Sendoff Into New Steelers Era

From the notebook of a sportswriter who likes to take a contrarian view but who must go with the flow in grading the Steelers' draft:

* It's an easy A, with a chance for an A+ if Mike Adams retires one day without incident.

* So apparently this draft will take longer than the customary three or four years to accurately gauge.

* I'd rather have the Mike Adams who has already hit rock bottom than the Mike Adams who's inconsistent performance at Ohio State was so perplexing.

* Heard someone on the radio talk about the Steelers' shifting philosophy, that they now draft players with questionable character when they wouldn't have in the past. So I dug up an old interview with Marvel Smith's line coach at Arizona State, Dan Cozzetto. The Steelers had drafted Smith in the second round in 2000 even though he had tested positive for marijuana while in college.

"It was an in-house test. It was supposed to be confidential. Somebody leaked it out. I was [coaching] at Oregon State and all the scouts came up and asked me about it, if he had a problem. I told them ‘There's no problem, and if you're thinking about not drafting him you're making a big mistake.' He's a kid. He's a 20-year-old coming out. We all have ghosts in our closet."

* Line coach Sean Kugler was asked, in light of drafting Adams, a left tackle, if he would follow through with his plan of moving RT Marcus Gilbert over to LT. "I'm going to have a few beers tonight and think about it," Kugler said.

* There's a nifty comment somewhere out there about the choice of mind-altering substances, and the hypocrisy of it all, but it hasn't hit me and I need to move on.

* It's going to be a difficult decision. Gilbert looked comfortable at right tackle last season, but uncomfortable at left tackle in college two years ago. And Adams isn't going to be thrown to the wolves at left tackle this season.

* Does Kugler bring back Max Starks to start at left tackle for a year to mentor Adams? Would Starks want to come back for a year with such writing on the wall? And Will Adams ever be able to handle real speed off the edge anyway?

* In college, outside speed was a problem for Adams. He has the feet to improve with good coaching. Can Kugler foresee improvement in that area? Or does he just leave Adams at right tackle and let him thrive there as the next Flozell Adams?

* Kugler may need to throw down a couple shots, too, to sort through this one.

* David DeCastro won't be nearly as problematic as the tackles. He'll fit either guard spot.

* It's been reported that Ramon Foster will be moved to left guard and DeCastro will be plugged into right guard. But remember that the coach, Mike Tomlin, calls the shots in regard to starters, and I doubt he's that far along in the process. So I advise not buying into anything you read right now.

* Tomlin had the right answer when asked if DeCastro would line up with the first team on the first day of OTAs.

"He will be with the first team in our rookie minicamp," Tomlin said. "We'll see how rookie minicamp goes."

* It's a process.

* With Maurkice Pouncey, the process lasted one preseason game. The Steelers started Justin Hartwig in the preseason opener but inserted Pouncey early enough to play with the rest of the first-team line. The difference in the two was clear on tape and Pouncey was in the starting lineup at practice on Monday.

* One quarter, but still a process.

* Something tells me Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster will put up a better fight than Hartwig did.

* Thrown into the guard mix will be seventh-round pick Kelvin Beachum. GM Kevin Colbert locked his eyes onto mine when he spoke enthusiastically after the draft about moving Beachum – who started the last 52 games at left tackle for SMU – to guard.

* Trai Essex will be motivated as well. Will be an interesting shootout.

* DeCastro's a Seattle kid, and I swear I met him at a Tacoma Hooters in 2007 during my road trip for the "Steeler Nation" book. True and diehard Seahawks fan are hard to find. I tried, and my failure is on tape. The Seattle area is full of Steelers fans, and there are far more non-football fans in this high-tech latte-sipping community than there are in Pittsburgh. So finding Seahawks diehards wasn't easy. But I ran into one at Hooters minutes before the game in Pittsburgh. He was a burly guy with a thick neck and massive noggin and he didn't find me, my questions, or my book entertaining. He left in the third quarter of the Steelers' shutout win without comment.

* "I wasn't the biggest Steelers fan growing up," DeCastro said on draft day. The next day DeCastro showed up for a press conference and was asked if he was "one of the fans whining about the officiating in Super Bowl XL?" DeCastro said, "I have no comment."

* In the fourth round the Steelers drafted another Seattle kid. I asked Alameda Ta'amu if he was another tortured Seahawks fan. "No," the big Samoan said with a chuckle. "I rooted for the Steelers during that Super Bowl."

