Moch, Mills, Muleriders

SCI.net publisher Jim Wexell may have bleary eyes from watching combine tape, but he has plenty of notes about the Steelers' upcoming draft.

From the notebook of a sportswriter who finally – gleefully – put away the tape of the combine and is moving forward:

* If watching college game tape is a chore, what would you call watching combine tape?

* Grim, at best.

* But there was the side benefit of a bored daughter watching with me, and learning about athletics.

* "Dad, why do all the players run 10 yards past where the coaches tell them to finish?"

* Questions like that came up. Long philosophical answers followed.

* And there's always a note lurking around the next orange cone, like Justin Houston backpedaling and changing direction as if he were a 195-pound cornerback and not a 270-pound outside linebacker.

* Houston, of course, plays a position the Steelers don't need right now, but what about the inside linebackers? Is Stevenson Sylvester the right man to groom behind James Farrior?

* No one knows that answer, since Sylvester won't be able to show off what he's learned until preseason. The buck linebacker is almost like quarterback in that both evaluations depend so much on in-game instincts.

* The one inside linebacker who drew my attention at the combine was Martez Wilson, who timed electronically at 4.49 in the 40. Scouts say he'll fit best inside in a 3-4 and has the versatility to play outside in a pinch. Reading that, and then watching the leggy Wilson play for Illinois in the Texas Bowl, I can't help but compare him to Sylvester.

* So even as a value pick in the second round, and even if Super Bowl goat Keyaron Fox leaves in free agency, an ILB may not be worth drafting until we learn more about Sylvester.

* If the preseason results are disappointing, Larry Foote's still around. The Steelers can exercise patience there.

* The sleeper inside might be Mississippi State's K.J. Wright, but again, as with Sylvester and Wilson, ILB isn't really the position for long-legged prospects.

* Speaking of the Texas Bowl, DT Corey Liuget really is legit and worthy of all the top-15 projections. The junior was unblockable against Baylor.

* Even though Liuget's built like a nose tackle, I'd have no problem putting his big butt outside at DE in the 3-4. But he'll be long gone by pick 31.

* While we're on the topic of elite defensive linemen, where are all the contrarian analysts who ranked Gerald McCoy ahead of Ndamukong Suh last April? All the talk about McCoy's versatility being the difference was just gibberish.

* It's the year of the defensive lineman, so I wonder whether suspended star Marvin Austin will be a bargain at pick 31. He looks great on combine tape, but there's something about him that concerns me. He looks like an infamous con man from the past, but whose name escapes me.

* Wait. LaVar Arrington. That's it. Austin looks like LaVar Arrington, an actor who teased and disappointed his way through seven NFL seasons.

* Mike Mayock stumped nickname aficionado Charles Davis on Southern Arkansas. They're the Muleriders, a name I offered to my daughter for her new softball team, a name she didn't find humorous.

* I came back with "Fighting Artichokes." That's the nickname at former Steelers punter Josh Miller's junior college. Josh used to joke about it, but my daughter said she'll give up softball for video games if I pick that nickname.

* Every short linebacker that's ever run the shuttle at Indianapolis has been compared to Sam Mills. I didn't want to do that as I watched Brian Rolle of Ohio State backpedal and change direction so effortlessly. Rolle is 5-9 5/8, 229. The late, great Mills was listed at 5-9, 225. But you hate to make those comparisons out loud, since so few inside linebackers at that size ever came close to the success that Mills enjoyed.

* Combine analyst Jim Mora Jr. was silent during Rolle's drill, but later we learned that his mind was also on Mills. During the next player's run, Mora brought up Mills without making a comparison to anyone. Mora just warned not to get caught up in combine statistics and said that his father often called Mills "the best football player he ever coached."

* The Network showed highlights of A.J. Hawk's combine in 2006 and I was reminded of his rare athleticism. Hawk is now a free agent and would be a fitting replacement for Farrior, who was also a slight disappointment to his original team after being drafted eighth overall in 1997. Hawk was the fifth pick in his draft.

* Dontay Moch, the sprint-champ defensive end from Nevada, said that none of the 3-4 teams talked to him about playing inside linebacker. But a move to the Steelers' 3-4 mack is something I'd consider for Moch if he were somehow available at the bottom of the second round.

* Hey, maybe Lawrence Timmons could be Farrior's eventual replacement after all.

* I've always been of the let-him-stay-where-he's-at opinion concerning a move of Timmons from mack to buck, but it's an option if needed.

* The 248-pound Moch ran a 4.44 officially and had a vertical jump of 42 inches. And he confirmed to me that he once broke up a pass downfield that was intended for speedy Boise State wide receiver Titus Young.

* As Tweedy Bird would say, I thought I thaw a DE covering a WR downfield.

* Put Moch anywhere in any scheme. Just get him on the field.

* Once Warren Sapp got his personal bias against Big 10 players off his chest – "too slow" – he warmed up to Wisconsin's J.J. Watt as a 3-4 end. "Well put a big beard on him, put him at the right end, let him go to work," Sapp said.

* So, yes, that makes Brett Keisel the NFL prototype for his position. Even if it only lasts a little while, Brett can say that for one moment in his career he set the standard.

* I asked Watt whether his great pass-rushing motor could be held in check as a block-occupying 3-4 end. He answered with certainty that it wouldn't bother him, and I believed him.

* I asked the same of Cameron Heyward, and he answered the same way. But I didn't believe him. Just going off my instincts because Heyward came off as having a large ego.

* Problem for Heyward is that he doesn't have near the quick-twitch fiber that Watt has. Heyward will have to occupy blockers as a 3-4 end whether he wants to or not.

* Watt won't fall to the Steelers, but Heyward might. I'll be taking an historical look at "fallers" for my next column. I hope to be surprised by what I find in the research.


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