Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted

From the notebook of a sportswriter who was just about to get into his combine stuff last week when he was so rudely interrupted by reality:

* I think I'm over the release of the three titans of Steeler industry. I would like to thank all the writers and talk-show hosts who pointed out to me that I, and the rest of us, should just get over it because it's a business.

* I probably wouldn't have known any better by simply watching those players stand on the sideline most of last season.

* Yes, the Steelers do have young leaders percolating in the pipeline, but the loss of Ward-Smith-Farrior underscores the importance of that championship trait. Thus, the message before this draft should be to find even more of it.

* I want to save most of this for a feature I'm going to write later, but one leader is just jumping out of my tape recorder. His name is Kevin Zeitler.

* Just a square that I can spare: I was talking to Steelers rookie John Clay at the end of last season about his old school's interior offensive line prospects, Zeitler and Peter Konz. Clay repeatedly referred to Zeitler as "The Machine." I asked Zeitler about it and he said it was a nickname given to him by John Moffitt. Said Zeitler: "I was very, very serious, just trying to be focused on football and weightlifting, and I was kind of psychotic about it, and people made jokes about it."

* Konz told me he grew into the habit of watching tape of the practice he had just finished by hanging out with Zeitler, and how after practice, and after watching tape of said practice, they would then go into the weight room for hours. Very, very serious indeed.

* Zeitler's deep voice and his correction of my reference to the Steelers' last Super Bowl as "Super Bowlzzzzz" and then his laugh to himself about it also told me things that the videotape doesn't.

* I was impressed by Zeitler all season, and consistently graded him as a high second-rounder. Could he fit into the latter portion of the first round? Sure, if his character checked out. And it did. But does he stretch all the way up into the 24th pick?

* Since I'm not sure, I'd hate to change my original assessment just because he had a decent 10-yard split at the combine.

* Alan Faneca was the 26th pick of the first round in 1998. The comparisons are kind of valid. Faneca had more of a lean tackle's body and was more mobile. But he certainly wasn't "The Machine" in the weight room.

* Put it this way: I wouldn't mind one bit if the Steelers drafted Zeitler 24th, or if they drafted him ahead of Cordy Glenn.

* Was sitting across the table from colleague Gerry Dulac at the combine, and I had kidded him about his vow – impossible as it may have been, time and date-wise – to walk home from Indianapolis if the Steelers didn't draft a nose tackle or inside linebacker in the first round, when old pal Vic Ketchman approached. Vic said with certainty that the Steelers will/should draft Glenn because he's the kind of ass-kicking guard who would get the Steelers' ground game moving again. Instead of giving my opinion that Glenn actually hasn't shown much physicality in the run game, that he's actually a better pass-blocking tackle, I told Vic that a move like that would kill Mr. Dulac here. Gerry explained why, and that he had made his vow in a half-kidding manner. But Vic wasn't kidding when he said, "Draft a nose tackle? Can't you just yank a tree stump out of the ground for that?"

* It was as good a point as any.

* As a nose tackle, I'd actually prefer a more mobile tree stump, and that man's name is Mike Martin.

* Problem with Martin: The 4-3 teams will value him more than the Steelers will, and will draft him earlier than the Steelers' value board will permit them to.

* So the value at NT probably lies with Josh Chapman because of his ACL injury.

* During the season I compared Chapman to Joel Steed, who was drafted early in the third round in Bill Cowher's first draft. With Chapman's injury, perhaps he'll slip to the 24th pick of that round.

* So if Zeitler's the first-round pick, and Chapman's the third-round pick, who's the second? Some might say another offensive lineman and some might say an inside linebacker, but the Steelers have a need for a tight end and the second round might be the only round in which they can have that need answered.

* There really are only three tight ends in this draft who can help as in-line blockers and receiving threats. If Orson Charles and Coby Fleener are the first and second-ranked tight ends – and deservedly so – I would have absolutely no problem in drafting Dwayne Allen with the 24th pick of that round.

* I brought this up at the combine to Mr. Allen – who gave me enough for another feature that, as we say in the biz, is in the can – and he lit up. Allen said he "patterned my game after Heath Miller" and that he "was able to run into" Mike Tomlin the previous day. I asked Allen if it was a pre-arranged meeting/interview with Tomlin and Allen said that, no, he saw Tomlin and had to walk over and introduce himself. More on this later.

