One of them, made during his first year as coach, described a linebacker we in Western Pa. thought was a tough, consistent, Jack Ham type of player.
"That boy's as ordinary as a bowl of grits," Tomlin said, off the record, of the player his team was getting ready to play. Tomlin, that year, had picked Lawrence Timmons, and the bar was set: The new coach goes for quick-twitch over steady and safe.
However, that philosophy is changing a bit as Tomlin works into his third season. Here's what he told Steelers Digest after being asked what type of player he's targeting this draft:
"I see it with increasing clarity the longer I have my job. I'm looking for guys who are talented and have humility, because the guys who are humble and even-keeled are the guys who will come into this thing and fit in, they'll continue to grow and get better, they'll take the criticisms of their game, they'll be accountable."
For anyone who's ever played with a prima donna at any level of any sport, this is heartening news. While a player such as Vontae Davis is anything but "a bowl of grits" with his speed and outrageous musculature for a cornerback, he's been a pain in the rear end for his coaches and will ultimately be that for his next team. So cross Davis off the list, and probably any of the 26 players who reportedly tested positive for drugs at the combine.
Who's being accountable? Who's being humble? Who'll continue to grow? Who'll fit into that championship locker room by keeping his mouth shut, while at the same time raising the overall talent level?
Well, these are my guesses:
1. Darius Butler, CB, UConn – A conversation with a scout the other day convinced me that Butler is the CB for the Steelers over Alphonso Smith ("In three years, he's still going to be 5-8"). I talked to Butler at the combine and quickly sensed the required humility and business-like approach. He also has the talent with his quick feet and stick-em hands, and his return skills would make him an A-plus grab for the Steelers. Problem is, he'll probably be gone. Odds: 15-1.
2. Eben Britton, OT, Arizona – Another Tomlin-ism comes into play here. Last season, the coach was asked for his philosophy on drafting O-linemen, and he said "tackles, tackles, tackles," meaning those are the better athletes and they can always be moved inside. Well, that's the only reason Britton's listed here because it's unlikely the Steelers will reach for a finesse pass-blocker at the end of the first round. Such a pick would force Willie Colon inside. If this were Eugene Monroe, moving Colon would be the right move, but moving starters to make room for questionable rookies is too risky. Odds: 12-1.
3. Ziggy Hood, DE, Missouri – This athletic marvel was awful against the run as a gap-shooting tackle last season, and would seemingly not fit as a 3-4 end. But the Steelers love his athleticism and humility and figure he'd take well to the necessary coaching. However, a 4-3 team such as the Colts is a more likely landing spot for Hood, and if the Steelers are going to draft a player in the first round who doesn't score touchdowns, or cover those who do, it'll likely be an offensive lineman. Odds: 8-1.
4. Brian Robiskie, WR, Ohio State – The son of an NFL assistant coach, Robiskie is a real sleeper because of the run-first freshman QB at Ohio State last season. But Robiskie has the size and speed, and could also fit as a kickoff returner, not to mention as a big-and-nifty slot receiver. Big-and-nifty is by no means "boring grits," as well-coached, disciplined kids like Robiskie can appear to be. Odds: 6-1.
5. Max Unger, C/G, Oregon – The big man appears here ahead of Alex Mack because of his versatility. Unger played LT at Oregon for two years, and that spikes the Steelers' grades. He's also adept at pulling after making a shotgun snap, which scouts say is rare. This player might be the best bet on this board, since the favorite is more highly regarded than originally expected. Odds: 4-1.
6. Eric Wood, C/G, Louisville – Not quite as tall and rangy as Unger, who could put on another 20 pounds, but Wood is more passionate about the game. In the Senior Bowl, he not only handled B.J. Raji, but showed surprising move skills as a guard, which were reaffirmed at the combine. While those move skills will never resemble Dermontti Dawson's, Wood's work ethic and attitude should spark flashbacks of Mike Webster, which fits Tomlin's overriding draft theme. Odds: 5-2.