Though it may be a new regime at the top, GM Omar Khan and assistant Andy Weidl replacing Kevin Colbert, the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be their same transparent selves. After playing googly eyes with quarterbacks last year before landing QB Kenny Pickett, a 2022 Senior Bowl attendee, the Steelers’ focus was just as obvious this time around.
Offensive line and defensive line.
Mike Tomlin attended the Tuesday and Wednesday practices with eyes glued to one area of the field. The North side of the end zone where the big uglies, o-line and d-line, spent much of their time. Senior Bowl practices are split up into different segments and drills with more than one event happening at once, forcing coaches to choose what to watch. It’s all on tape and can be watched later but for Tomlin and the Steelers especially, they value seeing things live with their own two eyes, not the removed feeling of sitting in an office watching back the All-22. During portions of practice, the OL/DL would take part in 1v1 pass rush/block drills while on the other end of the field, a 7v7 would start up with the skill players: quarterbacks, receivers, defensive backs.
Every time, Tomlin – and Khan – hung out by the lineman, carefully watching those guys compete. Few head coaches even go to the Senior Bowl anymore but Tomlin is a football junkie who wants to be right next to the action. Literally. Tomlin gets closer to the players than seemingly even the actual selected coaches running the practice and no one is going to tell him to move because he’s Mike Tomlin. He can do whatever he wants.
During individual work, early in practice on those days, Tomlin clung to the offensive lineman in particular, watching their footwork, their stance, their explosiveness, how they listen and respond to coaching. Their body language, their attitude, how vocal they are (or aren’t), little things tough to pick up on tape. Later Wednesday, Tomlin spent quality time with the American Team EDGE rushers, watching them go through individual drills. Over the bags, running the hoop, watching their get-off.
The Steelers are the draft’s worst kept secret. In 2021, Najee Harris-to-Pittsburgh was the most obvious thing in the world. It was only a question of if he’d fall that far or if the Jets or Dolphins would step in the way. Last year, it was painfully obvious the team was taking a quarterback, the Steelers going on a Red Grange barnstorm tour of every top arm in the class before settling on Pickett.
Things may be a bit different this year with Khan and Weidl running the show but old habits die hard. And the Steelers waste no time putting up smokescreens that make their own process more difficult. The draft is tough enough as it is. They don’t care if the whole world knows who they want. They watch their guys, the don’t hide their needs, and believe if they can land the right people, it doesn’t matter how obvious their picks are so long as they get the job on Sundays. They’re not in Mobile anymore, Tomlin appeared to leave after Wednesday’s practice and Weidl flew out Friday morning, but they saw what they needed to see.
O-line and d-line are obvious spots this team could upgrade. Defensive line especially with Cam Heyward the only player whose starting role is cemented in place for 2023. Everything else is a guess. Will Larry Ogunjobi be re-signed? Can Chris Wormley make it back in time for Week One? Is Montravius Adams really a starting nose tackle, what does the team have in Isaiahh Loudermilk, where is DeMarvin Leal’s role and best fit? The offensive line looks more settled and the team could run it back with the same starting five as last year. But upgrading the group certainly is arguable, especially if top-end talent falls to them at #17.
Even the new faces signal the direction the team is likely to head in. Weidl’s upbringing is building out the trenches, something the Eagles have masterfully done. They boast the best offensive and defensive lines in football, key reasons why they’re one of two teams still playing meaningful football. Weidl wasn’t the man actually making the picks in Philly, that was Howie Roseman, but Weidl set the draft board and essentially ran everything up to turning in the card. A Western PA native, he got his NFL start interning for the Steelers in 1998. The top pick of that draft class? LSU OG and future Hall of Famer Alan Faneca. As we wrote last year, Weidl loves scouting the line. A former guard at Villanova, he’s in the past said who loves studying the big guys up front. Here’s what we included in our Big Book of Andy Weidl biography.
“Weidl has mentioned he loves scouting offensive linemen the most because he was a former lineman in college. He’s said he had to learn about scouting the secondary, corners and safeties, the most over the course of his career. By now, I assume he’s up to speed.”
A West area scout at the time, it was Weidl who helped bang the table for the Baltimore Ravens to draft Oregon State burly NT Haloti Ngata 12th overall in 2006. That move sure paid off.
One of Weidl’s guiding principles is this phrase coming from Ozzie Newsome, the Baltimore Ravens’ former legendary general manager.
“Know what you’re looking at and what you’re looking for.”
The Steelers know what they’re looking for. Offensive lineman and defensive lineman. And they just spent this week’s Senior Bowl figuring out what they were looking at.