Steelers Draft 2013: Running Backs

The Steelers need a big back, but the biggest and baddest has a reputation as a malcontent. Should the Steelers take a chance?

The great Jim Brown certainly marched to the beat of his own drummer. And while he was an agent, Brown's client, Duane Thomas, called Cowboys coach Tom Landry "a plastic man," personnel director Gil Brandt "a liar," and general manager Tex Schramm "sick, demented and completely dishonest."

Thomas didn't last much longer in Dallas, or the NFL. Picking up the beat, though, was John Riggins and his mohawk and his early retirement and his advice for Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

All championship running backs. All perhaps a bit nuts.

The Steelers have some of that in their own history at the position. Bill Dudley, their last league rushing leader, demanded a trade in 1947 because he couldn't get along with coach Jock Sutherland.

The Steelers also came away with dazzling bargains because Franco Harris and then Jerome Bettis owned fractured reputations.

So all of this begs the following question as the Steelers prepare for the 2013 draft:

What do they make of Christine Michael?

The Steelers have shown interest. Plenty of it. They sent running backs coach Kirby Wilson to Texas A&M to work Michael out, and then hosted the big back on the first day of prospect visits. Michael is considered by many to be the most talented back in the draft. And at 5-10, 220 pounds, he's the prototypical Steelers power back.

At the combine, Michael posted outstanding times of 4.54 in the 40, 1.49 in the 10, and 6.69 in the 3-cone, with 27 bench reps and a 43-inch vertical jump – in which he "cheated the drill," alleges Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki.

Michael also cheated some of his potential interviewers at the combine by oversleeping. He later explained it had to do with cough medicine he was taking for a bad cold, which is in clear evidence on media tape recorders.

Michael sat down with a couple reporters at the combine to explain why he struggled through his senior season with new coach Kevin Sumlin, after averaging 6.0 yards per carry as a junior.

Michael wasn't too specific, but he was helpful and seemed to give an enthusiastic effort.

* On whether he matured over the year: "Oh, definitely. You take the guy I was at the beginning of last season and kind of compare him to the guy I am now. I've learned a lot. That's the thing: You live and you learn. For the next time those things come about, you know how to handle those things. And for the most part, I feel I handled it pretty well. Some things got a little shaky. I had to take those things and live off of those, correct those things, and I feel they made me a better person and a better player."

* On why he landed in the coach's doghouse: "We had a whole new coaching staff, a whole new offense, so it got shaky for me. I just wasn't used to that. Like I said, sometimes you just live and you learn. … I kind of went into my own tunnel and kind of got a little stubborn, you know, and was just in my own world."

* On whether he understood the new offense: "It wasn't that. It was going from a pro-style offense, an offense under center, an offense running power, and then going to a spread offense with a great quarterback, a Heisman Trophy winner who does a great job throwing the ball and scrambling and rushing. It was just frustrating for me not to get as many carries and not to be that No. 1 guy in that offense."

* On not playing in the Cotton Bowl: "The preparation that I put into that Cotton Bowl, going into my last game, my last collegiate football game with Texas A&M, my preparation was outstanding. Even the couple days that we had off until we reported to Dallas, it was me putting my all into it. I wanted to go out with a bang. And considering that the team I was playing against in the Cotton Bowl was the team that I hurt myself against the year prior, it was just a lot that I had on my mind, that I had on my plate. I wanted to go out there and do my best, play my best football I've ever played against those guys and just go out with a bang. ... I was starting every rep in practice. The way I practice, even if it's a walkthrough, my speed is go speed all the time. And I had no clue that I wasn't going to play not a down in that game. It was shocking to me, and it still shocks me to this day."

* On QB Johnny Manziel putting his arm around him after the Cotton Bowl: "He told me ‘The world is going to see. Someone is going to see.' Because he's the quarterback, Johnny knows that I take every rep serious, I take every block serious. I'm there to protect him back there in that backfield. He's a great guy, a great friend. So I guess he knew my situation. And I guess he was clueless, too. All my teammates, not just Johnny, there were plenty more who came to me and weren't sure. I thought to myself, I had to second-guess myself like, ‘Did I say anything wrong at practice? Did I do anything?' Well, that didn't happen, because after the game, the coach came to me, he hugged me, he smiled at me. He told me good season and he told me congratulations on the next level. So I knew it had to be nothing that me and the coach had going on. I wasn't too sure. I'm still not too sure."

Michael undoubtedly was asked the same questions by the Steelers, who have taken chances on so-called malcontents in the past.

If they liked what they heard, Michael could be picked as early as the second round. If not, they seem to have their sights set on Le'Veon Bell, a 6-1½, 230-pound 21-year-old who gained 1,793 rushing yards (4.7 avg.) last season behind a mediocre offensive line at Michigan State.

With Rashard Mendenhall gone, and Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman both looking at unrestricted free agency next season, a big three-down back is certainly a target, and so too might be a latter-round kick returner such as Kerwynn Williams or Onterio McCalebb.

Wexell's Value Board for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Second Round – Eddie Lacy, Alabama; Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State; Montee Ball, Wisconsin; Christine Michael, Texas A&M; Giovani Bernard, North Carolina.

Third Round – Johnathan Franklin, UCLA; Andre Ellington, Clemson.

Fourth Round – Mike Gillislee, Florida; Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State.

Fifth Round – Kerwynn Williams, Utah State; Stepfan Taylor, Stanford; Kenjon Barner, Oregon.

Sixth Round – Rex Burkhead, Nebraska; Onterio McCalebb, Auburn.

Seventh Round – Ray Graham, Pitt.


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