Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Finding Leadership In Draft No Easy Task

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert spoke with Steelers.com on Monday, covering a list of subjects. Among them, the cutting of veteran players.

Speaking on the former value of released players Hines Ward, Aaron Smith and James Farrior, Coach Tomlin said, “Absolutely, these guys were very critical components of the transition. These guys were the leaders of this team when I got here (in 2007),” said Tomlin. “They were leaders within the locker room, and they did an awesome job of taking my charge and being great leaders in that way – supporting me in the things I wanted to do with this football team. So, obviously there’s a level of appreciation there that adds to the difficulty of necessary decisions.”

Of life without them Coach Tomlin said, "I think we have a window of what life would be like without these men, from the 2011 season." http://t.co/rwBZL8fz

With these men now gone, depth and leadership are certainly now in question. And because of these releases, the main Steelers draft needs have shaped up very clearly: nose tackle, offensive line and inside linebacker.

Finding players to replace them talent-wise is certainly possible. Even intangibles like attitude, football intelligence and determination can be quantified in order to be drafted. But leadership, that's a different story.

According to former NFL coach Tom Landry, "Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you're in control, they're in control."

That isn't necessarily something that can simply be drafted. Leaders in college football don't always translate into leaders in the pros, for one thing. But, more importantly, rookies coming in this year won't even necessarily make the field on defense. So, even knowing who might fill those roles is, in the immediate, problematic at best.

May the Steelers, therefore, pursue such a player or two in free agency? Not likely. Certainly, the Steelers have looked to free agency in the past, and with success. Bettis, Farrior, Ryan Clark, Kevin Greene and Jerricho Cotchery were all acquired that way.

But, is there any way possible the Steelers go after or could afford to grab, say, a guard in such as Grubbs or Mathis in free agency? Umm...no.

That means the Steelers stay in-house for now to fill these roles. Larry Foote takes over Buck (linebacker on the strong side and calls defensive front seven) and wears the green sticker on his helmet next year with Sylvester rotating in...with maybe Dont'a Hightower as well (sorry, couldn't help myself).  

Who else carries leadership roles with Hines, Smith and Farrior gone? Keisel on the defensive line, Clark in the secondary and Roethlisberger on offense. Roethlisberger, as Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review pointed out, is the unquestioned leader of the offense now.

That having been said, keep an eye on such players as offensive guard Peter Konz (Wisc), defensive/nose tackle Mike Martin (Mich), linebacker James-Michael Johnson (Nevada-Reno), free safety Janzen Jackson (McNee St.), offensive guard Brandon Brooks (Miami, Oh), running back Isaiah Pead (Cincinnati) and Marvin McNutt.

Marvin McNutt is a 6'2 1/2" 215 lbs wide receiver out of Iowa who has the work ethic and toughness that might just fit the Steelers style. He has 4.5 speed in the 40 yard dash and always battles for the ball. He started all 13 games at wide receiver and led the Hawkeyes in receptions (53) and yards (861) and was second in touchdown receptions (8). It will be interesting to see if he goes from college black and gold to professional black and gold.

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In the same interview with the team's official website, Colbert said the Steelers are done cutting "for the time being." He said that, though they still do not have a salary cap number, "We feel good where we are from cap standpoint."

As was said in the last blog post, the Steelers didn't use the franchise tag on Mike Wallace. Colbert stated that they just didn't have the cap room to use the tag. Colbert said, though, the Steelers still hold the cards with Wallace in regards to matching any offer he should get in free agency.

"It will be our call.", Colbert went on to say. "He could get an offer from another team, but ultimately we get to make the decision on Mike (Wallace)."

I'm sure no one has heard about this, but there has been talk of a Bounty program with the New Orleans Saints. Well, Colbert was asked about that as well with regard to the Steelers. Colbert says they would never condone bounties.

″To intentionally set out to injure another player, there's absolutely no room for that in our game or any other game,″ Colbert said. "We are comfortable our house is in order in regards to bounties."

Colbert also said the organization does its due diligence in the locker room to make sure nothing like that happens.

In a non-related story, a certain Las Vegas resident Steelers fan and blogger offered $10 to James Harrison as a bounty amount for Roger Goodell. Don't worry, it's not illegal, I'm an unrestricted free agent.