Steelers Show Interest In Big, R2 Corners

There might not be a CB for the Steelers in R1, but these four fast-risers could last until the second round:

On Saturday, Trae Waynes said he was unsure whether he had a meeting scheduled with Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin. And on Sunday, Waynes ran a 4.31 40 and made the question moot. He's just too fast to last.

On Saturday, P.J. Williams said he was unsure whether he had a meeting scheduled with Tomlin. On Sunday, Williams averaged 4.6 on a couple of 40s and made the question moot. He's too slow to go.

Marcus Peters did have a meeting scheduled with Tomlin, and that had plenty to do with Peters getting kicked off his team this past season. And that makes Peters a longshot to be picked by the Steelers in the first round anyway.

Are there any sure-fire cornerback candidates for pick No. 22?

Well, there’s Jalen Collins. He’s big and can run and would seem to be an ideal candidate. He met with Carnell Lake at the combine, but, do you really take an underclassman at pick 22 who was in and out of the LSU lineup for much of this past season?

That’s a bit of a stretch, in my opinion.

So, no. In my opinion, the Steelers will look for their needed cornerback in the second or third rounds. And there are plenty of candidates:

* Byron Jones, UConn (6-0.5, 198) -- No, don't say it. Don't say Jones "leaped up draft boards with two giant leaps at the combine," because for some he was already there.

Jones was ranked as a second-rounder by Daniel Jeremiah before the combine, and our own rankings expert, Doug Martz, had Jones as a third-rounder. I watched Jones play in one of the few televised games for the 2-10 Huskies, and I put a rare star by his name with the footnotes: good size, smooth pedal, physical. My only question mark was Jones' speed.

We still don't know about his speed, since he didn't run at the combine due to a labrum tear that forced him from the very game I was watching.

I almost forgot about Jones until I saw him in the combine media room. I asked if he was worried about being forgotten after the injury.

"A little bit, in the back of my head I was," he said. "But I silenced that out and focused on my rehab, focused on what I could control, and that's getting back as soon and as strong as possible."

UConn was the only school to offer Jones a scholarship, and he started at safety his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons. He was moved to cornerback for his junior season, and before his senior season he suffered the torn labrum.

"I tried to play as long as I could with it, re-habbing twice a day as long as I could," Jones said. "It kept coming out, and then in the final game it came out twice and they had to put it back in. So they called it after that."

That was 15 weeks ago. Jones began running three weeks ago and blew up the combine with what's being called a world record broad jump of 12 feet, 3 inches. He also had a vertical jump of 44 1/2 inches. Jones didn't run a 40, but he tore up the agility runs with a 6.78 3-cone and a 3.94 short shuttle. In terms of production, Jones started four years, was UConn's third-leading tackler as a sophomore, had eight career interceptions and two touchdown returns.

He only met informally with the Steelers, but no one would be surprised if Tomlin calls him in for a pre-draft visit, since Jones appears to be everything the Steelers could want in a second-round corner. If he lasts that long.

* Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest (6-0.2, 188) -- Another second-rounder whom I doubt will last until the 56th pick of the draft, but there's hope for the Steelers because Johnson has short arms and small hands. I mean, it worked for the Miami Dolphins with Dan Marino a while back, didn't it?

Johnson also earned one of my rare star asterisks as I noted his aggressiveness in the run game, soft hands, and the fact he was a reckless punt gunner. He also returned punts earlier in his career, which consisted of seven interceptions in the last three seasons, a streak of 36 consecutive starts.

For a skinny guy, Johnson is aggressive and has proven to be durable. At the combine he averaged 4.54 in two 40s, vertically jumped 41.5 inches, and had exceptional agility times of 6.79 (3-cone) and 3.89 (short shuttle).

I watched Johnson closely in only one Wake Forest game, against Florida State (and I couldn't look away from the 0-0 trainwreck with Virginia Tech), and in that game Johnson was very aggressive, and even made a throat-slash gesture that was caught by cameras but not by officials. I asked him about it at the combine.

