Safety First?

Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher held their annual pre-draft press conference on Monday. Did we learn anything at all about whom the Steelers will pick? <br><br>Perhaps not, but we continue to learn more and more about the pass coverage problems the Steelers were confronted with last season and how Lee Flowers was the player that the opposing coaches targeted as the weak link in the Steelers defense.

Bill Cowher has made a point this off-season of talking about the importance of individual match-ups and how they affect the outcome of a football game.

At his end of the season press conference, he stressed this point, "No one says that there are going to be limitations being put on what teams are allowed to do. That is all part of the game and playing defense, to match what they are trying to do and stop it. That is part of the chess match and you putting together a football team that doesn't have a weakness. If you have a weakness, it is going to get exposed. There are too many good coaches and teams in this league that are going to try and expose the weaknesses you have. You are only going to be as strong as your weakest link."

Cowher would bring this up again when the Pittsburgh Steelers signed TE Jay Riemersma.

"I remember us trying to cover him [Riemersma] with Chris Oldham," Cowher said about the former Steeler safety, "and they just kept throwing the ball up over his head for a touchdown. Chris was in great position. What can you tell him? 'Chris, grow. You're not tall enough.' "

Almost every player in the NFL faces certain physical limitations that the opposition can exploit. All physical limitations are not equal but one player's particular weakness can end up being the chink in the armor of a defense. Last season, that player was Lee Flowers.

In Monday's pre-draft press conference, Cowher did not mince words, "Last year [2002 season] we went to three corners a lot as part of an adjustment to not get caught up with match-ups with Lee Flowers."

Did someone say Chris Oldham?

You can't ask Oldham to grow and you can't ask Flowers to run any faster. Do you hear that, Sammy Knight?

The most interesting comment was yet to come and may give us all reason to rethink how we believe the Steelers are assessing their option at strong safety.

"For many years we had Carnell Lake, who was like having a cornerback, and Mike Logan is like having a corner too because he plays inside," Cowher said this when answering the question about possible changes over the years in terms of desired qualities in a safety. "Mike Logan is a lot closer to the Carnell Lake's type of body we had than Lee Flowers was."

Might the Steelers be considering putting Logan in at strong safety?

One problem with this scenario is that Logan is coming off a serious injury and surgery. Furthermore, Logan has been injury-prone throughout his career, a point certainly not lost on Cowher, "I think Sammy Knight is still an option. There is no question about that. We had some initial talks with him. We will continue to talk. But, we will see what unfolds and like I said, we have Mike Logan, who I think has been a very productive player when he has been able to stay healthy."

In essence, Cowher offers Mike Logan in this instance as leverage in the talks with Sammy Knight, clearly a candidate for strong safety. The talks with Knight may have more to do with Logan's recovery than anything else.

Logan certainly would provide the physical attributes that Cowher desires in a strong safety in view of how the opposition chose to attack the Steelers defense last season. Also, Logan has appeared slow to pick up the scheme of things and failed to really challenge Brent Alexander for the starting free safety position. The Steelers may be more than ready to give Logan a shot at the starting strong safety position with opposing players such as Baltimore Ravens TE Todd Heap in mind.

What might this bit of speculation about Mike Logan playing at strong safety tell us about the upcoming draft?

First, you can almost surely say that the Steelers will not chase a safety, particularly a strong safety, in the first round. In fact, the safety class this year is not particularly good, with the best of them receiving second round grades.

At this point, Terrence Kiel (Texas A&M) looks like a good bet for the second round and would project as a free safety (some teams project Kiel as a cornerback in the NFL), instead of the strong safety position he played at in college. There are a slew of candidates for the free safety position that will fall in the second or third rounds, including Bryan Scott (Penn State). The Steelers may be targeting large, physical safeties that have shown they have the speed and skill to cover well. This type of player could play either strong or free safety and be ideal as a dime back, a position that might be vacated by Logan if he does indeed win the starting job at strong safety. Chris Hope would be another candidate for this open position.

To summarize this thought game, the Steelers won't play safety first. The possibilities in the first round are open to a number of other considerations, even offensive tackle. However, the Steelers will grab a safety on day 1, but that won't happen until round 2, at the earliest.

Jim Russell

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