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Pittsburgh Steelers sticking to formula in meeting with defensive linemen

Even though they're playing more four-man fronts, the Steelers are meeting with their traditional brand of defensive linemen.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jihad Ward came prepared to answer the inevitable question about his first name.

Jarran Reed did not. Reed was kind of shocked when a Combine reporter asked about its origination.

"What? My name?" Reed said.

"Yeah," came the reply.

"From my mom," Reed said as the room broke up in laughter.

Reed's quick with a smile, and the Alabama defensive lineman broke into a big one when asked if he had a formal meeting scheduled with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"Yeah, I do," he said. "If they're in Room 103, which I've heard they are, then it's at 9 o'clock."

Reed said he had been asking around about the Steelers, because "I was a really big Steeler fan when I was little."


"The type of players they had, you know, James Harrison, Mean Joe Green."

Reed is also indicative of the type of defensive lineman with whom the Steelers are meeting at this year's Combine.

While he may have played 4-3 nose tackle at Alabama, he also played 5-technique and 3-technique for the Crimson Tide. And at the Senior Bowl he showed he could get after the quarterback in a way he was rarely allowed by the system at Alabama.

The 6-3, 307-pounder has length, strength and mobility, as do players such as Ward (6-5, 297) of Illinois, Chris Jones (6-6, 310) of Mississippi State and Reed's Alabama teammate A'Shawn Robinson (6-4, 307). They all confirmed to having formal meetings scheduled this weekend with the Steelers, and they all fit the type of 3-4 defensive end the Steelers have drafted since the Bill Cowher days.

Other more powerful and squat interior players, such as Austin Johnson, Kenny Clark, Javon Hargrave and Andrew Billings, said they had no such meetings scheduled with a Steelers team that needs an infusion of depth on its line.

That information might make Steve McLendon happy. The Steelers' nose tackle is a potential free agent, but judging by the scheduled Combine meetings the Steelers aren't in a hurry to replace him with anybody not named Daniel McCullers.

Even though they're playing more four-man fronts than ever before, it's still about 5-techs in Pittsburgh, and Reed, Robinson, Jones and Ward are first-round athletes who might just fall into the second round because the pool of defensive linemen this year is so deep.

* Reed came out of Goldsboro, N.C., as a 260-pound linebacker to help East Mississippi Community College win a national junior college championship in 2013. He moved right into the Alabama starting lineup in 2014 and stayed there through its recent win in the National Championship Game.

While Reed showed exceptional mobility while chasing the ball, he registered only two sacks in two seasons in Nick Saban's disciplined two-gap scheme.

"We played within the run-first, convert-the-pass system, but I did apply pressure on the quarterback, definitely hit the quarterback," Reed said. "If I had to do it again, it wouldn't matter to me. I'm just here to do whatever technique teams need me to do."

It's the type of attitude that's helped his teams win.

A lot.

"I won a good amount in high school, too," he said. "We were state runner-up. I was a linebacker then."

How did running backs feel about being hit by a 260-pound linebacker?

"They didn't want to," he said as that big smile reappeared. "But they had to."

* Robinson was Reed's running buddy in the Alabama interior. Or, more aptly, the non-running buddy in a terrific one-two punch that allowed opponents a national-low 76 rushing yards per game.

Robinson is more polished than Reed, who doesn't get his pads as low as the more serious Mr. Robinson.

"I have strength and power," Robinson said, "so I feel like those two, combined with the size I have, is what sets me apart from everybody else."

As does the intimidating appearance Robinson exudes with his shaved head and full beard.

"It's not really an intimidation thing," he said. "I got into college and I was going bald, so I thought it was time to shave (my head), grow a beard. I don’t know, I don't really smile too often so people were like, ‘Dude looks old. He looks like he’s about 40 years old.’ So I was 'OK. I like it.' So, it’s cool, looking that old."

The 20-year-old Robinson mainly exudes intimidation through his playing style, which he explained in frightening terms.

"Coach Bo (Davis), he tells us to try to choke someone," Robinson said. "'Anybody that ever made you mad, just try to choke ‘em. Choke ‘em to death.' So I startsqueezing, grabbing pads, just start squeezing, shaking, shaking the fillings out of ‘em. So that’s what we try to do every time we get our hands inside and grab 'em."

Robinson, with his nine sacks in three season, has had more success getting to the quarterback than has Reed. It's the reason he also feels his best fit is as a 5-technique.

"I'm looking forward to meeting with the Steelers," Robinson said.

Defensive line coach John Mitchell -- a former Alabama great whose team has never drafted a Crimson Tide defensive lineman -- is no doubt excited as well.

* Jones is the tallest, heaviest and has the longest arms and biggest hands of this highly touted quartet. But he was just about off the grid as a player at Mississippi State.

"I’ve always been an under-the-radar kind of guy," said Jones. "Coming out of high school I was under the radar. Now I’m under the radar. I’m just going to go out there and give it my all.”

Jones might be "under the radar" with the media, but clearly not with scouts, who see him as a late first-rounder.

"There’s always a little chuckle and a battle with that," he said of media and NFL perceptions. "On the field, we will see."

A 21-year-old junior, Jones started three seasons at State and recorded 8.5 sacks with 17.5 tackles for loss. He feels he's a late-bloomer who would thrive in the Steelers' system after spending most of his college career as a 4-3 tackle.

"I love playing 5-tech, man," he said. "You get more one-on-one blocks with the tackle, and the tackle, those guys you can bull-rush every time."

* Ward is the least-heralded college player of the four. His only sack last season was of Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg, and as a defensive end the previous season Ward had only three sacks. But he came out of high school as a wide receiver, and in two years of junior college Ward had 10 sacks. His athleticism is apparent to Mike Tomlin, who cheered Ward on during Senior Bowl week.

"He was whispering in my ear at the Senior Bowl," said Ward, who imitated Tomlin saying, "'Let's go 17.' This and that. He was just so pumped up. I guess he loved d-linemen. It was a blessing to see him. He really was just excited to see us, just hitting the things, getting off the ball. He talked to a lot of us a lot. It was a good moment."

And it was a moment that may define the Steelers' search for another big man this year. Ward could realistically be their second-round target.

But, what about that first name?

"I am a Muslim," he said. "My mom liked the name so she just named me Jihad. I was a Christian before I even was a Muslim. Around (hometown) Philly, Jihad is popular. There's been a lot of stereotypes but if you look it up in the dictionary it's really a positive thing."

If it means long, strong, mobile and mean, that would certainly be a positive thing for the Steelers.


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