A Schematic Change And Grady Jarrett

What Jim Wexell heard from the owners meeting and the combine that's led him back to the disruptive types up front.

Local journalists flooded the NFL owners meeting this week to tell us mostly stuff we already know about the Pittsburgh Steelers:

* There will be open competition at positions.

* Jason Worilds wasn't that good.

* Troy Polamalu isn't expected back.

* The defense has to get better.

Oh, and the Steelers will receive a seventh-round draft pick as compensation for last year's free agency dealings.


But there was one nugget that caught my attention.

In the 11th graph of a Steelers.com first-day story, Mike Prisuta quoted Kevin Colbert saying this:

“And with Coach (Keith) Butler now coordinating the defense, there may be some different combinations and alignments they use. I think they’ll wait and see the group of players that they’re playing with come the spring, see what they have and how they can work them all together.”

You may remember back in January, when rumors floated through the Great Society of Agents that the Steelers would transition this year to a base 4-3, I wrote that it made sense. But nothing more seemed to come from it, and I reasoned that the Steelers have to wait until they see what players they acquire to truly consider a change in base alignment.

However, interviews with Colbert throughout the combine process revealed no trace of any such intention. And interviews with 4-3 specific players at the combine showed no interest from the top of the organization.

But, there was some hope in that defensive line coach John Mitchell talked to the top 3-techs -- Michael Bennett and Grady Jarrett.

I'll take either, but it was Jarrett in particular who caught my attention this past season. The first time I watched Jarrett play for Clemson I jotted down the name Geno Atkins in my notes.

Atkins, you may recall, split time as the Georgia nose tackle but was too small to play NFL nose tackle, and, in spite of a dominating performance as a 4-3 tackle vs. Mike Iupati at the Senior Bowl, slipped to the fourth round.

Atkins, of course, is now a star for the Cincinnati Bengals and that's probably the reason Jarrett won't slip that far. In fact, I'm hoping the Steelers grab him in the second round after grabbing Owamagbe Odighizuwa in the first.

Are the Steelers interested in Jarrett?

"I met with the D-line coach," Jarrett told me at the combine. "It went really well. He talked about the kind of guys he liked to have in his room. Yeah, it went real well."

What kind of a guy does Mitch like to have in his room?

"Hard-working guys, guys who are going to come to work every day," Jarrett said. "That's right up my alley, so we had a really good conversation last night."

Jarrett, who'll turn 22 next month, was a three-year starter at Clemson and was first-team All-ACC his final year. In those three years, Jarrett made 29.5 tackles for loss, had 5.5 sacks and 36 quarterback pressures.

Like Atkins before him, Jarrett was more of a nose tackle in college, but agrees that he projects as more of a playmaking defensive tackle in the NFL. But the Steelers normally don't look for that type of player. They look for long 5-techs who can tie up blockers and allow linebackers to make plays.

"We talked about that," Jarrett said of his meeting with Mitchell. "I'm just a guy who's gonna play hard. I come across a lot as a 3-technique but at the end of the day I'm a defensive lineman. I'll play anywhere across the defensive line. If the match is there, and he likes it, I'm ready to play."

Jarrett could've just said, "Hey, I'm an asskicker. Do you want me or not?"

A.J. Cann, one of the top guard prospects in the draft this spring, called Jarrett the toughest player he's gone up against. So did others. Jarrett was asked by another reporter to explain.

"I got my body in shape to where I can play the whole game with a high motor," Jarrett said. "It's tough to deal with that for four quarters."

For that reason, and because of his size, Jarrett has been compared to Aaron Donald and John Randle. I mentioned Atkins.

"Yeah, I get that, too," Jarrett said. "Just playing with that relentless effort, man, using leverage to your advantage."

At 6-0.6, 304, Jarrett ran a 5.06 40 but more importantly had a solid 1.69 10-yard split at the combine. He repped 30 times with a 31-inch vertical and a 9-4 broad jump. His agility times of 4.56 (short shuttle) and 7.37 (3-cone) weren't that far off from those of cornerback Trae Waynes -- 4.39 and 7.06.

Donald also measured 6-0.6 at his combine, but at 19 pounds lighter than Jarrett had times of 4.69/1.63 in the 40/10 and agility times of 4.39/7.11. The reps and jumps were also similar.

Atkins, 6-1.3, 293 at his combine, had a 1.68 10 split with similar jumps, and agility times of 4.43/7.33.

So, Jarrett has the necessary explosivness, and the Steelers have never used height as much of a deterrent to using players. James Harrison is one example.

"Casey Hampton is another," Jarrett was quick to add.

"I just feel like it’s an advantage," he continued. "I'm shorter than average but I feel like it’s an advantage, man, to get leverage and just being able to be disruptive in the backfield. And then just guys who are built like me, we always got a chip on our shoulder. Always got the chip. There’s always somebody telling you that you can’t do it or you're not supposed to be doing what you're doing.”

Jarrett said he's had a passion for the game since he was five years old. One can only hope -- (or maybe it's just me, I don't know) -- that the Steelers wouldn't continue scouting for their scheme when explosive "asskickers" like Jarrett and Odighizuwa are available to a team that really needs an injection of firepower up front.

Didn't they draft Lawrence Timmons, Sean Spence and Ryan Shazier because they were linebackers who could cover? Does everyone need to cover?

Jarrett wasn't asked to answer that, only to answer whether he thinks he would fit with the Steelers, even in their current scheme.

"I do whatever my coach needs me to do," he said.

And there was no doubt he meant it.

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