Blitzburgh Revival Worth The Gamble

It must've been about four o'clock Sunday afternoon when Ty Law interrupted the NFL playoffs with a play so big, it inspired hope, honest-to-God hope that the Dick LeBeau renaissance can work here in Pittsburgh.

First of all, the Steelers needed LeBeau -- the creator of the zone blitz and therefore a Steelers 3-4 guru -- to recapture the aggressiveness of their mid-90s defense, one that terrorized the AFC.

In turn, LeBeau needs a few players in order to revive that great defense.

The Steelers already have the personnel to stop the run, and they believe they've found their Carnell Lake in Troy Polamalu. The rookie showed flashes of becoming the type of strong safety who can stuff the run or cover receivers man-to-man if need be. That was the allure of Lake. Teams couldn't run on the Steelers with their nickel offense.

Also last season, the Steelers found a decent cover corner in the Willie Williams mold when they moved Deshea Townsend into the starting lineup over the second half of the schedule.

The Steelers also have a decent pass rusher in Joey Porter, and they hope his poor 2003 performance was due more to his pain in the butt than any decline in ability. The hope is that Porter, with LeBeau's mentoring and play-calling, can give the Steelers the pass-rusher off the edge they've lacked since Greg Lloyd's heyday.

Can Jason Gildon revive his career and give the Steelers another edge pass-rusher? There's been no indication he can, and, with his rather large salary, he's probably at the end of the line in Pittsburgh. But finding that second pass-rusher, that Kevin Greene, shouldn't be too difficult with the addition of one more piece to the secondary puzzle, since the components of rushing and covering go so well together.

Of course, finding that piece won't be easy. Finding the next Rod Woodson, in fact, will probably be impossible, at least for the coming season. But Chad Scott's contract will likely force the Steelers to keep him as their strong-side cornerback for one last season, so the next Woodson has time to develop.

Any thoughts on the matter? Let's see, a Big 10 cornerback, big, fast and available at pick No. 11? Well, the Steelers picked Woodson (6-0, 200) with the 10th pick in 1987 only because he miraculously slipped past other teams. This time around, the Steelers could probably grab another such corner with pick No. 11 because Chris Gamble of Ohio State is still a project. Gamble, 6 feet 2, 185 pounds, is coming out after his junior season and after only one-and-a-half years as a starting cornerback.

Gamble went to Ohio state as a wide receiver, but after a routine drill, in which offensive and defensive players switched roles during practice, the Ohio State staff decided to move Gamble to cornerback.

As a sophomore, Gamble played the last six games of the season at both positions and was second on the team with 31 receptions. As a corner in the national title game, he held Miami's Andre Johnson to four receptions (three in the first quarter) and was eventually voted the team's co-MVP by his teammates.

Gamble finished that season by logging over 100 plays in each of the last four games, but this year concentrated more on cornerback.

He, of course, has excellent hands, and also returns kickoffs and punts. As a corner he's considered an outstanding zone defender, which brings us back to Ty Law.

In the key play of the AFC Championship Game, Law came off his man and out of his zone to make a diving interception. It was the kind of play only a great player could make, and the type of player that turns an average team into an outstanding one.

Gamble can be that type of player, and he should be available around the same spot at which Woodson was found.

Gamble is raw, but if Bill Cowher is serious about recapturing the magic of Blitzburgh, he might want to look at the bigger picture. He might want to take the Gamble.

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