Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Do Recent Pro Day Visits Indicate Who Steelers Will Draft?


by Jayden and Jason

No matter how you say it -- "Be more efficient on offense" ... "Move the football better" ... "Take advantage of opportunities presented" ... "Get more playmakers!" -- it all still means the same thing: score more points.

At various points in the 2012 season, all of those were challenges. Failing those challenges, and now facing the exodus of some key players, puts the team in a unique position: to rebuild rather than to reload. Certain recent pro day visits may just shed some light on where the Pittsburgh Steelers may be looking in 2013 NFL Draft. And despite the contention of previous posts from this blog, those looks might just be toward offense.

Regardless of the losses sustained in the recent week, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said at the NFL's annual spring meetings that they won't knee jerk themselves into feeling must replace needs. "I don't like to use the word 'need,'" said Colbert. "I never did. I never will. It's going to be 'wants.' We don't know yet. We don't know until we get through free agency. We're going to continue to monitor every guy who's available."

Those "wants" were hinted at via visits to Michigan State and West Virginia respectively.

The inability to find a stable running back amongst the stable of running backs last season was a pet peeve for both Steelers fans and head coach Mike Tomlin. He said as much while answering media questions in Phoenix at aforementioned NFL meetings.

When asked about the running back situation, the loss of Rashard Mendenhall and tendered RBs Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, Tomlin said, "Obviously, we need to add to the pool of talent we have at that position." - http://tinyurl.com/bun5lzr

Could their visit to East Lansing last week be an indicator as from where the 'adding to that pool of talent' might come? Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell hopes so.

Hopefully they pull the trigger," said Bell, who used Wednesday's pro day 'to show off his hands and route-running abilities in receiving drills.' The Steelers were well represented at the pro day, with Tomlin, Colbert, running backs coach Kirby Wilson, and tight ends coach James Daniel being in attendance. Tomlin had even taken Bell dining the previous night, possibly being a further sign of the team's interest in him. - http://tinyurl.com/cey879k

If so, the Steelers would be getting a strong 6'1", 230-pound back with quick feet, very good balance and knows how to run low to the ground through contact. Deceptively light on his feet, yet tough to bring down. A smooth accelerator and downhill runner, he ran a 4.6/40 at the NFL Combine (though, he's also been clocked at as low as 4.52).

He seems to like the number three - 3,346 career rushing yards and 33 touchdowns in three years at Michigan St. and will likely be found in the third round - and isn't lacking in confidence when recounting his abilities.

"I feel like I can do everything," Bell said. "I can be in the game on third-and-1, I can be in the game on third-and-10 or I can be in the game on first-and-10. I can be a punt returner and a kick returner, I'm great in pass protection and get a consistent 5 yards every carry. I just feel like I'm one of the more complete backs."

Bell wasn't the only one wined...well, just dined that Tuesday night. As was stated, tight ends coach James Daniel was in attendance at the pro day and as the previously quoted article pointed out, the 6'5" 280-pound Sims would seem to be an option "for a team that plays a hard-nosed, physical style like the Spartans do."

Sims' possibility of being drafted by the Steelers dropped dramatically with the re-signing of Matt Spaeth. But the addition of the sixth-round compensatory pick in this year's draft allows that possibility to remain, however small it may be.

As we've said before, speed can be replaced. As awesome as Mike Wallace's numbers and accomplishments were, there was a bit of a 'Reggie Jackson effect' involved with him: along with the home-run bombs, there were also the strikeouts - dropped passes, fumbles, subpar route-running ability and an overall attitude.

The former, speed, can be found in the draft, the latter they can do without. We've already highlighted several who would be viable choices. Wide receivers highlighted to this point have been Cordarrelle Patterson, Robert Woods and Ryan Swope (http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-steelers-at-nfl-combine-week-in.html), as well as Marquis Goodwin and Tavon Austin (http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2013/02/whether-offense-or-defense-steelers.html).

Being West Virginia Mountaineers football fans at If It Ain't Steel, we know those players very well. We've actually written more than once on first-round prospect Tavon Austin and his 1,289 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, 643 rushing yards and three touchdowns and 978 return yards and two touchdowns. Or in other words, Tavon Awesome. Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider and Steelers Digest hasn't exactly been reticent on Austin, either. - http://tinyurl.com/cp9uwrw

But on his "Young Soon-To-Be Money" teammate, Stedman Bailey, we've been negligent. Though the first choice of one half of If It Ain't Steel (Jason) was Bailey, the better half (Jayden) preferred Austin from the beginning. Well, it's time to shed light STUDman's way.



Bailey, who projects as a third rounder, had 114 receptions and led the country with 25 touchdowns in 2012 (39 total in his career). WVU's most reliable and productive receiver the past two years, Bailey combines precise route running, above-average blocking, great eye-to-hand tracking of the ball and durability in a 5'10", 193-pound package that puts one in the mind of a young Hines Ward.

Bailey's speed isn't world class, but he's steadily increased it from a reported 4.57/40 in college, to a 4.52 at the NFL Combine, to a 4.48 at the other pro day being considered in this article. - http://tinyurl.com/ctd4w76

Colbert and Tomlin spent a good amount of time with both Austin and Bailey, and the latter could be a choice in the third round if the former is gone by pick No. 17 in April. But don't just take our word for it, John Harris of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. - http://triblive.com/sports/johnharris/3680790-74/bailey-steelers-austin#axzz2O3ZYsXxK

Either player would be a great fit for the Steelers. Austin being ideal for the West Coast-style offense, turning a four-yard hitch into a 40-yard gain, or taking a GO pattern to the house: "I'm a smart runner, whenever I touch the ball I turn into a running back....I'm the best all-around player in the draft. - http://tinyurl.com/c8q8ptr

Going deep with Bailey would be different as he doesn't quite have the explosive, break-away speed that Austin has. What he does have, though, is the ability to track the ball as well as anyone, and to go up and fight for it and catch it with his hands. Thus allowing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to improve on the 8-37 and 317 passing yards in splash plays (21+ yards) from 2012.

So whether it's Austin (Jim Wexell: "Whoever passes on that kid is going to regret it. Don't care if he's 4-8"), Bailey (Dave-Te' Thomas of Scouting Services, Inc.: "Bailey is the best value pick in the draft, and the best route runner"), or Bell (Todd McShay: "He's a guy that - even though he's bigger, and a physical back - that you can flex him out in the slot"), expect the Steelers to draft one of them.

All three wouldn't be bad, either.

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TIDBITS: Tomlin tells critics "See you in the Fall." We won't see Max Starks or Casey Hampton, though. - http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/sports/steelers/tomlin-to-steelers-critics-see-you-in-the-fall-679961/

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Tomlin also isn't afraid to say that the Steelers are a team in transition...despite what Colbert attests. - http://triblive.com/sports/steelers/3685449-74/tomlin-steelers-season#axzz2O3ZYsXxK