Dangerous? Yes!    Stupid? Of Course!

Catch the The Morning After every Monday.">
Dangerous? Yes!    Stupid? Of Course!

Catch the The Morning After every Monday.">

Morning After

<b>The Morning After --</b> Every week, uncut, honest thoughts first thing Monday morning, win or lose, before there's time for "the coach" inside to begin thinking rationally. <br><br> Dangerous? Yes!&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Stupid? Of Course! <br><br> Catch the <b> The Morning After</b> every Monday.

So, it's the New York Jets, the team for which the Steelers skipped practice Friday because they'd played them last month. That's how it always goes, doesn't it? Bill Cowher will take plenty of heat for that reason but not that reason alone if the Steelers lose to the same team that beat his daddy, Marty Schottenheimer.

Yes, the Coach of the Year in the NFL bumbled his way out of the playoffs for the fifth consecutive time with a thoroughly pathetic display of conservative coaching that has marked his career. Being the pupil in this relationship, Cowher, Steelers fans can only hope, was paying attention this time because what he saw in Schottenheimer - an ego-driven misconduct penalty that aided the Jets' first touchdown drive and conservative play-calling before a 40-yard field goal attempt by a rookie kicker on a muddy field in overtime - are traits displayed in the past by Cowher.

Of course, this is the new Cowher. This is the coach who should've been coach of the year had it not been for a "national panel of writers and broadcasters" that inexplicably voted for Schottenheimer by a near two-to-one margin. Cowher orchestrated a bigger turnaround than did Schottenheimer, and he did so while dealing with more injuries against a more difficult schedule. But as you know, "national panels" don't look at 15-1. That's too obvious. They have to show how smart they are, and damn, Schottenheimer did it with a third-year QB after drafting a quarterback first in the draft. Them's some brains there, too.

Of course I digress, and that's the point off this column, but to get back to the Jets. Yes, Cowher cut short Friday's practice and the players whooped for joy after being given a head start on their weekend. I thought it was a great move by Cowher because the players are ready for anyone. They simply needed to rest, learn their opponent and revert to a weekly routine that has worked 14 consecutive times. That the Steelers needed to practice stopping Curtis Martin again would've been overkill in my opinion. Even if the Jets somehow find a way to stun the Steelers, I won't hold Friday's decision against Cowher, even thought a lot of people will. That's just how it goes.

The Steelers held Martin to 72 yards last month and quarterback Chad Pennington couldn't beat them. His passer rating of 33.6 was more than tripled against San Diego's porous secondary, but is it possible for the QB with the weakest arm in the NFL to have two games like that in a row? In my opinion, no. Did you see that 47-yard rainbow bomb Pennington heaved to Santana Moss? That was the extent of Pennington's range, and that's a waste of a deep threat such as Moss. But 47 yards is the limit. That's as far as Pennington can heave a ball, even with the rainbow effect. The Steelers will rock the Jets on Saturday, and they won't be doing it - as one Pittsburgh columnist wondered - for Jerome Bettis. Yes, the great running back may be running out of time, but how about doing it for Dan Rooney? Isn't he running out of time? Real time? Heck, how about winning it for Ben Roethlisberger? The Roethlisberger-Dan Marino comparison has been made here throughout the season. Let's not further the comparison. Roethlisberger should take note of Marino's career and finish the job. The future's not a given, as Marino found out after losing the Super Bowl in his second pro season. He never returned.

The Jets are given little chance to beat the rested Steelers, even if defensive end John Abraham returns from his injury, but that hasn't stopped the New York media from jumping back on the bandwagon of "The Miracle Jets" or "The Fighter Jets" or whatever sales pitch they've settled on. One columnist went so far as to call Pennington's sore-armed rainbow to Moss a pass that "had Namath-to-Maynard written all over it." When did the greatest arm in football history ever look like Chad Pennington? Ugh. Then there were the squabbling coaches. Now, I think we can all appreciate a running backs coach shouting at the head man for using Lamont Jordan instead of Curtis Martin at any point in the game. We can imagine it, even chuckle at it, but never appreciate such a seemingly divisive argument. Perhaps it's part of the bonding process, and that bit of chemistry can be dangerous, but again, not if your quarterback can't throw against a defense that regularly chews up and spits out unbalanced offenses.

