap room to find someone in free agency, so look for them to address inside linebacker early in the draft next month. Alabama's Dont'a Hightower has been heavily linked to Pittsburgh in the first round. He's a great athlete and has experience in a 3-4 defense. Hightower, who was also the signal caller for the Alabama defense, would eventually take over some of Farrior's leadership role.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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