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A look back on the weekend that was, Part II, from a reporter covering the Pittsburgh Steelers

SCI.net publisher Jim Wexell looks back on the moments that defined the Steelers' draft weekend. Here's a look at Round 2:

Missed the Artie Burns introductory press conference after overextending a nap, but arrived before the start of the second round in time to grab dinner with Ed Bouchette.

"Man, you guys and your defensive linemen in the first round," I said to Ed as his eyes widened. "I TOLD you they were going to take a cornerback in the first round."

"What are you talking about?" he asked with a pause after WHAT.

I burst out laughing. Of course, Ed was one of the reporters adamantly opposed to drafting a defensive tackle in the first round, while I had led the cheering section for Andrew Billings.

Eh, sometimes you're right. Other times you want a fourth-rounder in the first round. So it goes.

I actually hadn't considered much about Billings until the organization packed up and moved to Waco, Texas, for a couple of days and Joe Greene had his much publicized dinner with the Baylor tackle. And then I watched Billings' WVU tape and couldn't get it out of my mind.

So, it's with that backstory that I still had Billings at the top of my list for Day 2 -- and he ended up sitting there like La'el Collins sat at the top of my list the previous year. People were wondering by the end of the day whether Billings had killed someone or not, but it was just a case of the game passing him -- and me -- by.

SECOND ROUND

* Much was being made of the Pittsburgh Steelers not accepting the third-round pick (which Seattle took at pick 26) offered by Denver and taking Burns at pick 31. But Kevin Colbert admitted at the end of the draft that he was never offered that deal, nor would he have accepted it because he wanted Burns then and there. I do know Kansas City, at 28, was interested in a cornerback and traded out of the spot after William Jackson and Burns had been chosen. The Chiefs eventually took corners in the third, fourth and sixth rounds.

As far as Burns having been a reach for the Steelers, only two cornerbacks were taken in the next 34 picks. The first, Xavien Howard, taken 13 picks later, has tape issues and character concerns. The other, Mackensie Alexander, was taken 29 picks after the Steelers had chosen.   

* Actually, the second round started to remind me of the 2014 second round when I had defensive linemen Ra'shede Hageman and Stephon Tuitt at the top of Beast Board, Jr.

Most of us figured this year that a premium defensive tackle or two would slip to pick 58 because of the depth of the crop, and sure enough, Billings, Javon Hargrave and Jonathan Bullard were still available -- just ahead of safeties Vonn Bell and Sean Davis -- as the clock began to tick on the Steelers.

Defensive tackle and strong safety were the Steelers' primary needs at that point, so I tweeted out the names and explained why I had Bell ranked one spot ahead of Davis in my story.

https://twitter.com/jimwexell/status/726213783627161601

I had ranked the big men ahead of the safeties because I believed they had less of a chance of getting to the third round than did the safeties. I figured wrong. Again.

* Carnell Lake entered the media room to talk about the drafting of Davis, the safety he said was his No. 1 on the safety board. Someone asked Lake if that meant the Steelers had Davis ranked as their top safety.

"Well, I’m not going to talk about the Steelers’ board," Lake said. "I had him rated very high. I think the game has progressed where you need to have a cover safety. It’s absolutely essential in my opinion. Just speaking not only as a coach but also as a former player, you want to have versatility in your secondary to be able to match-up when necessary, otherwise you’re going to be trying to substitute and offenses might not give you the opportunity to do that from snap to snap."

* Mr. Versatility in the secondary had always been Lake in this town. It probably popped into every veteran reporters' mind the minute Lake said the word.

Is Davis as close to Carnell Lake that you’ve had?

"Well, I'll tell you," Lake said, "I think he has some exceptional qualities, and versatility is one of them."

Lake, of course, filled in for Rod Woodson at cornerback during the 1995 Super Bowl run, and again a couple of years later.

In an emergency, would you play Davis at cornerback?

"I would not hesitate," Lake said without hesitation. "Playing corner at Maryland, he knows the position. It would just be a matter for him of dialing it down. But he'll get a chance to work on his man-to-man skills when he gets here."

* To continue this Lake-Davis comparison a bit, Davis measured 6-1, 201 and ran a 4.46 40 at the Combine. At Lake's Combine in 1989, he measured 6-1, 208 and ran a 4.42 40.

Lake had been what scouts call "an outside, walkaway linebacker" at UCLA but during his senior season he took coverage lessons from a teammate, cornerback Darryl Henley, who showed Lake enough technique “that I could fake my way through workouts until I could get a grasp,” Lake said, “and that’s what I did.”

Lake told me this almost 10 years ago for my book "Men of Steel." Lake had played strong safety for the first time in the Senior Bowl, was surprised to be drafted by the Steelers early in the second round, and, when he reported to St. VIncent College, Lake "watched Rod Woodson like a hawk,” he said. “I just sat there and watched everything I could and picked it up like a sponge. And it was good enough to earn me a starting spot my first year.”

