Boss at Safety?

Building a championship team is like putting together a puzzle. Some pieces fit easily and others not quite so. And some need to be forced into place with a little push of Cowher's creative mind.<br><br> It sounds downright crazy, taking a top OLB prospect and converting him to a strong safety. But, the Steelers have done it before with Carnell Lake.

Coming out of college, Lake was a linebacker with a safety's body and speed. He changed the way strong safeties played in the league and allowed the Steelers to develop the fabled Zone Blitz.

With Boss Bailey you have a linebacker with a linebacker's body but a defensive back's speed. Could the Boss be the next difference-maker? Here's a vote that he might, if the Steelers are willing to wait one year.

If the Steelers take Bailey, they can start out grooming him to be the cornerstone of the secondary for 2004. If that plan proves to be ill fated, they can always move him back to OLB with the assurance that he could easily step into Jason Gildon's position in the 2004 season.

Although the thought of this sort of "Plan A/Plan B" approach for a first round draft pick may have many of you cringing right now, for the most part Bill Cowher has been effective taking players and grooming them for an alternate position.

There are three other factors that could influence the Steelers to look at Bailey with this "Plan A/Plan B" scenario in mind.

First, his physical stats are ridiculous. "I've never seen anything like Boss,'' Chip Smith of Competitive Edge Sports said. "He ran a 4.28 in our testing and (last week) he jumped 46 inches in the vertical. ... It's gonna solidify him as a top-10 pick, and that's what we're expecting."

Second, he hails from Georgia, the new favorite hotspot of Steeler scouts. Kendrell Bell was a Bulldog. Verron Haynes was a Bulldog. Both players are important parts of the future for the Steelers. Bailey may be the next. The true extent of Bailey's freakish athletic abilities should be well known to the Steeler scouting staff by now.

Third, it's not impossible for him to fall to the 27th pick. Although Mel Kiper has him listed as one of the top 25 prospects and Sports Illustrated has Bailey going at 18 to New Orleans, there's a big knock on Bailey's tackling ability, and that may be enough to push him farther down the list.

The strong safety position is undergoing a revolution. Strong safeties are now asked to be as strong and tough as linebackers but as fleet of foot as cornerbacks. They must stop the run just as well as cover the newer, faster tight ends. The aforementioned knock on Bailey's tackling ability pertains to the OLB position. At strong safety, where his coverage skills become much more important, Bailey fits the mold perfectly.

Even if Bailey winds up at LOLB with the Steelers after all is said and done, you're still looking at an outstanding athlete at OLB who will have no problem dropping back to cover the tight end but fell down to the 27th pick for the Steelers because one part of his game may need improvement.

Now, this crazy proposition depends on a few pieces to fall in place. First and foremost, the Steelers must sign a starting safety in free agency. They seem to be edging toward the strong safety rather than free safety. That would mean a possible Cory Hall or Sammy Knight signing in the next coming weeks.

Then, Bailey needs to fall to the 27th pick. That may be the more elusive piece of puzzle, but one the Steelers may indeed find on the table as the best available athlete come April 26th.

--The Steel Apple

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