Terp41: Who did the Steelers interview at the Senior Bowl?
The only name mentioned publicly has been Myron Rolle, the safety from Florida State. Even though every team talks to just about every player at these job fairs, the Steelers prefer to keep a low profile. I like that, and I respect that the only interviewee known to the public is a Rhodes Scholar.
Vambram: Of all the players you've scouted, who impressed you the most in terms of being able to positively make an impact his rookie season? And who has the potential to become an excellent player but will need about three years to become a starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers?
I like how you say "the players you've scouted" as if I'm someone with a professional approach to this, but I just watch them all on TV. One player who strikes me as being ready is Brandon Spikes. I realize he'd play one of the most difficult and cerebral positions on the team, buck linebacker, but when I compare Spikes to Rolando McClain, I see a lesser talent but a player who's better prepared to step in, probably because McClain is coming out as an underclassman. At the same position, I have confidence in a guy like Sean Lee being able to step in and play early. I also believe Kyle Wilson or Devin McCourty would help right away, if not as a starter at cornerback as a big contributor on special teams while playing in sub-packages.
To answer your second question, center Matt Tennant wouldn't need three years to add weight, but he's an excellent prospect who'd need some time to mature physically. I'd assume the same goes for the young free safeties such as Earl Thomas and Chad Jones. Thomas came out after his redshirt sophomore season, and Jones, a junior, spent time with the baseball program.
Vandilay Industries: Might the Steelers do a franchise-and-trade with Casey Hampton?
There are some benefits to franchising Hampton, and one is the ability to trade him for draft picks. Another benefit is the shadow of doubt the labor negotiations have cast over the 2011 season, making even a two-year deal a bit more risky. But I just don't see the Steelers going against the wishes of the player. Alan Faneca warned them against using the franchise tag, and they didn't. I just see the same with Hampton.
Fellasheowed: Is the desire to upgrade at inside linebacker an organizational priority? And how does getting some of those 220 to 250-pounders that Mike Tomlin says are the key to special teams figure into making the draft board?
I'm not sure I understand your second question, but the Steelers had better understand your first one. I haven't talked to anyone about it, but I assume the inside linebacker position will be upgraded. They've addressed it already by signing special-teamer Derrick Doggett out of the CFL, but he's a mere 210-pounder and would make the team only as a coverage ace. In that department, he'll compete with backup inside linebacker Patrick Bailey and perhaps Rocky Boiman, if the 30-year-old journeyman is re-signed. As you can see, these are just names that occupy the depth chart. None of them has inspired the confidence to take over if either of the starters, James Farrior or Lawrence Timmons, is injured. Keyaron Fox is the only serviceable backup inside and he's entering the final year of his contract, as is the top OLB backup, Andre Frazier. Depth is a big question mark, particularly inside, as is the future beyond the 35-year-old Farrior. Right now, all the Steelers have behind their first four linebackers are those special-teamers to whom you alluded. They need a legitimate prospect, or two.
DMPP26: I agree with your calls for a fullback. That said, how is Sean McHugh coming along from his injury?
My understanding is that TE/FB McHugh could've played at some point during the regular season, but the Steelers put him on IR to keep him away from the TE-starved Bengals. Good thing, because with only one legitimate lead-blocking prospect in the draft – Kentucky's John Connor – the Steelers are FB-starved.
Mightyveg: I just saw the Pro Football Weekly mock draft that had Eric Berry falling to pick 10. I doubt that will happen, but would you be willing to trade up to get him there? Or do the Steelers have too many holes to fill?
Yes. He's the one guy for whom I'd trade up if he fell to No. 10. Berry's not only a terrific safety prospect, but is said to have the speed and ability to play cornerback if necessary. That's a wide-ranging array of talent if you ask me. He'd provide the Steelers with an instant upgrade in the secondary, and should've been mentioned above as one of the players who's ready to step in and perform as a rookie.
The PFW mock draft also has the Steelers passing on cornerback Joe Haden. I'm sure the capable author of the mock draft, Nolan Nawrocki, is just trying to mix things up, but Haden would answer some prayers as well if he fell to pick 18.
Mineola: I know I'm a little late on the topic, but why wasn't Stanley Druckenmiller brought in with the other new investors? It just seemed to me to be a perfect fit – a serious Steelers fan with tons of cash. The Rooneys took on a lot of debt to take over from the other brothers. Will this hurt them at all in an uncapped year?
I don't think it would hurt them in this uncapped year, but I'd get nervous if the league did away with the salary cap permanently. That's when we'd see it turn into the Wild West, or Major League Baseball. As for the Rooneys and the debt they've taken on, they've said it won't handcuff them in negotiations, and, looking at the contracts given to Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison and Max Starks, I have no choice but to believe them.
Stanley Druckenmiller didn't get into the negotiations in the summer of 2008 just to become one of the investors. He offered to buy the team for close to $800 million and backed out when the Rooneys couldn't come close to an agreement (according to Druckenmiller). If you recall, Druckenmiller's plan was to buy the team and allow Dan Rooney to run it for a few years before taking over completely.
Stiggle: Do you sense the Steelers' drafting style has changed at all with Mike Tomlin here? More specifically, does he have the ultimate veto power that it seemed Bill Cowher had? Or is it more collaborative now?
I haven't sensed that it's changed, but I do believe Tomlin is better at it than Cowher. That's just my hunch. I sense that Tomlin, a self-described "personnel junkie," pays more attention to the college prospects and doesn't have the ego of a Cowher in the war room. That's just my sense of it. I don't think "the Steelers' way" has changed. It still remains a collaborative effort between the coaching staff and the personnel department. They will disagree, and that's actually been encouraged ever since the fierce arguments in the early 1970s led to so many great draft picks.
Mightyveg: I forced myself to watch Super Bowl XXX the other night. Boy that was painful. To use one of Tomlin's sayings, the stage was clearly too big for Neil O'Donnell. I know this is ancient history, and I don't remember if your tenure started by then, but what's the inside poop on that last interception? Did the receiver "fail to adjust" his pattern as the announcers said? Or was it simply another rushed, wide throw by O'Donnell?
I began covering the team that season, and I remember O'Donnell not pointing fingers in the post-game locker room. Cowher did say the second interception was "a miscommunication," meaning someone made a mistake on the hot read when Dallas blitzed. Corey Holliday took off deep, Andre Hastings cut in, and O'Donnell threw out – to cornerback Larry Brown. The media has always blamed Hastings, but the play unfolded within O'Donnell's field of vision. How could it not be the quarterback's fault?