Smart. Like Davis.

"Sean is a very intelligent individual," Lake said Friday night as if he was unwittingly talking about himself. "He made calls at the safety position at Maryland. For him to play not only corner but safety at Maryland says a lot about his intelligence. Not only that, just as a footnote, he speaks three languages, so I'm not worried about his ability to adapt to our playbook."

I wrote yesterday that I expect Burns to settle down and blossom into a quality player on the heels of such a tumultuous year past. Lake thinks Davis will benefit from a different kind of stability.

"Because of Maryland’s needs, they had to move him around to try to plug holes for their defense, and he was willing and capable of doing that," Lake said. "And I think just for him to settle down in one position will give him a chance to really hone in and develop skills at a particular position. For us, that'll be safety."

* Lake was asked about Davis' ability against the run and he pointed to Davis' 319 tackles.

"Three hundred tackles in college is a lot of tackles," Lake said. "There are only a couple people maybe that had more tackles than him and two of them were safeties."

That, of course, sent me on a research mission. I found two safeties -- both ranked as linebackers on my personal board -- and four linebackers with more tackles coming out of college this year.

The top tackler, of course, is Steelers' seventh-round pick Tyler Matakevich with 493. Behind him is linebacker Kentrell Brothers with 357 and safety/linebacker Miles Killebrew with 356. Undrafted safety/linebacker Jeremy Cash had 336 tackles. Two undrafted linebackers -- Steve Longa of Rutgers and Zeek Bigger of ECU -- had 335 and 333 tackles. So Davis is the only pure defensive back with more than 300 career college tackles, and he played cornerback his final season.

* Lake finished with some positive commentary on what the stability in the Steelers organization means to young players.

"You have to be patient sometimes and to let them get a foothold and get some confidence in themselves within the scheme," he said. "I know the NFL now is a get-it-done, be-productive-now-or-move-on (league), but for a younger player coming in there’s no better place, no better city to come to and no better team to play for than the Steelers. It’s one of the reasons the Steelers have been successful for a long time. It’s because they have an understanding of football and they’re patient with their players and they make good selections."

* You can gauge intelligence by someone's sense of humor, and Sean Davis sure isn't afraid to laugh. His first hearty guffaw came right off the bat as he waited on the phone for reporters to get out of their seats and set their recorders next to the phone. I got there first and asked if this was Sean Taylor, er, I mean, Sean Davis. He got it right away and laughed.

A Baltimore reporter and I had talked to Sean at the Combine and the other guy asked him about "filling the alley so quickly" in the run game. Sean said, "I just love hitting. I watched Sean Taylor my whole life."

Yep, he was another in a long line of young safeties at the Combine who idolize Taylor, the late safety from the University of Miami and the Washington Redskins whom Ryan Clark had honored every day at Steelers practice by wearing No. 21. Davis, with the same first name, also wore 21 every day, and then on game days as well.

* The next guffaw from Davis came after I asked how a young guy from Ravens country felt about being drafted by the Steelers. He laughed and said, "My dad loves the Steelers. It’s awesome. I couldn’t have hoped for anything better. It’s the perfect situation."

Davis explained he had been a Redskins fan, but that his dad, Sean Sr., "just loves Coach Tomlin, and just loves that black and yellow. Something about that black and yellow. He's always seen me as a Steeler, for real."

There's that black and yellow again. But I wasn't about to correct the young man, who was still laughing about his father.

"Yeah, I’m looking right at him," Davis continued. "He's jumpin'. He might be happier than me. He got his cool face on though, his poker face. I know deep inside he’s going crazy."

* Lake had told us that a sign of Davis' intelligence was his ability to speak three languages, English, French and Chinese, but Davis had told us at the Combine that he wasn't fluent in the latter two, and Tim Benz found that out when he asked Davis to say "Who's got Gronkowski?" in French, which Sean had only studied a bit in middle school. But Davis did put together the Chinese version of the question amidst much laughter.

"You should've had him say, 'Yinz got Gronkowski,'" someone said after the call ended.

* A couple of other nuggets I had learned about Davis at the Combine:

1. He played center field for the baseball team at Maret High School (check out this catch here) and chose Maryland over North Carolina because former Terps coach Randy Edsall promised he could try out for the baseball team. Davis, like Senquez Golson, believes that tracking the ball in center field helps him track balls now as a defensive back.

2. Practicing against former Maryland standout Stefon Diggs, one of the top rookies in NFL last season, was a boon for Davis. "Going against him for three years, that just helped me get better," he said. "You are who you cover, and that helped me out a lot."

3. Davis on one of his most inspiring football moments: "I was a sophomore with aspirations of being in the league. After I whupped up on a team, we were shaking hands at the end of the game and the coach said, 'Man, I'll see you on Sundays.' That really hit home with me, like, 'Man, I can make a living out of this.'"

(To be continued)


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