Shawn Lemon hopes he can parlay a breakout performance in the Canadian Football League last season into a chance to rush the passer for one of the most tradition-rich homes of pass-rushers in the National Football League, the Pittsburgh Steelers, this season.
The coach for Lemon's best college season thinks he can do it.
"So Shawn signed with the Steelers? That's great!" said Rob Ianello, Lemon's former coach at the University of Akron and currently the associate head coach at the University of Buffalo. "I'm fired up for him. It's a great opportunity and I'm sure he'll take great advantage of it."
Lemon went to Akron by way of the south Washington D.C. suburb of Waldorf, Maryland, where he had 37 sacks his last two seasons at Westlake High.
Akron Coach J.D. Brookhart recruited Lemon and used him as a stand-up outside linebacker in the Zips' 3-3-5 scheme, but Lemon didn't begin to thrive until Ianello replaced Brookhart in 2010.
"When we came in, he put his hand down as a defensive end in our 4-3," Ianello said. "He was one of the guys that bought into what we were doing. The D-line coach enjoyed coaching him and he played well for us as a defensive end. He was a really good pass-rusher and was a guy who ended up as someone we felt we could really count on. He did a good job for us."
As a full-time starter, Lemon had seven sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss and was named to the All-MAC second team. At his pro day he measured 6-1, 238 with a 4.77 40, 26 bench reps and a vertical jump of 32 inches.
Lemon went undrafted, Ianello surmised, because "he was maybe one-dimensional coming out of Akron. He was only a pass-rusher. Maybe he wasn't as concerned sometimes with contain and wasn't concerned sometimes with the run game, things of that nature. Those are probably the things he needed to develop. He's obviously grown in his pro career."
Lemon had brief stints with Winnipeg and Saskatchewan in Canada, and flirted with a couple of Arena League teams, before returning to Canada and bouncing from Edmonton to Calgary.
In his second season at Calgary, Lemon broke out with 13 sacks and helped the Stampeders win the 2014 Grey Cup. He signed with the Steelers earlier this week.
The sack totals are certainly eye-catching, but so are the eight fumbles Lemon forced last season to tie a CFL record. At Akron, Lemon forced six fumbles.
"He has that strip-sack mentality," Ianello said. "He had a great first step for us and had the mentality to make something happen when he got to the quarterback."
Ianello hasn't watched Lemon closely of late, but because Ianello had four of his former Zips in the CFL he has paid attention.
"I knew he was really playing well and had made kind of a name for himself and a career for himself up there," Ianello said. "Sometimes when you get older you mature and you get some coaching at his position, and that's what I think will give him a chance with the Steelers."
FUN WITH THE DUCE
There's little doubt Art Rooney II is a close follower of this column here at SteelCityInsider.net, and that's likely the reason he didn't invite me to his annual hand-picked press conference the other day, because he knew he didn't have anything new for the readers here. But I'll provide a brief synopsis -- in one-on-one form -- after seeing the quotes in other places:
Rooney: “Obviously, we didn’t achieve our ultimate goal, but there were a lot of positives to take from this season.”
Me: The offense clearly rose above the norm, but what about the defense?
Rooney: “I thought the defense ... got better."
Me: But you fired the coordinator.
Rooney: “Personally, I would have loved to have seen Dick (LeBeau) stay."
Me: So, that was Mike Tomlin's call?
Rooney: "Dick made a decision."
Me: He's told friends he was surprised by the events since he wanted to continue coaching.
Rooney: "The words he used to describe what he wanted to do were his words. I’m not going to dispute that."
Me: That's why he's a great man. He allowed you to fire him but get away with not calling it a firing. So, what will Keith Butler bring?
Rooney: "“I don’t necessarily see dramatic changes in the basic design of the defense.”
Me: OK. New players then?
Rooney: “I think that as a defense we’ve got to get more sacks and put more pressure on the quarterback. In the games we were successful we were able to do that. That’s a key piece of the puzzle."
Me: So, that's the end of the $10 million/7.5 sack man Jason Worilds?
Rooney: "I can say I would like to have Jason back. ... I would just say that Jason had a good year. ... Jason is certainly a capable pass rusher, so that’s one of the reasons why I’d say we’d like to have him back if we can work something out.”
Rooney: "There are no decisions on that front at this point. Over the next few weeks we will have some conversations with those guys. I’m sure they will be sort of thinking about what they want to do. That’s something that will play out over the next several weeks and months."
Me: Perhaps they can form some type of defensive advisory board instead of retire. But can they be replaced in free agency? Last year's crop was pretty much an abject failure, wasn't it?
Rooney: "“I think it turned out pretty well. We had a couple of free agents come in and play a lot. Hopefully, after a year in the system here, they will be even more improved. ... We will take the same approach (this offseason)."
Rooney: "Obviously you don’t want to have to cut a player, even a backup player, at that point of the season. The decision was that (Blount) wasn’t a good fit, and it was time to move on. We made that decision, and I think for us it was the right decision.”
Me: He helped deflate the balls of the Patriots. That's a very serious crime, isn't it?
Rooney: “I wouldn’t put it on the scale of serious, but if it’s in fact true, it’s a violation of league rules that I’m sure the league office will deal with in an appropriate way.”
Me: That's not a serious offense? And yet Le'Veon Bell may have to miss two games this year for smoking weed?
Rooney: “I haven’t heard anything, so we’ll just have to wait and see on that. (Bell) will have to go through that disciplinary process as all the pieces unfold here over this offseason. It’s just something we’ll have to deal with when we find out. It depends on where he gets put in the program, what his obligations will be to be subjected to random testing. I don’t know what it will be.”
Me: As long as the Patriots are OK then we're all OK, regardless of who's in prison for smoking herb. Onward and upward, what about extending Ben Roethlisberger's contract?
Rooney: “Obviously we would like to get it done this offseason, and I think it’s fair to say the sooner the better. But I’m not going to put any particular time frame on these things. It’s kind of hard to predict how long it takes to get something done, but we certainly want to get something done this offseason. That’s for sure. It takes two to tango when it comes to contract negotiations."
Me: It takes two to tango? The Roethlisberger-Is-Gawd crowd will take that as a shot across the bow, won't it? Particularly with him coming off his career year?
Rooney: “I will take that problem. I’m happy to have a player who had a great year. I would rather have that situation than the reverse. I’m not complaining about it. It is what it is. We will just have to deal with the circumstances as they present themselves in this offseason.”
SENIOR BOWL CHECKLIST
If you've watched the first couple days of Senior Bowl practices, and then went back to check my Asskickers list, you're probably thinking I have the list in reverse order.
And at the bottom of the list is Henry Anderson, an Aaron Smith clone who refuses to be blocked in Mobile.
Should I turn the list around?
Well, no, at least not yet. Clemmings is a raw tackle prospect in only his second season on offense. He was used at left tackle in Mobile for a few reps -- as I had hoped -- and looked even worse against speed rushers. But every now and then Clemmings will collapse the line or knock down a defensive end with a simple punch. He has great raw skills and should develop.
Anderson, meanwhile, is a fifth-year senior who's doing so much more than Smith ever did as a senior at Northern Colorado. But Anderson might be at his ceiling, and that's still good enough for me.
However, Anderson is playing so well this week that I'm starting to doubt whether the Steelers will get the chance to draft No. 91 -- with the long arms and the future as a 3-4 DE -- in the third round. And anything earlier wouldn't make sense for a Steelers team that just found its future bookend pairing last year in Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.