Draft Series: Defensive backs

The Super Steelers were in town Friday to help Mel Blount raise money for his youth home. But first they sat around an Algonquin-style roundtable to help the football writers raise their own money.<br><br> The former Steelers talked about the game back then, and they talked about the game today. They talked about the way players at just about every position have grown, particularly the wide receivers. And they wondered if anybody would be able to cover them anymore.<br><br>

In this draft alone, six receivers standing at least 6 feet 2 ½ inches tall are expected to be picked in the first two rounds. The tallest cornerbacks in those two rounds, according to Pro Football Weekly's ratings, will be Ohio State's Chris Gamble (6-1 ¼) and Montana State's Joey Thomas (6-0 7/8).

Where have you gone, Mel Blount?

"It could be that a lot of the great athletes are going to other sports," Blount tried to explain. "It could be they've gone into basketball and baseball. And then when you do get the great athlete, they might not want to play that position. It's a tough position. You don't get a lot of press unless you get beat. It could be a number of reasons, but when you look at the kind of receivers that are coming into the league now, you need bigger cornerbacks."

"The problem was Mel set a standard," said Terry Bradshaw. "The entire league is so cyclical. Have you ever looked at a depth chart? They will call a cornerback that's 5-foot-10 big. Mel was 6-4."

"Typically, smaller people are faster," said Randy Grossman. "It's a speed issue because you're not allowed to jam anymore. Mel could get up there and take a guy out and keep his hands on him until the ball was in the air. That's totally out of the game now. Now it's just a sprint. And I think it's the most difficult position in football. You're running backwards; you're covering a guy going forward. He knows where he's going; you don't. And you can't touch him. It's ridiculous. The rules today are ridiculous."

"They changed the rules in 1978," said Blount. "You couldn't jam past five years, but you still had those five yards. We won two Super Bowls jamming within the five yards. I think it is about speed, but I think it's the techniques that are being taught today. … If you can get your hands on that receiver and challenge him, then you throw off the timing of the quarterback and make him go somewhere else. It's about teaching these guys how to move their feet and how to get to the receiver and where to get them. If you're jamming a guy on the side, all you're doing is pushing the guy into his pattern. But if you're in his chest, you've got more control over him. It's a lot of things. Another thing is they're throwing the ball so much more because of television."

"Well, the rules changes were for television," said Bradshaw. "What happened was the competition committee looked at the old AFL. There was no defense. It was like the Arena League, scoring a lot of points, and the fans were staying tuned. They were having fun. It was designed strictly for ratings. It was all done for television. Most of your rules today are done for television. The rule they made off of me getting hurt in Cleveland, with my neck, was 'Oh, my God we can't lose our star quarterbacks.' It wasn't 'He may never walk again.' It was 'It hurt the league! It's bad for ratings!' Honest to God, everything is driven by TV."

Well, the league is doing it again. After Ty Law shut down the high-flying Colts last playoffs with his Blount-like physical play, the league has vowed to crack down on illegal contact, making it a point of emphasis. Cover corners are more valuable than ever, and if you paid attention this past free-agent season, you noticed just how valuable they were.

First round - DeAngelo Hall (5-10, 202, 4.35) of Virginia Tech is the apple of Bill Cowher's eye. But Hall will probably be picked in the top 10 because of his Deion Sanders-like punt return capabilities.

First round - Dunta Robinson (5-10 ¾, 186, 4.34) of South Carolina isn't as spectacular as Hall, but goes about his job in a first-class manner. He was a team captain and then voted MVP at season's end. He's also physical against the run.

Second round - Derrick Strait (5-11 1/8, 196, 4.52) was a four-year starter at Oklahoma and won both the Thorpe and Nagurski awards last season. He's more of a zone corner than cover man, but highly productive and with great character. While track star Batman Carroll and small-school stars Thomas, Ricardo Colclough and Keith Smith will be ranked ahead of him by many teams, Straight and perhaps Florida's Keiwan Ratliff (5-10 ¾, 193, 4.6) fit the Steelers' M.O. because of their production at big schools.

Fourth round - Jernaro Gilford (6-1 ½, 180, 4.47) of BYU has proven he's fully recovered from a 2002 knee injury. He visited the Steelers last week. Other possibilities here are USC's Marcell Allmond (6-0, 209, 4.5) and Nicholls State's Chris Thompson (6-0, 189, 4.52), a team captain who blocked 12 kicks in college.

Sixth round - Erik Coleman (5-10 ½, 200, 4.6) of Washington State is a free safety who wouldn't appear to have a place on the Steelers' depth chart because of Mike Logan and Chris Hope. But those players are natural strong safeties. So are the strong safeties, Troy Polamalu and Russ Stuvaints. The timing's not right, but the Steelers do need to develop a real ball hawk.

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