Big men hard to find

The Pittsburgh Steelers may have found some exciting offensive players, but the foundation remain shaky.

PITTSBURGH – Mean Joe Greene walked into his office Sunday morning, smiled and told a couple of reporters, "It's a great day to find some big men."

But the rest of the Steelers' front office wasn't listening. The team didn't draft a big man until the end of the fourth round when they selected Texas left tackle Tony Hills. They didn't draft a defensive lineman at all.

"You just can't get everybody," said director of football operations Kevin Colbert. "We didn't go in looking for a particular position. We weren't going to be locked down."

The Steelers are happy with a draft in which they took advantage of the value that came their way. That's how they ended up with running back Rashard Mendenhall and wide receiver Limas Sweed in the first two rounds. And they did draft a defensive end in the third round, but Bruce Davis projects to outside linebacker in the Steelers' scheme.

Davis is a 6-2½, 252-pounder from UCLA. He has the size of Joey Porter, and the demeanor.

"Oh, he's talkative all right," said Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler. "But we've had our share of those types here and I'm fine with it. I like his kind of energy."

Butler said Davis will work on either side at outside linebacker, and also said Davis could play inside if necessary. Butler also said James Harrison remains a future option at inside linebacker.

Davis ranked second in UCLA history with 29 sacks while playing defensive end. But at the Senior Bowl he played outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme and showed the fluidity of hips and the change-of-direction skills to make the projection to linebacker an easy one for the Steelers.

"I actually played outside linebacker my sophomore year at UCLA," said Davis. "I feel very comfortable there and feel that I have the skills to do so."

Davis' father, Bruce Davis Sr., spent 11 years in the NFL as an offensive tackle with the Oakland Raiders and Houston Oilers from 1979-89.

"It was the best experience that I could have as a little boy," Davis said. "Every kid wants to grow up being like their dad, and I'm no exception."

The Steelers were scheduled to pick 123rd in the fourth round, but traded with the New York Giants down to pick No. 130. The Steelers acquired a sixth-round pick for moving down those seven spots.

With pick 130, the Steelers drafted Tony Hills, a 6-5½, 305-pounder who started 24 games for Texas at left tackle before fracturing his fibula last November.

Hills was the third Steelers draft pick (along with Davis and Limas Sweed) from Houston, Texas.

"He played behind Jonathan Scott for two years at Texas and Jonathan is starting for the Detroit Lions right now," said Steelers line coach Larry Zierlein. "I have friends on the staff down at Texas who feel he's a better prospect than Scott was. They think the kid has more upside than Jonathan did."

Hills suffered from a nerve condition known as "drop foot" in high school, a condition from which most athletes don't recover.

"That's what they told me," said Hills. "I regained full functions and I guess the rest is history."

The drafting of the tackle doesn't mean Willie Colon will move to guard. Zierlein is excited about Chris Kemoeatu's potential to replace Alan Faneca at left guard. Zierlein also expects a full recovery from Marvel Smith and expects Darnell Stapleton to help with the depth at guard. But Zierlein's focus Sunday was on Hills.

"When I went down to work him out, I was really surprised at how big he was," Zierlein said. "He has long arms. As a former tight end he's a pretty good athlete. His strength probably needs to develop a little bit. He is athletic and he's big, and if you have those two things that's a good start."

In the fifth round, the Steelers took another project at quarterback in Dennis Dixon (6-3, 195), a skinny athletic type who tore his ACL last season while playing for Oregon. Some teams had taken Dixon off their draft boards as a medical risk, and some scouts believe his mechanics to be poor. But the Steelers – as they did with Tee Martin, Brian St. Pierre and Omar Jacobs in prior fifth rounds in the Kevin Colbert era – drafted Dixon for his upside.

"He's had some big games. He throws the ball down the field," said Steelers quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson. "I think he's a young guy with a lot of potential."

Dixon played right field in the Atlanta Braves organization but said his baseball career ended with his knee injury. Dixon said he won't be ready to practice for another month.

"Dixon's an exciting prospect," said Colbert. "He really did a lot of great things until he had his season cut short with the injury. We expect him to be ready for training camp."

"He's a quarterback first and foremost," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "But we are excited about the potential things he can do in packages."

With two picks in the sixth round, the Steelers chose Iowa inside linebacker Mike Humpal (6-2, 242) and West Virginia free safety Ryan Mundy (6-1, 215), a former prep phenom at Woodland Hills who spent four years at Michigan, graduated and was allowed to transfer to WVU without sitting out a season because he enrolled as a graduate student.

"Humpal's a very productive inside linebacker," said Colbert. "He's very strong, very steady, very smart, very instinctive, covers receivers, and does some things on special teams.

"Mundy took advantage of a transfer rule that's no longer in place. When we talked to people at West Virginia, they felt Ryan was a huge part of getting their defense together. He's a highly intelligent kid."

Without a seventh-round pick, the Steelers went to work Sunday night signing a dozen or so free agents. Tomlin was asked if defensive ends are the priority.

"Those are tough animals to sign after the draft," he said.

And they're obviously tough to find in the draft.


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