Steelers Show Interest In D-Ends

Nose tackles and inside linebackers say they're not being courted much by the Steelers, as it became apparent Saturday they're focusing on defensive ends.

INDIANAPOLIS -- So many different opinions on so many Steelers needs this off-season, but the portion of the depth chart with the most empty spaces is defensive end.

To that point, the Steelers have scheduled formal interviews with some of the best -- and longest -- college 3-4 defensive ends here at the NFL Combine.

With only Cameron Heyward, Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams under contract, it made sense for the Steelers to schedule formal sit-down interviews with Ra'shede Hageman and Taylor Hart.

Later, Kareem Martin told a reporter that the Steelers had met with him, and even Josh Mauro said that while the Steelers have not met with him, "I hear from them," he said.

"They play a 3-4 defense that's trying to beat people up and get after the quarterback. As a player who's played in that at Stanford, you dream of playing in a defense like that in the NFL. And the Steelers were a team I watched growing up."

Mauro watched Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, and at 6-6, 271 he's similar -- even longer -- than those ring-laden 6-5 ends.

Length, in fact, was the common thread with the d-end prospects in whom the Steelers have shown interest here.

Hageman, Hart, Martin and Mauro all checked in at 6 feet 6, as did Bloomsburg's Larry Webster, but he weighed only 252 pounds.

The aforementioned foursome are the tallest of the "5-technique" candidates who could legitimately play for the Steelers, particularly Hageman and Hart, who weighed in at 310 and 281 pounds respectively.

(Stephon Tuitt of Notre Dame checked in at 6-5, 304 but had yet to show in the media room.)

Hageman is the crown jewel of the bunch, and would have to be drafted in the first round. He could even help the Steelers at nose tackle, where he often played for the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

"I tell coaches I play anywhere from a zero technique all the way to a nine (technique)," he said. "I'm very versatile and comfortable playing anything you want me to play."

Hageman said that playing the zero technique -- head up over the center -- "is very claustrophobic," but that he feels "getting that comfortability in college will help me be able to do that at the next level."

Hageman was moved from tight end to the defensive line three years ago and still feels "like I'm definitely a few steps behind ... and I feel that I have to catch up."

It partially explains why on one play Hageman can look like King Kong but on another he's easily blocked.

Another reason for the inconsistency, according to draft analysts, is that he lacked maturity. But Hageman feels that's changed with fatherhood.

"It's more of a job now," he said. "It definitely kind of motivates me to work that much harder and obviously compete that much harder."

There's also this: "I've just got to stop thinking," he said. "Me obviously playing d-tackle for three years I've developed flaws. When it comes to that, it's definitely overthinking. And then when I overthink, I feel like I'm not doing something right; I'm always freezing up. So I feel like once I get a better sense of just educating myself on d-tackle and just what to look for on the o-line, I'll be able to stop thinking and just play."

Hart is a more likely candidate to land with the Steelers because he's considered more of a mid-rounder. Of course, if he times well here, the 6-6, 281-pounder could easily climb into the second round. He was mainly a 5-tech in Oregon's defense.

"I played all three positions, defensive tackle, defensive end and occasionally nose tackle," Hart said. "Our defense was similar to the Steelers or even the 49ers."

Was he satisfied to just occupy blockers as opposed to taking on the headlining role of penetrator and disruptor?

"I really didn't have too much of a choice, to be honest," he said with a chuckle. "At Oregon we penetrated occasionally but we were more of a two-gapping defense. We just kind of stayed on that tackle or guard."

A fan of the 49ers' Justin Smith, Hart said that perfecting technique is something at which he's worked for the good of the team.

"You can see at Oregon our linebackers had a ton of tackles," he said. "To be honest, we took up a lot of gaps for them. That's how the defense works."

And what about working against that fast-break offense at Oregon?

"We went against the ones every day," Hart said. "It gets you in shape, I can tell you that. And it makes practices a lot harder. For me, practices were harder than games, so it was a kind of a different deal for us."

Martin weighed in at 272 pounds and played 4-3 end at North Carolina. That's his likely NFL projection, while Mauro was another who played up and down his team's line, including nose tackle.

"I've played every technique," Mauro said. "I've played in the 3-4. I've played in the 4-3. That's something I can bring to the table right away: versatility and depth for many positions on the defensive line on a very physical and very hard-nosed defense at Stanford for four years.

"I know how to play in a defense that likes to get after people."

At 271 pounds, Mauro said that playing nose tackle wasn't that easy, but that he did enjoy it.

"It was mainly in nickel situations on third down," he said. "I played some in base, and I played some nose in there against Wisconsin as well. I held my own. Obviously I'm not the biggest cat in the jungle, but if I work my leverage right I can play against anybody."

A mid-round prospect, Mauro shared his top tip for college students, even those who don't dream of some day occupying blockers so that NFL linebackers can make plays.

"Two percent of the people wrote down their goals of getting what they wanted to accomplish, and they ended up making more money than 98 percent of the graduates from Stanford," he said. "Whenever I write down a goal and I see it and I can read it, and I tell myself over and over again that I can do it, it's going to get done through hard work and preparation and execution. I believe in writing down goals and executing them."

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