Staley signing looks better by the day

As the notes from the workout days of the players considered the top running backs in this year's draft have trickled in, we've learned one thing: The Steelers made a good move signing Duce Staley two weeks ago.

While Kevin Jones, Steven Jackson, Greg Jones and Chris Perry - the Fab Four among backs in this year's draft - all have talent, there's one thing sorely missing from their games if their personal workouts are to be believed: speed.

Of that foursome, only Jackson so far has broken 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard sprint during his on-campus workout. And Jackson barely did so, topping out at 4.55.

Considering those on-campus workouts are notorious for their faster-than-expected times in the 40, that's especially troubling.

While speed alone is no guarantee of NFL success, it doesn't hurt. The Steelers' current running backs Duce Staley, Jerome Bettis and Verron Haynes aren't burners, but do other things that are considered special, especially in the cases of Staley and Bettis.

Staley is an excellent receiver and runs as hard as any back in the league. Bettis, in his prime, had that extra wiggle and forward lean that no other back his size has ever had in the NFL.

But Staley was a third-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles and Bettis was a first-round pick of the then-Los Angeles Rams.

Kevin Jones, Jackson, Greg Jones and Perry may all turn out to be special backs in the NFL. But none of them would have been worth using the 11th-overall pick in the draft on.

The good news for the Steelers is that they feel they have solved their running back problem - at least for this year - with the signing of Staley. The bad news is that because of their pedestrian times, no other teams - read New England - are going to want to trade up to the 11th pick to select a running back.

*  For the Steelers to be able to trade out of the 11th spot, somebody else is going to have to fall. Could it be Miami safety Sean Taylor, who ran a slower-than-expected 4.5 40 and only scored a 10 on his Wonderlic?

Maybe, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Plus, if Taylor does fall to 11, the Steelers would be foolish to pass on an exceptional football player like Taylor who just a couple of weeks ago was still considered the best defensive player in this draft.

The last time a player of Taylor's obvious talent dropped into the Steelers' lap was in 1987, when Rod Woodson, an obvious top-five talent, fell to Pittsburgh with the 10th-overall pick.

Same thing can't happen twice can it?

*  Where would the Steelers play Taylor right away?

Anywhere he wants. But imagine him in the middle of the dime defense as the blitzing safety.

He could also move into the starting lineup at inside linebacker in 2005, replacing James Farrior or Kendrell Bell. At 6-3, 225 pounds, he's Scott Shields with talent and endless possibilities.

* Inside linebacker for Taylor? Yep.

Farrior was in the 235 to 240-pound range when the Steelers put him inside in their 3-4, as was Chad Brown.

And head coach Bill Cowher toyed with the idea of moving Greg Lloyd inside in 1994 before Lloyd balked at it. The team also had a serious flirtation with Dallas' Dexter Coakley a couple of years ago. Coakley weighs in at 235 soaking wet.

All of those players had or have one thing in common: speed. Taylor could easily put on 10 pounds and paired with Bell or Farrior - both of whom will be free agents after 2004 - would give the team the fastest set of inside backers in the league.

* Unlike Bell, Taylor would never leave the field on third downs.

* That's not a shot at Bell, but a fact. And that's going to be a point of contention as the Steelers try to sign him to a new contract.

How much do you pay a guy who obviously has talent, but can't play three downs because he's a liability against the pass and can't rush the passer from the edge?

Bell's agent no doubt will point to the contracts given to Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher. But the Steelers rightly should point out that Bell is not on the same level as those players.

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