NebbSteeler: I noticed your surprise on the message board at all of the predictions of the Steelers drafting Jared Odrick. Do we want/need another defensive end with our first-round pick? Is the available talent so thin that we would settle for another DE?
That's one position at which you never overlook value. But in looking at the depth chart at defense end, the Steelers have Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel and last year's rookies Ziggy Hood and Sunny Harris. Travis Kirschke might retire and Nick Eason could leave in free agency. You do the math.
SteelChowder: With an uncapped year likely upon us, many fans are focusing on teams that will spend above the current cap limit. However, some teams will also spend less than the current salary floor that's in place. Do you have any sense of where the Steelers will spend in this spectrum? Would you characterize the Steelers as being a financially healthy franchise right now?
The Steelers have said they're going to treat this like any normal, capped year, and that seems to be the way they're proceeding. So I presume they'll have the kind of bloated payroll that comes with a team expecting to contend. And, yes, I'd characterize the Steelers as being financially healthy.
Mightyveg: Who are the second-tier free agents who could help us at linebacker and defensive back?
The problem with bringing in a free-agent linebacker is that players such as Gary Brackett and Scott Fujita would sign on to be starters. Are you ready to cut James Farrior? And a reserve type, such as Matt Wilhelm, Danny Clark or Chike Okeafor, would provide no more help than the guy who's already in place, Keyaron Fox. In my opinion, it's a position at which a draft pick should be groomed.
As for the defensive backs, I've previously talked about Leigh Bodden, 29 in September, as the only attractive mid-tier prospect in comparison to 33-year-olds Dre Bly and Anthony Henry and 31-year-old Ken Lucas. At safety, Tomlin may want to reunite with one of his old players from Tampa Bay, Jermaine Phillips, but he's 31 and coming off a serious thumb injury, and who a month ago was arrested for allegedly attempting to strangle his wife. Tomlin's old college teammate, Darren Sharper, will also be available, but he'll turn 35 during the next season. More interesting, in my opinion, is Sean Jones, the former Browns SS who played FS last year for the Eagles. He's only 28.
Tannybrown: If the three-point stance goes the way of the four-point stance, what will be the affects? Vic Ketchman argued that running teams could easily benefit since defensive linemen could only get so low on obvious running downs. Also, how are your New Year's resolutions coming?
I just can't see the league doing away with the three-point stance. It would be just the edge college football would use to regain its pre-eminence in the sports world.
In the last so-called golden age of passing, about 15 years ago, I had to cover a high school game between the two biggest schools in the area. They were rivals and both had adopted the run-and-shoot offense. For this game, both teams also unveiled new defenses for the run-and-shoot, whereby the defensive linemen mirrored their offensive counterparts by standing up at the line of scrimmage. So they proceeded to slap each other for four quarters in an utter disgrace to the game. The winner advanced to meet Woodland Hills in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs. Woodland Hills – home of Jason Taylor, Steve Breaston, Ryan Mundy, Rob Gronkowski and many more pros and soon-to-be pros – rushed for over 400 yards in a rout. I never saw that slap-style form of defense again, and hope I never do.
My main New Year's resolution was to get back on the workout trail, but I've been sidetracked by a health issue. My old Boot Camp gang is reuniting at the end of the month, which should be the right time for me. So I'm looking at March 1 as my New Year. Ask again on March 15.
Steelmann58: How many linebackers do you see the Steelers drafting? And what do you think of CB Donovan Warren?
Well, they'll need someone inside. They finished the season with OLB Patrick Bailey working inside, and the roster opening was probably attractive to the two CFL players, Derrick Doggett and Rey Williams, who recently worked out for the team (Doggett signed). The only other ILBs on the roster, aside from the starters, are Johnny Williams, who had a cup of coffee with the practice squad last year, and Rocky Boiman, the street free agent whose contract will expire March 5. So you'd think the Steelers will draft one inside guy, and probably an outside guy to compete with Bailey and Andre Frazier for one of the two backup jobs.
As for Warren, I couldn't tell you much about him. I heard he has a poor attitude, so I never watched him play. From what I've read he's not Steelers material.
Mightyveg: What does the organization think of Justin Hartwig's performance last season? Do they view center and right guard as the weak links in the line?
I'm afraid to ask what they think of Hartwig because I don't want to hear any other opinion than the one I have. In my opinion, the sooner they get rid of him, the better. But he does have a couple years remaining on a cheap contract. Judging from Bruce Arians' playcalling and then his body language as he avoided ensuing questions, Arians doesn't think much of the Steelers' interior, either. Departed OL coach Larry Zierlein believes backup center Doug Legursky has a fine future, so maybe he'll be the guy soon.
Choltzeakin: You seem to feel strongly that ILB is a draft priority. But why isn't Keyaron Fox in the mix at ILB? I'm more worried about the depth at OLB. Would O'Brien Schofield be worth a seventh-round flyer?
I thought Fox showed plenty in the 2008 preseason and then on special teams throughout the regular season, but the Steelers responded by letting him dangle for quite a while in free agency before signing him to a mere two-year contract. So it doesn't appear that the football people around the league think much of him, in comparison to the media and fans. I wonder if I'm missing something, because Fox appears to be a decent player. Dick LeBeau said as much by giving him snaps in place of Lawrence Timmons on run downs at various points in the season.
As for Schofield, yes, I'd spend a late-round pick on him. He played DE for Wisconsin and showed me the fluid hips required to play OLB in a 3-4 scheme. In fact, he was showing that to everyone at the Senior Bowl before tearing a knee ligament. And that's the hitch, the damaged goods, but I'd be willing to spend a late pick and give him a medical redshirt.
Steelfannatticc: Are the CFL and UFL signings a trend that started with Mike Tomlin?
College scout Phil Kreidler has been poring over CFL tapes for years. I remember when they had arranged a tryout for Jeff Garcia that, if I remember correctly, was cancelled by a storm. Garcia then went on to sign elsewhere and begin a long career. So I don't view the recent signing of Doggett and today's workout of Williams, coming a year after the signing of Stefan Logan, as more trend than coincidence.
Patrick Robinson, in spite of the poor tape he put out this past season, seems to be the darling of scouts, who love his footwork. If he runs a great time at the combine, and answers questions the right way about his poor senior season, he could be a mid first-round pick. I like Kyle Wilson. He had a great Senior Bowl and, even though he's not Steelers-style rugged at CB, he was Boise State's boundary corner and that always impresses the Steelers. I think Wilson's tough enough, and he certainly has the coverage and ball skills to be a first-rounder. The CB I need to watch again, a guy about whom I'm hearing raves, is Iowa underclassman Amari Spievey. He's built like a cover corner but is supposedly tough as nails.
As for two players who could surprise by falling, that's a tough question. Since I've seen three mocks from intelligent sources that have Haden falling, I'll name him as one. And let me lump all of those overrated QBs together and say that's another.