Top LB/S Hybrid Has Right Mentors

The Steelers met with all of the top free safeties at the NFL Combine, and also a hybrid strong safety who could be a fit.

Earl Thomas is coming off another Pro Bowl season and Kam Chancellor may have been the real MVP of the Super Bowl.

That's why those two Seahawks have become such a popular answer to a favorite question at the NFL Combine:

Which safety do you pattern your game after?

Most stick with Ed Reed or one of the Seahawks. But you can count on the young USC safeties for another option.

"I feel like my game resembles Troy Polamalu's game very well," Dion Bailey told at the combine. "He went through the same transition in college as me, playing linebacker his first couple years and then playing safety. He transitioned to the NFL really well, so I'm hoping I have the same career."

Bailey met with the Steelers at the combine, and they no doubt talked about their hybrid linebacker/safety position that Polamalu played this past season. Bailey was a strong-side outside linebacker for USC his first two seasons before moving to strong safety last year.

It may not have have fit Polamalu's college profile exactly. Polamalu was always a box safety at USC. No, Bailey's position switch more closely resembles that of Carnell Lake, the current Steelers DBs coach who left UCLA as a linebacker and started the next opening day for the Steelers at strong safety.

Bailey said he also knows Lake.

"Definitely," he said. "Coach Lake, he recruited me when he was the DB coach at UCLA when I was coming out (Lakewood, Ca.), so me and him have a very strong relationship. Then he was at pro day last year as well. He led the DB drills, so I talked to him for about an hour and he was giving me advice when I was getting read to make the transition and what he expected of me and what I needed to do and things like that."

Lake came out of UCLA in 1989 as a 6-1, 208-pounder. His 4.42 40 made the projection to safety easier for the Steelers to predict. He even moved to cornerback late in his career to help the Steelers out of injury emergencies.

Bailey said he can do that as well. "Definitely. I played corner in some of our packages at our school," he said. "If you turn on the game tape, I play five or six positions throughout a game. I wasn't one to just play one position throughout the whole game."

Bailey was a ferocious in-the-box safety this past season. In his three-year career at USC he racked up 222 tackles, but also had 11 career interceptions. He had five this past season.

"My coaches felt like it was the time to move back. They felt like we had the personnel to accommodate our lack of athleticism at linebacker," Bailey said. "We all knew that my future is at safety, not at linebacker."

In a dominating bowl performance against Derek Carr's Fresno State, Bailey played mainly in the box. How often did he play deep?

"Some games I played 20, 30 snaps in the back end," he said. "I would've liked to have played more in the deep third, just to prove that I can do it."

Bailey is a 6-0, 201-pounder, but his 40 time of 4.66 Tuesday didn't evoke memories of Polamalu's 4.3 or Lake's 4.4 coming out.

In fact, a couple of other strong safeties, Deone Bucannon and Ahmad Dixon, each ran in the 4.4s Tuesday.

But the Steelers -- who met with all of the top free safeties -- didn't meet with Bucannon. And Dixon, who sat down with Mike Tomlin at the Senior Bowl, only talked briefly to an area scout from the Steelers at the combine.

Bailey, the hard-hitting linebacker with the ball skills, probably fits their sub-packages a little bit better. And he has the right mentor all lined up.

"I met (Polamalu) last year at pro day,' Bailey said. "His wife's (brother) Khaled Holmes now plays for the Colts, and he came out to watch him and I got to meet (Polamalu) for the first time. We talked ball a little bit. He gave me some advice on how to handle the transition, and knowing I was moving back to safety the next year just advice on how to stay healthy and progress to the NFL and try to make my career as long as possible."

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