* I know, I know. But I have a six-week void in which I have to pretend I care about Pro Day results. So there's a need to spread this stuff out.

* Most of these questions to players I've spotted as fits for the Steelers have to be asked off the record as the player walks away from the podium. But I made the mistake of asking Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead about the Steelers in front of four or five other reporters.

* Pead's a great fit as a speed running back who can double as a return man for the Steelers. I asked Pead why he suddenly became such a return threat in his bowl game against Vandy and then in the Senior Bowl. Pead explained that Marty Gilyard was the team's return man early in his career and then the coach didn't want to use his starting running back as the return man later. Made sense to me. Then Pead began talking about how he needed to improve his blocking and I said to myself, "This kid gets it."

* I should've just continued quoting myself. It would've been smarter than what happened next.

* The Cincinnati and Columbus reporters enjoined our vibe at this point. Pead was raised in Columbus and that's a nice sidebar to the story, and of course one of them had to ask him if he's a Bengals fan. Pead hemmed and hawed and said that if it was Sunday and he had to watch them, then, yes, "I'd probably root for the Bengals." And then he chuckled. And the rest of the table chuckled. That tells us all we need to know the Bengals.

* Sensing that the kid probably loved when the Steelers came to town and kicked Bengals ass, I made the mistake of asking Pead in front of the others whether the Steelers had shown any interest in him. His enthusiastic reply will be published in yet another feature down the road, but it was immediately tweeted by a Cincinnati reporter.

* I realize football fans could not care less about who gets credit for unearthing information, but let's just say that even at the age of 51 I continue to learn from my mistakes.

* So the Bengals, it's being reported, were all over Pead at his recent Pro Day. Heck, they probably just learned about the kid from that tweet. So my guess is he probably won't be available to the Steelers in the fourth round.

* Perhaps if the Steelers trade down in the first round to draft their guard, they can pick up the additional and necessary third-round pick with which to draft Pead.

* So in the fifth round, with the Steelers still in need of another offensive lineman, a wide receiver, a cornerback and an inside linebacker, my guy right now is Russell Wilson.

* Wow, what a tremendous impression this 5-11 quarterback made on me at the combine from a character and leadership standpoint. Again, more will be forthcoming in a future story, but my guess is you're not surprised by this finding.

* Not that I really expect the Steelers to draft a quarterback. I'm just sayin' …

* Kevin Colbert has said that the cornerback and wide receiver crops are very deep, so I'll assume this is the area for him to put that plan into action. While watching all of the receivers, I probably couldn't just pick one here for the fifth round. Someone will fall and we'll all marvel at his statistics and his name recognition and he'll be the story of the third day of the draft.

* A suitable cornerback in maybe the sixth round would be Notre Dame's Robert Blanton. I'll take Mike Mayock's word – after watching Blanton myself – that this kid will grow into a fine free safety.

* I love Notre Dame players. Never liked them so much as a fan growing up, but every Notre Dame kid who's come through the Pittsburgh locker room has been absolute class. Can't explain it. Just sayin'.

* And so in the seventh round, still in need of that elusive middle linebacker, I'm going with my in-season late-round sleeper, Danny Trevathan of Kentucky.

* Do the Steelers need a big stud between the three studs they already have? Not really. Not when a smart and savvy tackling machine who can also cover but who's underrated on draft boards because of his 5-foot-11 and 7/8 height would fit just as well.

* Maybe I'm thinking Travathan's legitimate because of the Kentucky linebacker I liked a few years ago who wasn't drafted and is now a part-time starter in Denver, Wesley Woodyard. But there's more to it, I'm certain. Besides, what could Tomlin and Joker Phillips have been talking about at the Kentucky basketball game a few weeks ago? It couldn't have been just basketball, could it?

* Geez, what would all of the draft experts in the Pittsburgh media say if, instead of Dont'a Hightower, James Farrior's eventual replacement is Danny Trevathan?

* Yes, perhaps the Steelers will consider what the experts have to say before they do something like that. Perhaps.


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