Source: Tomlin heeding Rooney's advice

The coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers intends to improve the run game, and to that end he's eyeballing a massive Samoan road-grader.

With his father over in Ireland as the United States ambassador, Art Rooney II flew solo as "Chief" of the Pittsburgh Steelers this past season.

He obviously didn't like what he saw.

The Steelers finished out of the playoff money with a team that threw the ball too much for his liking.

"Mike (Tomlin) and I certainly agreed coming off the season that we need to run the ball more consistently to get where we want to go," Rooney told the Post-Gazette on January 15. "So that's part of the thinking in the offseason. We need to figure out how to get better running the ball."

A crushing loss in blustery Cleveland late last season told Rooney that no matter how exciting and flashy the Steelers' offense can be, it must run the ball when necessary.

"As long as the people with that last name are in charge here," said a source with the team, "it's the kind of football that's going to be played. People may not like it, but the family in charge does, and that's just the way it's going to be."

Tomlin, according to the source, understands this, and has been paying more than just lip service to improving the run game.

"(Tomlin)'s been in all the offensive meetings this off-season," the source said. "In the past he's just poked his head in there, but he's in there all the time now."

To that end, the Steelers are eyeballing a college prospect who has the potential of putting a physical approach back into their run game. According to 6-5¼, 331-pound guard Mike Iupati, the Steelers like him – a lot.

"They said I was their No. 1 lineman," Iupati told Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette yesterday.

Iupati was interviewed "at length" at this week's NFL scouting combine by new offensive line coach Sean Kugler, and the player told the Post-Gazette: "He said he really liked how I played on the goal."

Presumably, Iupati means the goal line, where the Steelers have struggled the last two seasons.

Iupati hails from American Samoa. He moved with his family to this country when he was 14.

"My family decided they wanted us to have a good education," Iupati told the assembled media this week in Indianapolis. "They sacrificed a lot of stuff to move from Samoa because we were very well off. Coming to the U.S. and realizing it's very difficult financially, we moved into my Auntie's house and stayed there for a whole year. Then my parents both had jobs and were able to support us financially so we moved to a small apartment in Anaheim (Ca.) and lived there paycheck to paycheck. It's been hard. That's why I always take advantage of every little opportunity I get, just try to seize the moment so I can have a better future for myself and my family."

Iupati realized that his size and speed, even his heritage, added up to football leading to that "better future." He performed well at Western High School, but colleges ignored him because of academic issues. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported today that Iupati's Wonderlic score is 13.

"My high school mainly focused on students graduating from high school," Iupati said. "So I didn't get very much help from counselors and I was a non-qualifier from high school. The reason why was I took the wrong classes."

Bound for a junior college in Cerritos, Iupati attended a barbecue hosted by the school. That's where a coach from the University of Idaho, on a general recruiting mission, met him.

"He went to my high school the next day and offered me a Prop 48 deal," Iupati said. "I refused it, but my parents were the reason I took the offer because they took out a loan and paid for my first year."

As a first-round prospect, Iupati has a chance to pay his parents back. His size, strength and mobility became apparent to all during a nationally televised bowl game against Bowling Green, and he followed it up with a strong week at the Senior Bowl.

But in the actual Senior Bowl game, Iupati performed poorly as a pass blocker while playing right guard. He did a fine job against another first-round prospect, Dan Williams, in the run game, but struggled with 286-pound Georgia tackle Geno Atkins in pass protection. Iupati allowed Atkins a sack, and a holding penalty negated a touchdown pass.

"I don't know why I did that," Iupati said. "I have a short punch and I come off the ball very physical, sometimes too aggressive."

With arms that measured a Senior Bowl-long 35 inches, Iupati is still being viewed as a potential left tackle candidate. Scouts apparently feel he simply needs to learn better technique.

"I realize that (in) pass blocking, you have to be patient," Iupati said. "I tend to be very aggressive. They like to teach kids to be patient and very aggressive."

That's what former All-Pro Jackie Slater has been telling him. Slater spent 20 years in the NFL at right tackle for the Rams and he's putting his knowledge to use with Iupati this offseason.

"When we first started, we were working four days a week at Cal-Irvine; technique on tackle. He's a great teacher," Iupati said.

Slater has also worked with Iupati at guard. Iupati played left guard at Idaho and specialized in the short pull that the Steelers have featured with Alan Faneca and Chris Kemoeatu.

"When it comes to football, I like to destroy a lot of people," Iupati said. "As big as I am, I do not want to get beat. I don't say much, but when I say stuff I usually don't yell. My friends listen very well."

He has friends in Pittsburgh, influential friends, listening to him as well.


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