The Pittsburgh Steelers at times tend to be criticized for owning a perceived lack of flexibility when it comes to catering their style of play around the talent that they have available. There is some inevitable truth to this—you only need to listen to John Mitchell talk about how he handles rookie defensive linemen to realize this—though I do think the criticism often aims too high and shoots too far.
It’s also not one that Head Coach Mike Tomlin would agree with, and something that he addressed on Monday during the team’s pre-draft press conference, though it was not directly the question that he was responding to.
Asked about whether or not or how they factor in need when determining their selection, Tomlin quickly offered his take of how the first round is going to go. “We’re going to take the best player, whether it’s inside linebacker or corner or safety or offensive lineman”, he said. And his reasoning was that they can accommodate quality talent in their scheme.
“We have enough flexibility in terms of what we do to lean on the skill sets of the player that we acquire”, Tomlin said, using inside linebackers specifically as an example. “There are different linebackers in this discussion that have different skill sets, some of them are cover men, some of them are blitzers, some of them are zone droppers”.
Inside linebacker has routinely been the favorite position to mock for the Steelers, and we have seen three different players there in recent days attached to Pittsburgh’s name in some prominent mocks. But Tomlin isn’t putting himself into a box.
“Whoever we end up with, whether it’s linebacker or offensive lineman or otherwise, we’ve got enough flexibility in terms of what we do to lean on the skill sets in which they excel”, he reiterated.
I’m sure a number of people intend to disagree with the head coach’s assessment about how the team operates with respect to leaning on the skill sets of those players that they draft, or in other words figuring out how best to utilize the players they have available to them.
You can’t please everybody, and that is certainly a factor in play here, but that doesn’t mean the team is immune from criticism about how they’ve used players. One case I will point to in their favor though would be Mike Hilton. Not only did they get him on the field immediately, they used him where he can make plays, in the box and as a blitzer.
I would be pretty surprised and underwhelmed if the Steelers do take an offensive lineman. I don’t think there is an immediate need among the starting five and doesn’t help maximize their ability to win a championship within the next couple of years.
But hey, maybe they can draft a tackle and move Alejandro Villanueva to tight end, leaning on his skill set as a pass-catcher in college.