Dear Steelers: Draft For Character

Reeling from a heavy loss of leadership and character, the Steelers can't afford to draft bums.

Ike Taylor's not going to get the full "blue blood" treatment from me today.

I've grown weary of doing that.

How many more weepy columns can readers take from one writer in one draft season?

Yes, it's a mere draft season in which the Pittsburgh Steelers have lost Dick LeBeau, Brett Keisel, Troy Polamalu and now Taylor.

They've cleared the deck for the draft, because it's all in how you prepare, right? And since it is draft season, I'm going to use Ike's retirement not to lament his loss but to shed light on what needs to be drafted.

And I'm not talking about cornerbacks, either.

I'm talking about character.

Of course, to last with one team as long as those four did, you had to have been a good player -- or coach -- on the field. But it was in the locker room and in meetings, and just as friends to teammates in general, that the team utilized their strength of character.

Polamalu told me the night he retired that he's concerned about the "new culture" that's replacing the players who once played for each other, not for selfish reasons.

Still, Troy said the Steelers have the talent and could have a special season. He only said that he's concerned.

That's Troy, the conscience. Keisel was the bullworker. LeBeau was the father who taught them to love and play for each other. Ike was the talker. Sometimes he was the lightning rod with the media. He always stood up and took it, even the worst of it. And as a cornerback, the worst can get pretty bad.

But Ike did whatever was necessary for the team, whether it be with the media, on the field with the opponent's best receiver (or even when an opponent needed to be jacked up), and in the front office where he would take the hometown discount and tell the media he did it because there's no other owner or franchise like this one in all of sports.

Ike told me last season that he wanted to pursue scouting, so that's where my lament for his loss ends and his usefulness for the future begins, because I'm using this space to: 1.) ask whether we should be concerned about the "new culture" and 2.) make a plea for selecting strong character in this draft to make up for the steady bleeding of character since James Farrior, Chris Hoke and Hines Ward retired early in 2012.

It's been a steady bloodletting since then, and the team needs to find a way to recapture the esprit de corps that overwhelmed Pittsburgh from 2004 to 2010. But I look at the draft visitors and I'm not convinced that management remembers that kind of player.

Marcus Peters visited this week. He's a potential first-rounder. In fact, I'm on record as wanting to draft him if his character checks out, because he was thrown off his college team last year. The early -- and anonymous -- report was that he tried to strangle an assistant coach. The Washington coaching staff has denied that happened, but rumors persist that Peters is at least a difficult player to coach.

He might play nice for the Steelers, who are investigating him thoroughly. But right now, with the team's strength of character (and mental toughness, if we are to remember the report about Tomlin questioning that aspect early last season) in question, I'm dropping Peters off my list. The Steelers should do the same.

On Thursday, the Steelers are scheduled to host Randy Gregory, a talented pass-rusher who tested positive at the Combine for marijuana.

Now, that doesn't concern me so much as does the fact he couldn't refrain from smoking before the biggest job interview in his life. But Gregory insisted he's not that stupid. He admitted that while it was difficult for him to quit, and that he did smoke a lot of weed in college, he hadn't lit up since December.

And that may even be worse than stupidity, because if he's telling the truth than Gregory smoked so much weed it stayed in his system for two full months.

The Steelers don't need a Rastafarian, thank you.

A scan down their list of visitors this draft season shows that the Steelers are looking at all kinds of oddballs, from lawbreakers to transfers to position-changers to prima donnas to academic failures and to injury issues. Is this what is meant by the new culture?

The Steelers are known to eventually draft a high percentage of their draft-day visitors, so let's hope they're just breaking the mold this year and only bringing these guys in for one last test of character before writing most of them off.

For the sake of Ike Taylor -- in what I'm bequeathing him as a last wish in lieu of a proper career obituary -- I beseech the Steelers to concentrate on drafting character. I mean it can't be that difficult to find hard-working, passionate and talented football players at the top level of the game, can it?

Draft some character this year. Some real character. Your future captains.

Let history be your guide.


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