Examining the work with flawed players

Every college player is flawed, to a degree. It's an argument every scout makes. In every scouting report, the pros and cons of that player's skill-set is itemized, analyzed and finally graded. Some players have flaws deemed as less alarming, but the flaws still exist.

And after months of scouting, film-watching, interviews, measurements and more grading, teams are rarely surprised about what the flaws are in a given player. They may underappreciate the severity of the flaw, or overestimate the player's ability to be coached out of that flaw – but the flaw itself is usually not a surprise.

In fact, one of the factors in a team's selection of a player is whether they feel that player is capable of being "coached up" – at least to an acceptable level of play.

This is an often overlooked element of NFL coaching. Fans often see college players as "ready for prime-time." Many, though, are raw and successfully relied on their physical superiority against inferior, smaller and slower college competition. But in the NFL, physical superiority is rarely enough. And just as some coaching staffs are more successful in developing game strategy, others are more successful at developing talent – coaching players out of their flaws.

So, how successful has the Pittsburgh Steelers' current coaching staff been at coaching up their drafted players? Have the assistant coaches excelled in this area? And do their successes and failures on player development impact their ability to be good head coach?

These are essential questions – ones that need to be thought through by the Rooneys as they sort through their head coaching candidates.

First off, it's important to note that coaches can only work with the talent given them. Like a sculptor with poor quality clay, a coach can only mold the talent given them, and can't coach up a player beyond their abilities. So let's look back at various scouting reports of these picks to uncover specific noted player flaws - and to then see how successfully they were addressed by the coaching staff.

Alonzo Jackson: "Lacks strength at point of attack, handled by a single blocker and not effective defending the run. Performed woefully on the bench-press at the combine."

Ike Taylor: "Does not display wherewithal or sense of timing on the field and does more chasing than reading the play. Does not make plays on the ball often."

Ben Roethlisberger: "Needs to put some air under the ball when his receivers break open. Shows patience in the pocket but will try hard to make the play, resulting in throwing into coverage at times. While he is quick to pick up the blitz, he needs to improve a little on reading zone coverage."

Max Starks: " Can be beaten by the speed rush and quick counter moves - does not always mirror the defenders when working on the edge (slow to bring his feet)."

Kendall Simmons: " Has good pass protection promise, but can be exposed by the inside charge. Gets a little too high in his stance when protecting vs. the pass, which results in defenders being able to walk him back."

Santonio Holmes: " Tends to lose focus at times, as he tries to turn and run before properly securing the ball, which has led to some fumble problems."

Ricardo Colclough: "He is going to have to polish his technique in the NFL. He also needs to work on his play-recognition skills. He can get caught guessing at times."

Trai Essex: "The main knock on Essex is that he does not work hard enough."

Omar Jacobs: " Struggled as a junior in reading defenses and tossing the ball into coverage. His throws lack touch. Shuffles his feet in the pocket. Has a low trajectory."

Orien Harris: " Lacks bulk, slow shedding blocks and cannot hold the point against double teams."

Charles Davis: " Lacks blocking intensity and does not always work to finish opponents."

In every one of these cases, the coaching staff was aware of the flaws, as the scouting staffs were. Yet in many of these cases, these specific flaws are the very ones still affecting these players negatively – or the very ones that kept the player from making the roster at all.

There's also evidence of Pittsburgh's inability to get many quality players on day two of its draft. That may also imply an inability to coach up players who need it most.

Ultimately, some of this is anecdotal, to be sure. And it certainly does not cast a net over 100% of the players. But it does appear to indicate a fundamental lack in the coaching staff's ability to coach up players out of flaws they possessed throughout their college careers.

Does this discredit Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt's ability to become a head coach? Most likely not. But, if the Rooneys are looking for a coach who can develop player talent, perhaps those outside candidates like Tomlin and Rivera deserve another look.

Whether its Roethlisberger's tendency to throw into coverage, Holmes's tendency to fumble, Starks's techniques on edge rushers, Simmons' technique on inside charges, Taylor's playing the ball, Davis's blocking technique or even Jackson's weight-room dedication, there's been sufficient evidence to show that improvements certainly could and should be made on the way Pittsburgh's coaching staff - whether they be new or current coaches - handles issues regarding players' techniques and approaches to the game.


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