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5 for Friday: Steelers building overall depth

There's been a lot of speculation after the Steelers signed offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo earlier this week what the team's starting line would look like in 2023.

A lot of different possibilities have been bandied about.

And that was the point of the signing just a couple of days after the team also added guard Nick Herbig in free agency, as well.

With those two signings, the Steelers now have six interior offensive linemen – James Daniels, Mason Cole, Kevin Dotson and Kendrick Green along with Seumalo and Herbig – who have at least one full season of starting experience in the NFL under their belts.

You can only start three, but depth also is critical.

The competition created by these signings should bring out the best of all six players. And if it doesn't bring out the best in an individual, he won't be in the starting lineup.

Now, you can be certain the coaching staff has an idea who will be manning those spots in an ideal world. But football is often less than ideal because of injuries.

Cole, for example, gutted his way through an ankle injury last season that saw him in a walking boot on plenty of Mondays during the season. With the additions of both Seumalo and Herbig – both of whom have center backgrounds – that might not be as necessary in 2023 as it was last season.

The most talented team doesn't always win the Super Bowl. Often, it's the team that stays the most healthy. And the Steelers are making sure that even if they are hit by some injuries at certain positions, they've got the depth with which to handle those issues.

• It's a big deal when Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and the team's general manager, previously Kevin Colbert but now Omar Khan, make a visit to a college pro day.

After all, not every team sends two of its decision makers to such events.

But there also are times when perhaps too much is read into Tomlin and Khan or Colbert being at this place and not that one.

First, as Tomlin has often said, the idea is to get eyes on as many prospects as possible.

That often takes him to Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State, Alabama and Michigan, among others.

And, as he also often says, it's not just about meeting these players on a personal basis if the Steelers happen to get the opportunity to select them in the draft, it's also about forming a relationship with them for when they hit free agency.

Patrick Peterson said that was a big reason he always had an interest in playing for the Steelers. The veteran cornerback was the fifth-overall pick in the historic 2011 NFL Draft. The Steelers picked 31st that year.

Everyone and their brother knew Peterson wasn't going to get anywhere near the Steelers' selection. And the Steelers weren't going to move up to the fifth pick to select him.

But Tomlin and company did their due diligence with the idea that if Peterson ever was a free agent, the Steelers would know what makes him tick.

"Coming out of LSU and getting prepared for the draft, having communication throughout that process," Peterson said. "Just watching him from afar, anytime we played him, it was just always a great deal of respect between us."

That matters.

• When I mention that 2011 draft being historic, I mean it.

Unless you were selecting a quarterback not named Cam Newton that year, you were probably pretty happy.

Newton went first overall to Carolina. Pass rusher Von Miller went next, followed by defensive tackle Marcell Darius, wide receiver A.J. Green, Peterson, wide receiver Julio Jones, defensive lineman Aldon Smith, quarterback Jake Locker, offensive tackle Tyron Smith and quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

That's a heck of a top 10, with the only two players who didn't make a good impact being the two quarterbacks taken after Newton, Locker and Gabbert.

That draft also included defensive linemen J.J. Watt going 11th, along with Robert Quinn (14th), Ryan Kerrigan (16th), Corey Liguet (18th), Adrian Clayborn (20th), Cameron Jordan (24th), Muhammad Wilkerson (30th) and Cameron Heyward 31st).

If those were the only other players taken in that draft after pick 10, it would have been a great draft. Each one of those linemen played more than 100 NFL games.

But also selected in the first round were guard Mike Pouncey, offensive tackles Nate Solder, Anthony Costanzo, James Carpenter and Gabe Carimi, cornerback Jimmy Smith and running back Mark Ingram.

The hit rate in the first round of that draft was excellent with only eight of the 32 picks not playing at least 75 games in the NFL.

And several of those players – Miller, Jones, Peterson, Tyron Smith, Watt, Jordan and Heyward – are going to get strong consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A couple of others – Newton, Green, Quinn and Kerrigan – are borderline Hall of Fame players.

That's a heck of a draft. 

But even with that, the miss rate in the first round was 25 percent.

As for who the best player from that draft was when it came down to him or Heyward, Peterson was diplomatic.

"I give the crown to Cam Heyward," Peterson said.

• Hard as it is to believe, there was once a large portion of NFL analysts who thought Wilkerson was a better player than Heyward.

Now, to be clear, Wilkerson became a starter right away in his career and had 10.5 sacks in his third season and 12.5 in his fifth, earning second-team All-Pro honors in both of those seasons.

But he didn't have the staying power Heyward has exhibited.

It also didn't hurt that Wilkerson was playing in New York for the Jets.

Opportunity is everything, and Heyward didn't become a starter until his third season in the NFL. And since then, he's become one of the best in the league at his position.

A year after posting a career-high 12.5 sacks in 2015, Wilkerson dipped to 4.5 in 2016. Two years later, he was out of the NFL.

Heyward, meanwhile, has continued to get better and better, recording nearly 500 tackles, with 63.5 sacks since 2015. He's been named first-team All-Pro three times, second-team once and has been to six consecutive Pro Bowls.

It's a prime example of why a draft shouldn't be judged after one year or even two.

Opportunity often equals production. And it never hurts when a player is competing in the country's largest media market.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

• There seems to be a narrative out there that the Steelers' two new inside linebackers, Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts, are simply run stoppers and can't play the pass.

That's certainly not Roberts' strong suit. He's a guy that gets downhill quickly and arrives at the football with bad intentions.

But Holcomb? He can cover.

The Commanders used him as an every-down linebacker. The past two seasons, when Holcomb has been healthy, he's was the player on the field 100 percent of the time for Washington.

If you look at Holcomb's coverage rankings from last season, Pro Football Focus graded him 30th among all off-ball linebackers. But that was in 252 coverage plays in the seven games in which he played.

If you make 250 coverage snaps the minimum number for those ratings, Holcomb moves up to 25th. And that's if you trust Pro Football Focus' grading system.

The Steelers' top inside linebacker in pass coverage last season according to that web site was Devin Bush, who ranked 47th. Myles Jack was 54th. Robert Spillane was 75th.

Holcomb doesn't need to be the best coverage linebacker in the NFL to be an improvement over what the Steelers had at the position last season. He just has to be better than what the Steelers had there a year ago.

He certainly appears to be that.

Where the narrative is coming from that he's not an upgrade in terms of pass coverage for the Steelers is beyond me.