"It's something we talked about with the coaching staff and I wasn't going to do it again," said Johnson. "I was a little too emotional out there. I like to play with a swagger when I'm out there. I did a gesture I shouldn't have, and learned from that. As you play and you get more experience, you learn to channel that emotion and make yourself a better player in other ways."

Johnson met with the Steelers at the combine.

* Quinten Rollins, Miami-Ohio (5-11, 195) -- One of the best point guards in school history, Rollins returned to football for the first time since high school, and as a fifth-year senior shockingly became the MAC Defensive Player of the Year after intercepting seven passes. That kind of thievery seemed to coincide nicely with his 214 career steals on the basketball court, the second most in school annals and one of 15 in MAC history to have 200.

"I just have a knack for the ball – a natural knack for the ball," said Rollins. "I’ve always had that since I was a kid. Love getting steals, love getting interceptions. I was fortunate enough to be an offensive player in high school so that’s where I get my ball skills from. It all translates in one way or another."

Rollins' stock seemed to be rising after another interception in the Senior Bowl, but in that game scouts wondered about his long speed. And at the combine he averaged a mediocre 4.62 in his 40s. His agility drills also failed to inspire: 7.1 3-cone and 4.28 short shuttle.

But he's a bright guy who certainly has a high upside after playing only one season of football in college.

"I’ve got so much more learning to do," he said. "The NFL coaching at the Senior Bowl was great, and I’m just ready to go to an organization and learn their schemes and get some of their coaching and keep continuing to build from there on out. I think I’ll be pretty happy. In five years hopefully I’ll be on a second contract and then be one of the household names in the NFL."

Rollins met formally with Tomlin at the combine. And when asked if he could name the greatest football player in Miami-Ohio history, Rollins was quick to say "Big Ben, of course."

* Eric Rowe, Utah (6-0.6, 205) -- Might be saving the best for last, or just identifying someone who'll be picked early in Round 2. But the safety-CB hybrid met with Tomlin after running the best 40 (4.45), 3-cone (6.70) and short shuttle (3.97) of any other defensive back at his weight or higher. Rowe also had a 39-inch vertical jump and put up 19 reps on the bench.

In asking him about his position, I wondered aloud whether it will be determined by his speed. He didn't appreciate the question, but I told him I only asked because of his size.

"Ohhhh," he said, nodding his head as if freeze-framing my face for extra motivation. And of course he proved his speed the next day in blistering fashion.

Is he a corner or a safety?

"I think of myself as a corner, but obviously I can do both," he said. "Say I'm on the roster and a corner goes down and I'm at safety, they can always move me down there to fill in that position, or vice versa. So I feel like I have that added value of being able to play both spots at any given time."

After starting three full seasons at free safety for the Utes, and being among the team leaders in tackles every year, Rowe was moved to cornerback last spring to replace Keith McGill, a 6-3+ corner who went to the NFL.

"I had played some nickel if we went 4-3, and coach saw potential in the way I moved my feet and flipped my hips," Rowe said. "Just going out there and seeing a whole 'nother view of the way the game is played, from seeing the whole field to just one half of it, it was tough. But I just enjoyed the challenge of changing my whole perception of the game."

Rowe started every game last season at corner, except for one.

"Until USC," he said. "That week I flipped right back to safety, had to switch my whole mindset, give checks and calls. Played safety the whole first half; second half went back to corner. I can change mindsets pretty fast."

His preference?

"I prefer corner to safety because I feel it's more of a challenge going out on the island and covering man-to-man, even zone. But I just feel it's more of a challenge, and I just love challenges."

Rowe said he's a press-man corner, that he enjoys getting physical with receivers.

"It's pretty fun," he said. "Once I get a hand to the chest, it feels good to hit it right on target and watch them go back a little bit. After that it's basically over."


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