Good tackles? Take 2

It's easier to cover the combine from the couch than the RCA Dome itself, so Jim Wexell put his thoughts on paper in his Steelers note column for a Monday morn.

From the notebook of a sportswriter who watched way too many 40-yard sprints and vertical jumps on TV this weekend:

* But on the bright side, my 8-year-old is sprinting around the house, doing vertical jumps, broad jumps, and basically enjoying the combine a lot more than I am.

* For instance, I watch Joe Flacco and Anthony Morelli throw bullets that no one can catch and the announcers are saying things like, "That doesn't matter. Look at the way the ball comes out of his hand," and I go crazy. Meanwhile, a guy like Josh Johnson is throwing every pass into someone's breadbasket and no one's saying a word.

* I understand the Ravens interviewed Johnson. He's the guy who lit up the Shrine Game and I raved that he's the next Joe Montana. Well, now I'm a little worried about this new coach John Harbaugh down in Baltimore. Brian Billick would be interviewing Morelli.

* Word came back to the Irwin household here, courtesy of the great Ed Thompson of Scout.com, that the Steelers are interested in Gosder Cherilus. So I went back to watch the Senior Bowl and I concentrated on the massive right tackle with those long arms. At times he showed the same problem he showed during his mediocre season as Boston College's left tackle. But much of the time, particularly the final quarter of the Senior Bowl, he owned his man, mainly Wallace Gilberry and sometimes Marcus Harrison. Cherilus does have the strength and he has great feet. I think his problem with bullrushers has more to do with not getting leverage. Anyway, he's very interesting. He's Max Starks with feet.

* Yes, in my last column I ruled out offensive tackles in the first round, but now that Starks is being targeted, the Steelers will probably move Willie Colon to guard. So the Steelers will pick up a guard when they sign Starks.

* Yet, the Starks signing is far from a done deal, so Branden Albert remains my favorite first-rounder. He's just a more exciting player, big and mobile. Cherilus is probably the fallback.

* Kevin Colbert calls this the best crop of tackles he's seen in 24 years. Good. Take two.

* My second tackle – and I was thrilled to hear Mike Mayock say this – is being looked at as a center. Jeremy Zuttah, my favorite mid-round O-line sleeper, the right tackle from Rutgers, can apparently play guard and center as well. And that's the ideal in the NFL– a big man with move skills and enough brains to play center.

* But it's also a risky projection if that's the only "center" you're going to draft.

* Mike Pollak is a terrific center, worthy of a second-round choice. John Sullivan of Notre Dame – as I re-watched the Senior Bowl – looks like a third-rounder. And the Lichtensteiger-to-Roethlisberger connection is a fourth-round dream. But I'd rather take a chance on Zuttah in the fourth round than any of the above.

* The cutting of Clint Kriewaldt leaves a bald spot on the depth chart at linebacker. With 33-year-old James Farrior entering the final year of his contract, a linebacker might be a high pick as well. If Oklahoma's Curtis Lofton is available in the second round, that's my guy. He's a thumper who can run sideline to sideline. This was evident against West Virginia when he kept up with Pat White … for a while.

* The Steelers could also draft an outside linebacker and plan ahead for James Harrison to replace Farrior in 2009. The guy I'm liking more and more is Bruce Davis of UCLA. He's Joey Porter.

* In watching Jordan Dizon of Colorado running around and making all kinds of plays as a will-backer in the Senior Bowl, I thought at one point the gold-helmeted Dizon looked a little big, and then noticed this gold helmet belonged to Davis. He was playing OLB in the 4-3 and was turning and running as fluidly as any linebacker at the Senior Bowl. And then Davis went back to defensive end and repeatedly pressured the quarterbacks. He hit one and stood there howling at him – just like Joey. Davis will go in the third round at the latest.

* So will Dizon, who could back up Farrior and become the special-teams captain while he's being groomed.

* My concern with Pitt LT Jeff Otah when I watched him this season was how oblivious he was to blitzers. And when I see Mayock's note on the scrawl – "poor game against Rutgers" – I figured the Rutgers' pro blitzing schemes were the reason. Otah looks like an NFL player when he knows where he's going, but I'm worried about his ability to think and react on the go.

* It wasn't the 5.5 40 Otah ran that I care about. But when I watched Otah stand erect while doing his drills, I knew I was right to have ranked him as a second-rounder.

* Someone at NFL Network has Kentwan Balmer as the 10th pick of the draft. Good. Let someone else answer all the questions I have about him.

* Dwight Smith, the Minnesota safety, would be a solid pickup in free agency. That's the rumor, that the Steelers are interested in him. Yes, the former Super Bowl hero for Mike Tomlin's Tampa secondary has been in some trouble, but if Tomlin vouches for him that's good enough for me. We'll give you one problem child, Mike. Don't screw it up.

* I'm watching the Browns renegotiations with Derek Anderson with enjoyment. Tie up all that money at one position, boys.

* San Diego showed a lot of guts in dumping Drew Brees for Philip Rivers. But they made their decision when they drafted Rivers and were courageous enough to carry through with it. The Browns, who seemingly made their decision when they traded up to draft Brady Quinn last year, are waffling.

* The Steelers also need a third tight end, now that Jerame Tuman has been cut. They need a blocker to compete against Jon Dekker for the job. That blocker should be taken no earlier than the sixth round, which is where I've ranked blocking tight ends Craig Stevens and Adam Bishop. An interesting free agent is Brody Eldridge. He didn't play much at Oklahoma, but when he came in as a lead blocking fullback, he just killed people. He did the same at the line. Very interesting.

* I guess that brings me back to Owen Schmitt. Every time I cross him off my draft board, he keeps coming back. If the "runaway beer truck" lasts till the fifth, take him and use him to fill two roster spots.

* Alright so, in the first it's Branden Albert, Gosder Cherilus, or RB Jonathan Stewart (WR/KR Devin Thomas?); in the second it's Mike Pollak, G Chilo Rachal, or WR/PR Eddie Royal; in the third it's Jordan Dizon, Bruce Davis, or DE Kendall Langford; and in the fourth it's Jeremy Zuttah, RB Jacob Hester, or LB Wes Woodyard. Those are the names I'm thinking about today. Tomorrow I may look at my list instead of the TV and see what else I've forgotten.


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