NFL Combine Preview: Steelers-style

It's grown beyond all civilized boundaries, but the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis does serve a purpose. Here's Jim Wexell's take on what the Steelers will be doing with their time.

Welcome to your worst nightmare: a scouting combine preview.

Every news outlet has one, and this one's yours.

The difference here, I hope, is that I'll spare you the huff and the puff of calling it something other than a place to get to know the college players a little bit better.

The grades have already been submitted by scouts, and the Indianapolis combine – which starts today and lasts until Sunday – gives teams a chance to tweak those grades.

Of course, the combine is important for cornerbacks and receivers, if just for the 40 times. Sometimes it's difficult to understand why Aqib Talib was beat deep, or why James Hardy whipped Justin King all day but couldn't get open against Purdue or Oklahoma State.

And then there are the Limas Sweeds of the prospect world. Sweed was injured most of the season, so the combine affords him an opportunity to impress.

Here's a look at the players the Steelers, in my opinion, will be monitoring:

* Branden Albert, OG, VirginiaI predicted a month ago this massive guard will be the Steelers' first-round pick. Now even the great analyst Mike Mayock is raving about the guy, even said he'd be moving him into his top 10 overall. Albert was a big, strong, junior captain at a school that's produced quality and character. Heath Miller and James Farrior are known examples here. Albert also filled in at left tackle against Pitt last season and said he feels more comfortable at the position, and thus offers valuable versatility.

* Jonathan Stewart, RB, OregonI'll use running back as the fallback in case Albert's gone. Stewart is a 230-pounder with power to run inside and – combine-willing – the speed to get outside. The Steelers won't reach for the No. 2 guard, there isn't a first-round center, and my gut tells me that since the team wouldn't move Willie Colon inside for Max Starks then they're not of the mind to move him for a rookie, so tackles are out of my first-round mix as well. That means the Steelers' weakest area down the stretch, their running game, could be bolstered by an actual running back, in spite of a team philosophy that says running backs can be found later on.

* Brandon Flowers, CB, Virginia TechThis comes more from the heart than the head since the Steelers have four cornerbacks. But say Deshea Townsend is moved to free safety. Just say. That would open up a spot for this classic Dick LeBeau cover-3 corner. Flowers plays the run like a strong safety and he can cover. Questions about his character will be answered during the interview process.

*DeSean Jackson, WR, Cal – The Steelers operate undercover anymore. Scout.com was able to learn of only two interviews the team conducted this off-season -- with Sweed and Hardy. Both are big receivers, but neither can return kicks like this exciting playmaker from Cal.

* Kory Lichtensteiger, C, Bowling GreenThe best center hands down is Mike Pollak, but he'll go in the second round. That would be too early for the Steelers, who believe last year's rookie, Darnell Stapleton, can make a run at the starting job next season. But the interior must be addressed and Lichtensteiger would make sense in the fourth round, particularly after his outstanding work in the Senior Bowl, where he handled Red Bryant, Trevor Laws and (for the most part) Sedrick Ellis as a guard. Lichtensteiger also played center later in the game and handled Ellis one-on-one on two separate occasions. Ellis did get the upper hand one time early – and an ugly safety was the result.

Some other Steelers types to keep an eye on this week are OT-OG Oniel Cousins, RBs Tashard Choice and Ryan Torain, DE Kendall Langford, and OLB Bruce Davis.

So with the NFL Network, you, too, can scout these prospects. Either that or next week you'll be forced to read your next worst nightmare: a scouting combine review.


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