4-3 D-Ends Said To Be In Play

When asked, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert answers that all pass-rushers are under draft inspection.

It's a draft rich in 3-4 outside linebackers, so it was easy for Kevin Colbert to veer in that direction as he talked to writers last Tuesday about specific needs.

But from the sound of the Steelers GM, it seems as if the 3-4 is still the alignment of choice.

Well, maybe.

"The coaches will determine the Xs and Os," Colbert corrected.

Colbert said he "doesn't anticipate a huge difference" in the schematics, but he couldn't be sure since the personnel and coaching departments hadn't met formally this new year.

Those meetings were supposed to be held later this past week. The combine begins on Wednesday and plans need to be made. Specific needs must be filled. But will they lock into those specifics?

Or more to the point, must the next edge-rusher drop into coverage?

What, Kevin, about 4-3 ends who can't drop but can put the hammer down on quarterbacks?

"Yeah, that's something you could do," Colbert said. "You could maybe have that guy as a pass-rush specialist, maybe if you have the luxury of having that roster spot available. You look at guys like that and say maybe he can't fit in as a full-time linebacker, but when you're in sub-packages 60 percent of the time maybe you can afford to carry that guy."

Already calling him a specialist. It sounded as if a 4-3 DE was a distant thought in a far off galaxy.

But for 60 percent of the snaps? That's a pretty rugged specialist.

It's possible the late-week meetings with the coaching staff have broadened Colbert's perspective on this general need. He's always looked for the best available athlete, with need serving as the tiebreaker. At least that's been his stated intention.

With that knowledge, I'm going to assume the players who fit his first-round thinking are Randy Gregory, Dante Fowler, Shane Ray, and Vic Beasley.

I'll have more specifics in Asskickers 2 (coming soon to a theater near you), but as for most everyone else's first-round 3-4 OLB, Alvin Dupree, I've dropped him from the cluster.

Upon closer inspection, Dupree doesn't play the run well and doesn't look remotely close to that 264-pound listing. He doesn't seem to have much of a motor, either. He has the hips to cover and is explosive and looks beautiful coming free, but he has trouble getting off blocks. And late in the Florida game it didn't even look like Dupree wanted to get off blocks.

Maybe he was injured. But maybe he was just tired, because late in the game he kind of oozed into linemen and stayed there.

So, no. But thank you.

I count a potential maximum of four OLB candidates for the Steelers in the first round, and they'll probably be gone.

As for some of the others, Eli Harold doesn't have enough bend to help right now as a pass-rusher, and at 21 years old isn't physically mature enough to help as a run defender. He would be drafted on length and potential, and I don't think that's what the Steelers have in mind for the first round.

Nate Orchard has been extremely productive his senior season, and has been a one-man wrecking crew down the stretch and into the Senior Bowl. There's a lot to like about him, but I don't believe he has the quick-twitch muscle fiber a first-round pass-rusher must possess. Orchard comes off as more of an overachiever.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. But this IS pick 22 of the first round.

A surprise could be Trey Flowers.

Yes, he's well off the first-round grid. I've considered him to be a second-round prospect, and after watching him lately I'm thinking that would be a massive steal.

I watched Flowers dominate his bowl game against Texas, and he also played well throughout Senior Bowl week. He's 6-2 1/4, 268 pounds and will not get blown out in the run game like so many other rookies would and will.

Quite the contrary, Flowers is a strong-side 4-3 defensive end in the making. I saw him drop into coverage a couple of times this season, but not against Missouri. I just watched that game and Flowers put his hand down on both sides of center and a few times inside and he played dominating run defense with an occasional quick burst -- actually, more than occasional -- to the quarterback.

He's not as tall as the 6-3 Orchard, but had 17 more pounds on him at the Senior Bowl. And Flowers has an 84-inch wingspan, so he has the length. But it's that burst that gives this otherwise B+ player -- this high second-rounder whose strongest asset is "merely" that he's stout against the run -- a shot to go in the first round.

But would the Steelers draft a 4-3 defensive end in the first round?

Colbert said yes, but with the caveat that his roster might not be able to hold 17 or 18 specific hybrids.

My belief is that if the Steelers are going to use a top pick on a pass-rusher, that pass-rusher will likely determine the future base alignment, or at least the direction into which Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler want to take the Steelers.

I, for one, am just hoping they allow for the talent to guide the discussion, and not vice versa.

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