* You could hear Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala in Ta'amu's voice, but as the conference call went on and he loosened up you could hear Casey Hampton, particularly when asked about his pass rush.

"Man, my pass rush is amazing," Ta'amu said. "Hopefully I'll be on [the field] all three downs."

* Already bucking for a place in the dime, just like Casey.

* One of the DeCastro people was on local radio before Ta'amu was drafted and told a story of DeCastro dominating Ta'amu in a college game. So after Ta'amu was drafted, Pittsburgh reporters tried to continue the dialogue. But Ta'amu did not admit to being on the bad end of a bludgeoning. He merely showed respect for DeCastro.

"When you go against DeCastro, you feel his presence," Ta'amu said. "He's explosive from play one all the way to the last play. There are not a lot of guards that stay the same like that throughout the whole game."

* With the soundbites stored away, I thought it time to steer the conversation to Troy Polamalu, and Ta'amu dove in. The radio guys took their gear off the table and shot me dirty looks for changing the subject.

* Maybe I'm wrong, but I find the Polynesian reverence for Polamalu fascinating.

* A big deal was made of D-line coach John Mitchell's comment on Hampton's level of preparedness. "I can't answer that," Mitch said. "You have to ask Casey if he is going to be ready to play."

* Was Mitchell trying to motivate Hampton? I doubt it. He was just telling the truth. The drafting of Ta'amu was motivation in and of itself.

* Mitchell did throw his support behind Steve McLendon, the backup nose tackle who was forgotten by those calling for the Steelers to draft nose tackle Dontari Poe in the first round. Mitchell is coach enough to know that some players need support and some don't.

* For you literary buffs out there, the Chiefs started their draft with Poe and ended it with Hemingway.

* The Steelers drafted a third Seattle-area player in the seventh round, tight end/fullback David Paulson. He was a first-team all-state linebacker in 2006, his senior season. He and Ta'amu, then a junior, were on the same all-state team, but DeCastro didn't make it until his senior season in 2007. All three played in the same 3A division in the Seattle suburbs, but were in different conferences.

* After Coby Fleener was drafted, I relayed the story about how his mom was watching the Washington Redskins on TV and saw "Jacoby" on the back of a jersey and named her son.

"Wow," the guy next to me said, "think how close the kid was to being named Grimm."

* Admire those prospects who declined invitations to Radio City Music for the draft. They would've had to fight through airports, put on a suit, AND practice handshakes and hugs with the commissioner.

* What the hell's wrong with that guy? Is he that desperate to fit in?

* The NFL ruined the Black Keys' cache by playing their music last year. This year the NFL got to Gary Clark, Jr., and just before the guy was about to become very cool.

* A source with the Steelers told me Ta'amu's Senior Bowl was the final selling point. Ta'amu's best play in that game was blowing up Cordy Glenn – who had just moved to guard – and tackling the running back for a loss.

* Of course, it's all about the practice week for scouts.

* Sean Spence was drafted as a mack linebacker instead of a buck, but that can change. A Steelers source said there's barely any difference between the two positions without fullbacks in the game.

* Tomlin got me after the draft. I hung a question about drafting Ta'amu to occupy blockers for the smallish Spence, and Tomlin hit it into the gap. "You can put the third and fourth-round draft picks on some future roster," he said with a chuckle, "but I can't."

* In my opinion, the most overrated first-rounder was Quinton Coples. And the word I'm hearing is the Jets were going to draft DeCastro if Coples hadn't been available.

* And then the Bengals wouldn't have been able to trade down to draft Kevin Zeitler. They probably would've taken him 21st and the Steelers would've had to either draft Amini Silatolu – as Bob McGinn had reported/predicted before the draft – or look to another position.

* One thing I don't like about Sean Spence: He was given James Farrior's No. 51. Usually the Steelers show more respect for the recently departed than that.

* With the retired numbers of Mike Webster (52), Jack Lambert (58) and Jack Ham (59), there probably wasn't much choice. In fact, the Steelers already moved Corbin Bryant into Aaron Smith's 91 so that Ta'amu could wear 95. I guess it's a problem the Steelers will encounter quite a few times in coming seasons.

* It sure seems that this draft, coming on the heels of such historic departures, has propelled the Steelers into their next era – and probably another successful one at that.


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