With a beefed-up O-line, Steelers can focus on defensive backfield in draft

The Pittsburgh Steelers can’t get enough offensive linemen. They entered the offseason with multiple Pro Bowlers and a future one in Marcus Gilbert. So they added a sixth starting-caliber lineman in Ryan Harris. Backups Mike Adams and Cody Wallace have started games, too. And veteran free agent guard Geoff Schwartz is visiting the team this week.

Basically, as the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote about this week, the line is now ready-made, to the point coach Mike Tomlin jokes he no longer hears the O-line complaints from earlier in his tenure.

“Now it’s the secondary,” Tomlin said from the NFL owners meetings.

Maybe the Steelers quell those concerns with the next few drafts.

The Steelers’ recent draft trends show a tendency for positional focus. Even if the Steelers favor the best-player-available tactic, there’s no denying these patterns:

Offensive line

2010 – Maurkice Pouncey, first round

2011 – Marcus Gilbert, second round

2012 – David DeCastro, first round

2012 -- Mike Adams, second round


2013 – Jarvis Jones, first round

2014 – Ryan Shazier, first round

2015 – Bud Dupree, first round

With an impressive line and a playmaking offensive core most teams would envy, the Steelers have positioned themselves to invest heavily in the defensive backfield in 2016 and 2017.

Tomlin said it himself: The Steelers play at least five defensive backs about 70 percent of the time. Right now, that five-man rotation would be corners William Gay, Senquez Golson, Cortez Allen (a big if because of his health) and safeties Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden. Maybe throw fourth-round pick Doran Grant in there.

One of those primary five -- Golson -- is a Steelers draft pick from the top three rounds of the last four years.

Time for reinforcements.

With a few key free-agent signings, the Steelers have the luxury to cast a wide net in the first few rounds. If they follow their own patterns, secondary is the proverbial "next man up." Yes, they need a defensive tackle. But versatile ends Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt help ease concerns there. Either way, don't be surprised if the franchise selects a tackle somewhere in Days 1 and 2.

As for corners, the Steelers staff -- including Tomlin -- was in Houston this week to check out potential first-rounder William Jackson III.

“For the head coach to come down here that's a big deal. That's a blessing,” Jackson told the Houston Chronicle.

Help is on the way, either from Houston or elsewhere.