But this year I felt like I had gotten out ahead of the Steelers' braintrust in that regard. I had asked Maurkice Pouncey in December how he was going to direct his bosses this draft season after suggesting Marcus Gilbert in 2011 and Chris Rainey in 2012. Pouncey recommended Matt Elam to me, so I asked Elam at the combine about his Gator bloodlines in Pittsburgh.
"That'd be a great opportunity," Elam said. "Anywhere would be a great opportunity and a dream come true. Any team that picks me up would be a blessing."
It wasn't as Pittsburgh-centric an answer as I was hoping, and Elam did repeat the name Ed Reed too often for my taste. At Elam's size (5-9.7, 208) I assumed he would better appreciate Troy Polamalu's game since it's a valid comparison to his own.
However, it's unlikely that Elam will land with the Steelers, since sub 5-10 safeties still have to cover the growing population of Rob Gronkowskis in this league, and unless they run 4.3 40s like Polamalu are not drafted as high as 17th.
Tomlin and Colbert could've been scouting any number of Gators. After Elam, my favorite Gator defender is linebacker Jelani Jenkins (6-0, 237), who ran in the 4.65-4.69 range after missing the combine with a broken foot. Jenkins also missed time with a broken thumb and injured hamstring this past season, and carries with him the tag "injury-plagued," which isn't something the Steelers will embrace after their injury woes last season.
Florida also possesses one of the country's best placekickers in Caleb Sturgess.
Perhaps Tomlin showed up to talk to disgraced running back Chris Rainey, who told the Associated Press – regarding his release from Pittsburgh – that "I guess they probably wanted to teach everybody a lesson or something," apparently feeling he was a victim instead of a too-small problem child who just isn't good enough to make it in the NFL.
Of course, Tomlin and Colbert could've just been in Gainesville taking in some sun and throwing some smoke out there for the rumor mills. Perhaps it was linebackers coach Kevin Butler doing the real grunt work at Kansas State, where he apparently wined and dined Arthur Brown, a 6-0, 236-pound inside backer who recovered from a shoulder injury to bench 21 reps Monday and run in the 4.56-4.66 range, according to Rob Rang of NFLDraftSout.com.
I had heard previous raves from other draft experts who swear Brown is a top 15 prospect.
I liked what I saw from Brown in the middle of the season, but then he looked so confused against, well, a confounding and confusing Oregon team in the Fiesta Bowl. And then Brown didn't play in the Senior Bowl before skipping drills at the combine with his injury.
Because of the quiet end to Brown's season it's been easy to overlook him, but in taking a hard look at this most recent production, his fluidity and coverage skills are quite impressive.
Brown still doesn't play the run the way one would want a Steelers' buck backer to play it, but perhaps a healthy shoulder, a big old nose tackle, and better coaching would help in that regard.
It is a new era of inside linebacker play in the NFL, and the Steelers need one in the worst way. And with such slim (and slow) pickings at the position this year, perhaps Brown is one of the leading contenders to land at pick 17 and perhaps the Steelers did find a plum on the first day of free agency.