Kevin Colbert Hints at Approach to Steelers Offensive Line Rebuild

Kevin Dotson and Chase Claypool

Joe Sargent/Getty Images Chase Claypool of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates his touchdown with Kevin Dotson during the second quarter against the Denver Broncos on September 20, 2020.

With four of the team’s offensive linemen about to hit unrestricted free agency and longtime center Maurkice Pouncey having recently announced his retirement, the Pittsburgh Steelers figure to have a new-look offensive line in 2021.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert admitted as much when he met with the media on Wednesday, saying, “We probably have the potential biggest losses in that position group,” acknowledging the fact that left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, right tackle Zach Banner, guard/tackle Matt Feiler and reserve tackle Jerald Hawkins are all pending UFAs.

During the same conversation he hinted at how the Steelers might approach rebuilding the offensive line.

Colbert: The Tackle Group is ‘Unusually Deep’ in 2021

“The draft itself is stronger at the tackle position than it is at the interior. Center and guard traditionally [are] not a very strong group…. The tackles are unusually deep this year, so I think we can add players through the draft and hopefully we’ll be able to do some type of business in free agency and we’re always going to look at our own players first.”

Translation: The Steelers will try to retain one or more of their own free agents, with injured tackle Zach Banner—still recovering from a torn ACL—likely to return on a short-term ‘prove it’ deal. Then they will plug the hole at center via free agency, as they have been wont to do while searching for a long-term answer at the position. Finally, you can expect the team to use a high draft pick on an offensive tackle, well aware that tackle Chukwuma Okorafor is entering the last year of the rookie contract he signed in 2018.

How Will the Transition to Matt Canada’s Affect the Approach to the Draft?

Another interesting question that came up on Wednesday is how the transition to new offensive coordinator Matt Canada will affect the team’s approach to drafting offensive players. Canada served as quarterbacks coach last year, but was promoted after Mike Tomlin decided not to retain Randy Fichtner.

“I’ve asked Coach Tomlin, with Matt taking over, will we be looking at different players differently?” wondered Colbert before advising that the Steelers probably won’t make immediate adjustments.

“I know Coach Tomlin will do what our players can do the best under Coach Canada’s offense and the schematics that he puts together, and over time I think we can adjust…. Maybe as we move into the future down the road and we’re deciding on a wide receiver type or a running back type or a quarterback type or an offensive lineman type we may shift as we evolve and learn what Coach Canada’s offense is about.

Vance McDonald Placed on the Reserve/Retired List

Meanwhile, on Friday the Steelers placed tight end Vance McDonald on the Reserve/Retired list, five years to the day that former tight end Heath Miller announced his retirement. McDonald retired late last month after an eight-year NFL career, a decision that saves the Steelers millions in 2021 cap space.

Also on Friday, the Jacksonville Jaguars announced that they have hired Karim Kassam as senior vice president of football operations strategy. Kassam spent five years (2015-19) with the Steelers as analytics and football research coordinator.

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