Saturday, April 20, 2013

Steelers Pre-draft Visits Show That Defense Is Still A Priority



As the NFL's pre-draft visit period comes to a close, the total tally of the players entertained by the Pittsburgh Steelers tells a familiar tale. Back on January 8th, If It Ain't Steel wrote an article that said the fixing of the Steelers starts with defense. Apparently the Steelers themselves agree.

Each NFL team is allowed 30 pre-draft visits. The Steelers total of 24 is more heavily represented by the defensive side (17) of the ball than the offensive side (7) of it. While there are holes over the entirety of the roster, the defensive side of the ball is...(ahem) more experienced and mature. Three of the four starters in the defensive backfield alone carry an average age of 33 as of the 2013 season.

Aside from the array of pass rushers brought in (and I am a firm believer in the theory that you can't have too many players who can rush the passer), two things stand out when looking at the visiting players. The first being that the cornerbacks brought in indicate where the Steelers will be looking for that much needed youth and depth.

It is of interest that of the cornerbacks making visits - Florida State's Xavier Rhodes, Utah State's Will Davis (whose interesting story is linked here: http://tinyurl.com/cjh26ad), UConn's Blidi Wreh-Wilson (pictured above), LSU's Tharold Simon and William & Mary's B.J. Webb - all but one are mid-round prospects. Are the third through the fifth rounds where they will look to pull the trigger on the position?

The Steelers let unrestricted free agent CB Keenan Lewis walk via free agency, so that leaves Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and William Gay as the only three who could be considered locks to make the 53-man roster next season. Bringing up the rear, as it were, behind them are Curtis Brown, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Josh Victorian, Isaiah Green and Justin King. Conventional wisdom dictates that only one or two of those five players make it onto the 53 man roster, and the odds favor only one if the Steelers invest a mid-round pick on another cornerback.

The other thing that stood out was the lack of true five-technique defensive linemen to make their way to the South Side. Although Steelers.com says Utah’s Star Lotulelei, Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, BYU’s Ziggy Ansah (who himself could also play OLB) and Florida State’s Bjoern Werner are the top defensive line prospects in this month's NFL Draft (and players the Steelers could potentially select), none of those were brought in. In fact, none of the defensive linemen brought in were true defensive lineman. - http://tinyurl.com/cywjc8r

Though Clemson's DE Malliciah Goodman was a pre-draft visitor, and though Georgia's DE Cornelius Washington has been linked to the Steelers as high as the second round and as low as the fifth round, the signing of Steve McLendon was likely an indication that any such pick would be in the lower rounds for depth and special teams purposes.

One such player to consider might be Utah's Joe Kruger who declared early for the draft following his junior season.

Per Gil Brandt of NFL.com, "Kruger - the younger brother of Paul Kruger, who was a member of the Super Bowl XLVII-champion Baltimore Ravens and just signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Cleveland Browns - stood on all of his numbers from the combine. Kruger looked very good in the positional workouts." - http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/1749704/joe-kruger

"Paul ran me through what this was like for him, what the experience was like, how to calm myself down when things get tense," Joe Kruger said. "Things are going well. I'm prepared for it. I've met a lot of good people."

Kruger, who led the team with six sacks, had two forced fumbles, an interception for a touchdown and blocked a field goal, has good size (6'6 3/8" 261 lbs.), quickness, and arm length. Has received plaudits for his effort and ability to bull-rush offensive linemen and he says he can play "all four positions on the defensive line."

The pre-draft visits on the whole were:
DE/OLB John Simon (3rd round prospect) - Ohio State;
RB Christine Michael (4th rd pros.) - Texas A&M;
ILB Vince Williams (7th rd pros.) - Florida State;
OLB Jarvis Jones (1st rd pros.) - Georgia;
OLB Jamie Collins (2-3 rd pros.) - Southern Mississippi;
OLB Khaseem Greene (2-3 rd pros.) - Rutgers;
SS Jonathan Meeks (7-FA rd pros.) - Clemson;
S Phillip Thomas (2-3 rd pros.) - Fresno State;
ILB Michael Mauti (5th rd pros.) - Penn State;
DE Malliciah Goodman (4th rd pros.) - Clemson;
WR Josh Boyce (2-3 rd pros.) - Texas Christian;
RB Johnathan Franklin (2nd rd pros.) - UCLA;
SS Shamarko Thomas (3rd rd pros.) - Syracuse;
CB Will Davis (5th rd pros.) - Utah State;
G Nic Embernate (6-7 rd pros.) - San Diego State;
CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson (3rd rd pros.) - Connecticut;
CB Xavier Rhodes (1st rd pros.) - FSU;
LB Sio Moore (4th rd pros.) - Connecticut.
CB Tharold Simon (4-5 rd pros.) - LSU;
CB B.W. Webb (4-5 rd pros.) - William & Mary;
SS Duke Williams (5-6 rd pros.) - UNR;
RB Eddie Lacy (1-2 rd pros.) - Alabama;
WR Justin Brown (7-FA pros.) - Oklahoma;
and WR Tavarres King (4-5 rd pros.) - Georgia.


(This list will be updated if any more pre-draft visits occur on Monday or Tuesday.)

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TIDBITS: "Heath (Miller) is working out and he looks great," Ben Roethlisberger said during an appearance on 102.5 WDVE. "He's walking without a limp. From what I saw I think he looked good." - http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2013/4/17/4235778/heath-miller-injury-update-looks-great

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Antonio Brown is grateful to have Emmanuel Sanders back. - http://tinyurl.com/c5uusqc

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In "the most unkindest cut of all," Ex-Steeler Harrison signs with the Cincinnati Bengals. Here's a photo of him with a Bengals teammate in their uniforms, and a link to the article detailing the signing.
- http://triblive.com/sports/steelers/3876184-74/harrison-contract-bengals#axzz2QwWOZoyt