Upgrade in team speed noticeable

Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington started last season by dueling for the title of fastest Steelers player at the team's annual pre-camp run test. They ended the season, however, chasing receivers to the tune of 767 passing yards in two playoff games.

The upgrade in the secondary was necessary, and in the process the Steelers significantly upgraded their team speed.

"Some of it's misdirected right now but, yes, there's good speed here," said Coach Bill Cowher. "There are some athletes out there."

Prominent among the new speedsters are first-round pick Troy Polamalu and fourth-round pick Ike Taylor. Both were timed at less than 4.4 seconds by the Steelers this spring in the 40-yard dash and both are being groomed to play in the secondary.

"Even at the receiver position," Cowher said. "We've got some good, fast guys, which will be great for us to work against, so I think we've without a doubt upgraded the team speed."

According to director of football operations Kevin Colbert, he and Cowher didn't consciously look to improve the team's speed, but Polamalu, Taylor and rookie free agent Leonard Scott have easily become the Steelers' three fastest players.

Polamalu, a strong safety, ran a 4.35 40 for the Steelers at his USC pro-day workout. Taylor, a raw cornerback from Louisiana-Lafayette, was timed at 4.33 and 4.35 seconds. Scott, the wide receiver from Tennessee, is a former NCAA indoor 60-meter champion.

"Leonard has exceptional speed," Colbert said. "We had him at 4.28 on indoor Astroturf, whereas Troy and Ike ran on track, which is always faster than a grass time, but it's all relative. It's still fast. Leonard's speed is unusual. Troy's and Ike's speed is excellent and Leonard's is unusual. From the timing standpoint, he's the fastest on the team."

Scott won the NCAA 60-meter sprint title in 1999, his freshman year, with a time of 6.58. Following in the footsteps of several Tennessee football players who excelled on the track, Scott went on to break the school records of Willie Gault, Sam Graddy and Terry McDaniel in the 60 (6.48), 100 (10.05) and as a member of two sprint relays. His records have since been broken by current Olympic prospect Justin Gatlin.

For all of his speed, however, Scott hasn't been very productive on the football field. In 48 games, he made nine starts -- all during his senior season after starter Kelley Washington was injured – and caught 28 passes for 328 yards. As a senior, Scott caught 10 passes for 87 yards.

"He's been behind some pretty good receivers the last couple years," said Colbert. "He played behind Washington and Donte Stallworth and a pretty good underclassman [Tony Brown], so he hasn't had much of an opportunity and that's what's intriguing about him. He also has the potential to return kickoffs."

So does Taylor, the 6-foot, 202-pounder who was a running back before moving to cornerback as a senior. Taylor claims his best 40 time is 4.24, and doesn't dismiss a report that he ran a 4.19 this spring.

"It's possible," he said. "I know one team had me there."

But Colbert said that while Taylor's campus workout was sensational, it wasn't the sole reason for drafting such an inexperienced player.

"Had he been a starter three or four years, who knows how good he could have been?" Colbert said. "Had he been a starter for three or four years and not been productive, and just been a size and speed guy, he wouldn't have been as attractive.

"We always want to draft on production, but in this case we took a kid who has played the position only one year. That's the difference. In his case, the workout just solidified the potential that we saw in the brief exposure we had to him."

In the case of Polamalu, the 40 time only verified what the Steelers saw on film.

"He was obviously a productive player throughout his career and his workout just solidified his status as a solid prospect," Colbert said.

The Steelers traded away third- and sixth-round picks to move up 11 spots in the first round to draft Polamalu. The additions of Taylor and Scott were obviously based on the potential their speed gives them.

"Speed that you have in the 40 is one thing," said Cowher. "But when you're out here having to think about what you're doing, having to play within the scheme, that can tend to bring speeds down a degree. We're trying to get players to react, not think. When they can do that, they're going to be able to play to their potential and play fast, but that's going to be an ongoing process."

Jim Wexell
Steel City Sports.com

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