Steelers Need to ‘Pray’ Adrian Klemm ‘Can Make This Work’

Mike Tomlin Reveals Who the Steelers Have ‘Penciled In’ at Key Positions

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Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers greets Chukwuma Okorafor before playing against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020.

Earlier this week, ‘Around the NFL’ writer Marc Sessler identified the “biggest remaining offseason priority” for each AFC team. Most of his suggestions were highly targeted, a la: “look hard at [trading for] Julio Jones” (Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots); or “ponder trading for a premier lineman” (Cincinnati Bengals). But when it came to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sessler simply said the team needs to “hope” and “pray” that new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm is something of a miracle worker.

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In other words, it’s all well and good that the Steelers selected Alabama running back Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. But that doesn’t change the fact that “the worst run-blocking unit from 2020 still lacks anyone who graded higher overall than 66.2 (out of 100),” he said, making reference to Pro Football Focus’ ratings and the fact that the team waited until the third and fourth rounds of the draft to select a guard/center (Kendrick Green) and left tackle (Dan Moore).

Klemm is ‘Going to Change the Culture and the Mindset’: Former Steelers Tackle

Sessler does take care to note that news of Klemm’s promotion from assistant offensive line coach to offensive line coach was met with enthusiasm by his peers, with former Steelers offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum (who recently signed a new two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals) telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that “[Klemm is] going to change the culture and the mindset of the group…. His concept of developing players will be big [and] is one of his biggest attributes. He did it at SMU. He did it at UCLA, and he did it in Pittsburgh. He can coach all kinds of different players.”

Indeed, Steelers linemen past and present–including Chuks Okorafor, Zach Banner and recently-retired guard Ramon Foster—have been singing Klemm’s praises. Moreover, former Steelers tackle Trai Essex believes that Klemm ought to receive some of the credit for the play of 2020 fourth-round pick Kevin Dotson, who demonstrated the potential to be a long-term starter during his rookie year.

Minimal Investment, High Reward?

It does seem as if Pittsburgh is hoping to rebuild its offensive line without spending premium draft capital to do so. The Steelers have the aforementioned Okorafor and Banner “penciled in” as the starters at left and right tackle, former third- and fourth-round picks, respectively. Clearly the team hopes that Green is Maurkice Pouncey’s replacement at center, and that Dotson is the long-term solution at left guard.

Of course, the Steelers do have a track record of developing offensive linemen into something more than their draft position would suggest. Look no further than former left tackle Alejandro Villanueva (now with the Baltimore Ravens), not to mention longtime left guard Ramon Foster, both of whom were undrafted free agents.

That said, don’t forget that the Steelers have five offensive tackles signed to one-year Reserve/Future contracts, with the hope that one or more of them develop into roster-worthy players, if not starters.

It’s a list that includes former Minnesota Vikings tackle Aviante Collins, who is best-known for running one of the fastest 40-yard dash times ever recorded by an offensive lineman at the NFL Combine. There’s also Brandon Walton (who spent most of last season on Pittsburgh’s practice squad, having played both left and right tackle at Florida Atlantic), as well as John Leglue, who has spent time on the practice squads of the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers.

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