Through the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Steelers generally had their pick of the 3-4 linebacker/ends, or "tweeners." But mainly because of their success, the Steelers must now share the crop with 11 teams that'll use the alignment in some fashion next opening day.
The crop of tweeners is rather large. Eighteen defensive players worked out at both positions at the combine. The best is Shawne Merriman of Maryland and he could become the rock of Romeo Crennel's new 3-4 defense in Cleveland.
David Pollack is another player who won't last until pick No. 30. The Georgia pass-rusher has won just about every award and broken every school sack record in his four college years.
Demarcus Ware of Troy is another tweener who'll be chosen before the Steelers pick. The Dallas Morning News ran a mock draft and had coach Bill Parcells taking Ware and defensive end Marcus Spears to anchor the Cowboys' new 3-4 alignment.
Darryl Blackstock is a high second-rounder. Blackstock played ROLB in Virginia coach Al Groh's 3-4 defense.
The Steelers could take a couple of linebackers this draft. The departure of Kendrell Bell left an open hole on the depth chart behind Larry Foote, who just signed a 5-year deal with a $3.25 million bonus.
The only reserve inside is Clint Kriewaldt, who's in the final year of his contract.
Top outside reserve James Harrison could back-up inside in a pinch. That'll be necessary if the Steelers bring in new outside backers.
The other outside back-ups are Dedrick Roper and Alonzo Jackson. The latter isn't expected to make the team this year; the former didn't make it last year.
As for the starters, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans are both 28 and signed through the 2007 season. James Farrior is 30 and signed through 2008. Foote, who was pressed into action when Bell was injured, will turn 25 in June.
Third Round - Marcus Lawrence (6-2 1/8, 243, 4.64 40, 20 reps) of South Carolina played his senior season with a severely pulled groin muscle and didn't miss a game. He's a better player than he showed, and still ran well at the combine. He's a middle backer who projects to ILB in a 3-4.
Fourth Round - Eric Moore (6-4¼, 268, 4.84) of Florida State has the exact measurables as Jackson coming out of this school in 2003. Also, both players dominated their Hula Bowl games. Bill Cowher interviewed Moore at his pro day, where Moore dropped 7 pounds and a tenth of a second from the combine. Moore was dogged by injuries last season, but scouts rave about his pass-rushing skills.
Fourth Round - Kirk Morrison (6-1, 235, 4.72 campus, 25 reps) of San Diego State has been forgotten in the Matt McCoy frenzy. McCoy (6-0¼, 245) was snubbed by the combine, but teams are hot on his trail now. The Steelers hosted McCoy, and he'll probably be drafted in the second round. Morrison, meanwhile, is an inside linebacker with what the scouts call "suddenness."
Fourth through Sixth Rounds - Johnathan Goddard (6-0¼, 238, 4.68, 27 reps) of Marshall led the nation with 16 sacks last year as a defensive end and projects to 3-4 ILB; Khari Long (6-3½, 257, 4.7) fought off constant double teams as a Baylor DE and will be a strong-side 3-4 OLB; David McMillan (6-3, 262, 4.52) is another converted DE from a bad (Kansas) defense; Jonathan Welsh (6-3¼, 244, 4.58) of Wisconsin is a defensive end drawing comparisons to Joey Porter.
Derek Wake (6-2¾, 236, 4.6, 20 reps) of Penn State (Beltsville, Md.) is a freak. His vertical jump of 45½ inches is the second best ever recorded at the combine. He also had an explosive broad jump of 10-10. At Penn State, he played in 41 games, made 191 tackles, had 8½ sacks and blocked 7 kicks. Is he a tease or a talent? It'll cost a fifth- or sixth-rounder to find out.
Wexells' Value Board: 2005 NFL Draft LB's
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