Throughout the bye week I watched replays of the college bowl games. I finished last night with the most difficult game of them all - Georgia vs. Wisconsin. It was difficult because there was so much pro talent on both sides of the ball for both teams. How did Wisconsin finish so poorly with all of that talent? Well, they didn't have much at quarterback, or any of the offensive skill positions for that matter. In an early glimpse of what little Anthony Davis would do in the pros, the Georgia defense answered with a sound thud. Inside linebacker Odell Thurman hit like none of the other celebrated inside linebackers hit this bowl season. He's another Kendrell Bell from a contact point of view, but is smaller. In an otherwise overrated crop of inside linebackers, I'd rate Thurman the edge but wouldn't draft him. I wouldn't draft Wisconsin's overrated DE Erasmus James, either. The guy has Ebeneezer Ekuban written all over him. In fact, James' linemate, Antaaj Hawthorne, was pushed around all game by Georgia's junior guard Max Jean-Gilles, who's an impressive specimen in his own right. Jean-Gilles is considered a tackle, but he might be too short, and thus fit at guard for the Bulldogs. He reminds me of James Harrison in that he's short but pushed bigger players around with abnormal strength. I really like Jean-Gilles.

As for David Pollack, I fear he's overrated. Now, I did see a great motor, and some explosiveness, but he might be too small to be ranked where he's ranked. I'd much rather come out of the draft with Oklahoma DE/OLB Dan Cody, who's taller and has, I believe, more fast-twitch muscle fiber than anyone I watched last week. He's tall, raw-boned, rugged and passionate about getting to the quarterback. Cody was also used as a linebacker. He blitzed more times than not as a linebacker, and looked like Ted "Mad Stork" Hendricks while doing it. He also dropped into zone coverage a couple of times, although didn't have to defend a pass. But while Pollack showed enough fast-twitch - sorry, the new scouting cliché of the season - he didn't drop into coverage. I'm not sure he can, but Cody, at least in his coach's opinion, can, thus making him more valuable as a 3-4 OLB.

Iowa's Matt Roth reminded me of Pollack, but he has less explosiveness. He looks like a second-rounder. Now, his linemate, Jonathan Babineaux, is very interesting. Listed at only 6-2, 280, Babineaux played DT and showed pass-rush skills not normally seen from that position. Now, he was overwhelmed on double teams at times but that kind of speed might interest teams looking for a 3-4 end. I'd certainly follow up on Babineaux. Iowa also has a good-looking ILB in junior Chad Greenway and an impressive senior free safety in Sean Considine. The most impressive player in the Iowa-LSU game, though, was LSU defensive tackle Claude Wroten. He's only a junior, but if he comes out the Steelers should certainly investigate him. The Steelers have done a pretty good job drafting juniors and Wroten would be another gem. If he returns for his senior season, he'll be a top-10 pick. LSU's left tackle, junior Andrew Whitworth, was also impressive, a tall and athletic tackle in the Marc Colombo mode, but with a better base.

Speaking of tackles, my favorite in terms of value is Fresno State left tackle Logan Mankins, who looks like a natural right tackle, but also someone who could fill in at right guard. The Steelers will need one of those types of players next year if Keydrick Vincent and Oliver Ross do in fact move on.

