PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers went looking for long, strong defensive linemen in 2014 and may have drafted the longest and the strongest when they drafted Stephon Tuitt in the second round and Daniel McCullers in the sixth round.
At the previous combine, Tuitt measured 6-5 1/2, 304 with 34 3/4-inch arms and 10-inch hands. That's almost the prototype for a Steelers 3-4 defensive end.
But in McCullers the Steelers drafted someone even bigger. At the combine he measured 6-6 3/4, 352 with a combine-high 36 5/8-inch arms and 11-inch hands.
Hard to believe they found someone even bigger six months later when they signed Clifton Geathers, who at his combine measured 6-7 1/2, 299 with 37 3/4-inch arms and 11 1/8-inch hands. Geathers also ran a 4.98 40 with a vertical jump of 36 inches, an absolute freak of nature.
But Geathers' combine was in 2010, now over five years ago. He was a sixth-round pick by the Cleveland Browns that April and bounced to six other teams before landing in Pittsburgh last December. He didn't play in any of their four games but was signed back by the team on April 2 to a one-year contract.
"I asked for Clifton Geathers," defensive line coach John Mitchell said on draft day, after the team had just chosen another long, tall 3-4 defensive end, L.T. Walton, in the sixth round, "so I’m really happy right now. I have some guys with athletic ability. I have some guys that can do the things we are going to require them to do and they should be better at."
Much has been made this spring of McCullers losing 15 pounds, but Geathers has more than tripled that effort. He said he's lost 50 pounds, per Mitchell's request at the end of last season. He's now a long, strong 306-pounder. He hasn't been so close to this weight since he was a 4-3 end at South Carolina five years ago. And he's moved up the Steelers' pecking order: Geathers has been working with the second-team line of Walton and McCullers this spring, and appears to have passed the out-of-shape Cam Thomas on the depth chart.
For all the Steelers Nation, Geathers is literally the biggest sleeper prospect heading into training camp this year.
"Yeah, I feel real good," said Geathers. "I can't complain about anything because everything feels good, man. These guys -- (trainer Garrett Giemont) Gie and Coach Mitch and Coach Tomlin -- they're all doing a good job of keeping me up, keeping me up to date with stuff, and keeping it real. They've got some real-ass coaches, so only I could (expletive) this up."
Geathers is long past trying to make nice with reporters, particularly those he's just met and are asking him the same old questions. He didn't hold back, as you can see in the transcript of this interview.
OK, so he might not be Mr. Nice Guy. He did have an orbital bone broken in a bad fight outside a nightclub in August of 2009 which got his final college season off to a bad start.
After two years as a reserve at South Carolina, Geathers was looking forward to his first starting season under Steve Spurrier, but ended up hurt in the fight, and suspended, and only made eight starts before leaving for the NFL a year early.
His positives as a prospect were size, of course, and that he was "country strong" with "great pedigree."
His father, Robert Sr., played for the Buffalo Bills for six years; his Uncle Jumpy -- nicknamed "The Human Forklift" -- spent 13 years in the league; his brother Robert Jr. spent the last 11 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals; his younger brother Kwame is a nose tackle with the Bengals; and his cousin Clayton was just drafted in the fourth round by the Indianapolis Colts.
Clayton, a strong safety, is the only non-defensive lineman of the Geathers clan.
"I ask them questions, whatever, but you know everybody is kind of by himself," Clifton said. "They would help with anything. If they see something that would work they would call and tell you."
The one question Clifton can't answer is why such a big, strong man with quality bloodlines has bounced to his eighth team in five years.
"That's the unanswered question," Geathers said. "I really don't know. (That's) something you would have to ask those teams."
Those teams are Cleveland, Miami, Seattle and Dallas in 2010; Indianapolis in 2012; Philadelphia in 2013; and Washington and the Steelers in 2014.
"I don't have an answer for that question," he said. "I wish I did. If I did, I would probably be on one team."
Well, that's the hope of the Steelers right now. And Geathers has complied with their conditioning wishes.
"Yep, I lost a lot of weight," he said. "Mitch wanted me to lose a lot of weight. I lost about 50 pounds. I'm trying to do as much as I can right now to stay in the rotation and do things they ask of me."
Geathers credited the weight loss to "a consistent diet, and a lot of work, yoga, ate right." He said he came into the league at about the same weight but "gained a lot of weight because coaches wanted me to be a run-stopper."
The Steelers still want that, but with some quickness and pass-rush ability. "They're just trying to get everything there is out of me," he said.
And the result?
"Clifton's doing well," said Tuitt. "He's getting adjusted to the defense. Right now in OTAs everybody's getting prepared and getting into shape. Training camp will tell it all but he's done a great job this offseason getting in shape."