Draft Series: Linebackers

Since Jason Gildon has been targeted for extermination by Coach Bill Cowher, the most glaring hole on the Steelers' depth chart is the one at outside linebacker, where only three players take up the four spots.

One of those three players is Alonzo Jackson, who was inactive for the final 14 games of his rookie season.

The position is paper thin, and to make matters worse the starters aren't the playmakers that made Dick LeBeau's "Blitzburgh" defense of the mid-90s one of the most feared in football.

In those days, right outside backer Greg Lloyd was a tremendous playmaker. In 10 years, or 131 games, Lloyd forced 33 fumbles and intercepted 10 passes. During his prime years of 1991-95, Lloyd forced 29 fumbles.

In 15 years and 235 games combined, Gildon and Joey Porter forced 26 fumbles and intercepted 7 passes.

The empty slot on the depth chart tells us the Steelers need depth. The stats tell us they need a playmaker. And that's just on the outside. There's concern on the inside, too, since Kendrell Bell and James Farrior are in the final years of their contracts and back-ups Larry Foote and Clint Kriewaldt haven't shown much in limited opportunities.

RIGHT GUY, RIGHT ROUND
First round - Will Smith (6-2 ¾, 267) played defensive end at 275 pounds at Ohio State, but he was moved around like a Bill Belichick chess piece. Smith played a little defensive tackle, outside linebacker (both sides) and inside linebacker for the 2002 national championship team. He did the same last year, when he was team captain.

Smith slimmed down for his pro day workout and showed brilliant athleticism. He ran his 40s in 4.58 and 4.62 (cornerback Chris Gamble ran a 4.55), had a vertical jump of 38.5 inches and benched 225 pounds 30 times. He had a Wonderlic score of 23.

Many scouts consider him the best 4-3 end in the draft, but his versatility at Ohio State may foreshadow his ability in a brave new football world where players such as Mike Vrabel are not only moved up and down the defensive front seven but are catching touchdown passes in the Super Bowl. Smith might be the best reunion present Cowher could give LeBeau in his first year back in "Blitzburgh."

Second round - Dontarrious Thomas (6-2 ½, 241) of Auburn has surpassed Karlos Dansby as the school's best linebacking prospect. Unlike most of the Steelers' OLB targets, Thomas played the position and wouldn't require much of an adjustment period. He's won leadership and conditioning awards and was the defensive MVP of his team's bowl game as a freshman. He moved inside last season, but has enough speed (4.58) and explosiveness (39-inch vertical) to be the team's next playmaker off the edge.

Fifth round - Reggie Torbor (6-2 3/8, 254) of Auburn isn't as fast as other defensive ends who project as 3-4 outside backers, such as Isaac Hilton, Jason Babin and Bobby McCray, but with so many teams converting to a 3-4 this spring, the pickings figure to be slim. Torbor averaged a 4.65 40 and benched 225 pounds only 16 times, but was productive in arguably the best conference in the nation. Torbor led Auburn in sacks (9.5), tackles for loss (14) and QB pressures (17) last season. He can play; he just needs locked in a weight room.

Sixth round - Uyi Osunde (6-3 1/8, 252) of Connecticut and Roderick Green (6-2 ¼, 245) of Central Missouri State both fit the bill here. The former (pronounced Oo-ee Oh-sun-dee) is a native of Bloomsburg, Pa., and played scholastically at Southern Columbia. He had 20 sacks and 48 QB pressures as a defensive end the last two years at UConn. Green is quicker but not as stout against the run.

Seventh round - Treveco Lucas (6-1, 255) played right end in Memphis' 3-3-5 alignment but might project as a 3-4 inside linebacker. The powerful Lucas knows how to use leverage to get under blocks and has the quickness to rush the passer. If he can cover tight ends and backs, he'll be worth the late investment. THE LOCAL Andrew Battle (6-3 ½, 235) went to IUP by way of Allentown's Dieruff High School. He was a three-year starter at defensive end and had 20 sacks the last two years. He's been consistently timed under 4.6 and will have to make the NFL as a weak-side 4-3 linebacker. Someone may draft Battle in the seventh round, but will probably go to camp as a free agent.

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