As for the other tackles, I believe Florida State's Alex Barron is worthy of the hype and will be the first taken, unless Virginia junior D'Brichashaw Ferguson comes out. He's more athletic than Barron. Here are a few notes on the other positions:

Quarterback - Matt Leinart and Aaron Rodgers can't possibly be the top two players in this draft. Leinart lacks a strong arm and Rodgers' ball sails on him. The latter is too short to be the second quarterback chosen. The best QB of the bowl lot is Utah's Alex Smith, who has size, arm strength, savvy and mobility. The best sleeper is Sonny Cumbie, who'll certainly be hurt by the "systems quarterbacks" tag out of Texas Tech, but scouts shouldn't fall into that cliché with Cumbie. They should fall into some kind of cliché for Kyle Orton, who took three years to rise to a quality level, but has spent the last half season proving it was an illusion. Pray the Browns draft Orton.

Running back - The big three - Cadillac Williams, Cedric Benson, Ronnie Brown - would be joined by DeAngelo Williams should he opt to come out early. In fact, Williams might be better than all of them. Kay-Jay Harris of West Virginia might run too tall, but at least he is tall. He's a fine big back who would be a steal in the third round. J.J. Arrington, the aforementioned Davis and Alvin Pearlman of Virginia are fourth-rounders or lower because of a lack of size.

Louisville's Eric Shelton will be lunchmeat with his tall running style. The difference between he and Harris is speed and a slashing style. Harris has both, while Shelton believes he can run defenders over. He won't in the NFL. He's just not that powerful. Florida junior Ciatrick Fason should stay in school. Miami junior Frank Gore is coming out, and with his medical history and lack of size looks less than Verron Haynes, who was a fifth-rounder.

Wide receiver - Is it written somewhere that a tall receiver has to be the team jerk? That's the case with WVU's Chris Henry and Louisville's J.R. Russell. Both players put on their shows in bowl games, and both should fall to the third round because of their immaturity. But, wow, both can play. Braylon Edwards, of course, is the best of the bunch. Mark Clayton is a Hines Ward type who'll fall to the second round. The Georgia receivers didn't look like first-rounders. Neither did FSU's Craphonso Thorpe. Oklahoma's Mark Bradley and Texas A&M's Terrence Murphy are sleepers as deep threats, particularly Murphy who's had to deal with Reggie McNeal, one of the worst passers in the nation.

Tight end - You watch guys like Oregon State sophomore Joe Newton (6-7, 250) and believe these Kyle Brady-types are all over the map. That's if you're patient. But if you tire of taking shots at one-dimensional tight ends, then you may just want to draft Virginia's Heath Miller in the first round and be done with it. Miller has been an outstanding offensive threat, but against Fresno State he blocked with the tenacity and ability of Mark Bruener. Miller could be the Steelers' first-round pick. Boston College's Dave Kashetta would be a solid fifth-round pick. He looks like one of those Joe Gibbs H-backs. Texas' Bo Scaife showed he could block and catch, but as with all Texas prospects he must show scouts character and a work ethic in the upcoming months.

Offensive line - The tackle crop is deep and the Steelers should be able to find one in the mid rounds. The aforementioned Mankins is one example. Virginia Tech's Joe Dunn is another. As for the elite, Jammal Brown looks like Marvel Smith in terms of athletic ability. He also disproved his finesse rap against USC by repeatedly playing through the whistle. Alabama's Wesley Britt looks like a solid second-rounder. Pitt's Rob Petitti needs to lose weight. Texas junior Jon Scott would be a steal if he comes out, particularly since he'd have time to develop with the Steelers. I talked earlier about some of the top guards. Virginia's Elton Brown is highly rated, but might not beat out Jim Jones for a roster spot. No feet at all. Michigan G-C David Bass is another Michigan slugger destined for the fourth round. Utah's Chris Kemoeautu drew raves for his play against Pitt, but is a bit on the smallish side. Another guard I liked was Alabama's Evan Mathis. The best and most athletic center of bowl season, hands down, was Minnesota's Greg Eslinger, but he's a junior.

