Heading in opposite directions

PITTSBURGH – If Orien Harris and Willie Colon rode elevators in a seven-story building, they'd meet at the fourth floor. Harris would be going down and Colon would be going up.

That's how the Pittsburgh Steelers' two draft picks viewed being selected in the fourth round yesterday. Harris, who went into the season as a potential first-rounder, had lukewarm feelings, while Colon, an unknown out of Hofstra, was ecstatic.

"There is an absolute Mardi Gras going on right now," Colon said from his home in the South Bronx.

Colon had to settle down a wild celebration before continuing his conference call with reporters.

"I had to lock myself in the closet so I can talk to you guys," he said.

Colon stands a fraction under 6-foot-3 and weighs 315 pounds. He was a three-year starting right tackle at Division I-AA Hofstra and was one of the draft's late risers because of his athletic ability, hands, feet and upside. Colon (pronounced Cuh-LONE) is projected by most experts as a guard because of his height and movement ability, but Steelers line coach Russ Grimm will put him at right tackle at minicamp as the backup to Max Starks.

"When you look at a guy from any lower level of competition," Grimm said, "you have to make sure the guy dominates and he dominated at that level. He showed enough ability with his hip roll and foot quickness and things like that that we liked on film. … You look at big guys, like Max Starks, and you say, can they bend their knees and get under people? You look at shorter guys and say, do they have enough power to hold the point? He's shown that."

Colon played on a conference championship team at Cardinal Hayes High in the Bronx and went to Hofstra as a defensive tackle. He played one game at the position in 2002 and moved to right tackle in 2003 and stayed there for three years.

As a senior, Colon anchored a line that averaged 430 yards offense in the Atlantic 10. He was named first-team I-AA All-American and somewhere along the way developed a reputation as having a mean streak. Grimm was asked to compare Colon's demeanor to that of last year's rookie lineman, Chris Kemoeatu.

"He has shown a little added excitement for playing that position," Grimm said of Colon. "We'll leave it at that."

Colon showed no signs yesterday of being upset or aggravated.

"I met coach Grimm in Pittsburgh and we honestly didn't even really talk about football," Colon said. "All we talked about were the crazy fans and how exciting it's going to be there. When I left there, I didn't really have a feeling that Pittsburgh was going to pick me. I just had a feeling that it was a great town and I loved the staff and loved the way everything was. Here I am today: I am a Steeler and I am proud. I am blessed and I thank everybody."

His emotion was a stark contrast to that of Harris, the soft-spoken 6-3, 302-pound defensive end from the University of Miami. Harris is the first player the Steelers drafted from the powerful Hurricanes since Coach Bill Cowher made Leon Searcy his first pick as a head coach in 1992. The achievement was lost on Harris, who went into his senior season touted as a first-round pick but ended up the final pick of the fourth round.

He's been criticized for his attitude, maturity level and work ethic, but is rarely knocked for his athletic ability. The brother Kwame Harris, a disappointing former No. 1 pick of the San Francisco 49ers, Harris is also knocked for not having a true position. He moved between end and tackle in Miami's 4-3 defense. The Steelers hope he's a better fit in their 3-4.

"He can play both inside and outside for us," said line coach John Mitchell. "You have to have some guys that can play both at the nose and the end and he fits that description very well."

Harris left Newark (Del.) High as the nation's top-rated defensive line prospect (Football News, Super Prep) and played in every game at Miami as a redshirt freshman in 2002. He became a starter in 2003 and rose to captain last season, when he was named second-team Associated Press All-America even though he had only 3.5 sacks.

"This guy isn't going to have to be a starter his first year here," Mitchell said. "He's going to come here and learn from the guys. Aaron Smith was a fourth-round draft choice, so I'm happy with guys like that, a diamond in the rough, a guy that is going to come in here and have some time to grow and progress. I'm really excited about him."


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