Defensive line - Two of the highest rated prospects, James and FSU's Travis Johnson, didn't show up for their bowl games. I realize much of this has to do with their competition, but if they're top-10 guys they should show up against any college opponent. Marcus Spears was clearly outplayed by his LSU linemate Wroten. Speaking of junior DTs/NTs, Michigan's Gabe Watson showed plenty of explosiveness while Texas' Rodrique Wright will be somebody's big, fat bust. Shaun Cody of USC is very interesting, but he has that Jeremy Staat body (short legs, long torso) and anything reminiscent of Staat is scary. I also liked Cody's linemate, Mike Patterson, but won't buy any 5-11 linemen. FSU's Eric Moore is touted as a 3-4 lineman, but he did not excite. Neither did Cal's Ryan Riddle. Boston College's Mathias Kiwanuka showed more 4-3 pizzazz than did James, but made the right move by staying in school. Next year he'll be a legitimate top five pick. Troy State's Demarcus Ware flashed potential, but was suckered repeatedly inside as Northern Illinois ran outside. Ware will need plenty of time to develop if he's going to be a 3-4 OLB.

Linebackers - This was the most disappointing group of prospects in bowl season. Everyone wants to be Derrick Brooks these days, and these guys have that kind of speed, but does anyone want to hit anymore? Brooks didn't. Lance Mitchell didn't. Ahmad Brooks did every now and then, but I expected so much more. Did the other two Virginia linebackers even play? Mankins killed Daryl Blackstock all day, if in fact that was Blackstock over there because no one ever mentioned his name and Mankins never allowed the camera to pick up the number. Tennessee's Kevin Burnett and Louisville's Robert McCune are too small for a 3-4. Channing Crowder showed plenty of explosiveness. Too bad he shows it off the field, too. The guy has a long rap sheet and will not be with the Steelers. Greenway and Thurman, who played against each other, might be solid third-round choices. Thurman should go before that, but he also has a history of being suspended and may be too short. Iowa's Abdul Hodge did some nice things, but nothing that popped off the screen.

Secondary - Thomas Davis is supposed to be all-world, but the Georgia safety showed nothing but frustration against Wisconsin. At one point, he grabbed hold of a blocking wide receiver and just shook him in an odd post-play moment. WVU's Pac Man Jones has character issues and his late hit against FSU revealed them to be continuing on the field, too. Antrell Rolle of Miami may have been the best DB. If not, Carlos Rogers of Auburn was. Rogers is a rare tall corner who can shadow without bumping and that's going to be key in the contact-free NFL secondaries these days. Wisconsin's Scott Starks is a small fourth-rounder, but Ohio State's Dustin Fox could be a real Big 10 sleeper, even if he has to move to safety. I liked his suddenness and size. Oklahoma's Antonio Perkins is another fourth-rounder. His type will give the position some depth this April. The Miami-Ohio tandem played poorly against Iowa State. LSU's tandem was very unimpressive against Iowa. A good quarterback would've just killed Corey Webster and Travis Daniels, and in fact Iowa's QB did. The Oklahoma safeties were burned badly, if you look at the stat sheet. Otherwise, their coverage was good, just not good enough for Leinart's perfectly placed rainbows. FSU's Bryant McFadden has the body, but just didn't make many plays. Virginia Tech's Eric Green couldn't keep his mouth shut, but is a physical little guy. Tech safety Vincent Fuller didn't show much. In fact, the safeties are overrated, starting with Jerome Carter of FSU and continuing through the wretched performance of Michigan's Ernest Shazor, who didn't touch Vince Young once, even though he had many opportunities. Speaking of Michigan, Marlin Jackson will be somebody's difficult decision. Is he a physical corner or a small safety? He also yaps too much, but I guess it's the position for yappers. Boston College's Will Blackmon MUST stay in school. What an awful finish he had this season. Mike Huff of Texas also made the right decision by staying in school. My favorite defensive back of bowl season - or at least my favorite sleeper - is Arizona State's Chris McKenzie.

That's it for our early bye-week look at the prospects. Hopefully, we won't have to talk about them again until the third week of February.

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