Sunday, March 2, 2014

Addressing The Secondary: Post-NFL Combine Look - Safety

In our last piece, If It Ain't Steel began covering the positions the Pittsburgh Steelers are in greatest need of filling as the new NFL year approaches, as well as the players likely to fill those positions. Though free agency will play into the equation, the NFL Scouting Combine gave us the first offseason look.

Speaking of which, and in no particular order, those needs going into March 11 are cornerback (covered in previous blog), safety, wide receiver, defensive line and linebacker.

Last Sunday during the Combine, ESPN NFL Draft analyst and commentator Todd McShay football in shorts is "never a replacement for tape." While this is basically true, the annual Beefcake Bonanza does, however, bring insight into things that might otherwise go under-evaluated.

Steelers Digest's Bob Labriola recently explained how this could be when wrote that the "Combine can be a big help in the evaluation of defensive backs for this specific reason: when watching the player in a game, you never can be sure what he’s being coached to do. .... Maybe a safety is playing too deep, or not attacking the line of scrimmage. Whatever it is", the Combine helps to filter it out. - http://tinyurl.com/kxerr6u

That said, who are those safeties whose intangibles backed game film? And how do they potentially fit into the Steelers draft plans?

Calvin Pryor, Free Safety, Louisville: 5'11", 207, 4.58/40, 75 Tackles, 3 Interceptions, 4 Passes Defended, 2 Forced Fumbles* (1st round) - Draft analyst Mike Mayock calls Pryor: "a bigger, stronger Bob Sanders....flies around, hits people, a little better in box than back end."

NFL.com calls him a "big, physical, hammering run defender brings an enforcer mentality to the box and an intimidating, punishing presence to the back end. Is arguably the most violent hitter in this year's draft class..." - http://youtu.be/Io0tKa1cCeU

Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama: 6'1", 208 LBs, 4.58/40, 51 Tckl, 2 INTs, 4 PD (1st round) - The 2nd-team All-American and first-team All-SEC free safety has good size and length (32 3/8" arms). Had surgery in December, 2013 for a torn meniscus, but rebounded well at the Combine.

Has what Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin would call "good see-to-do" speed, is an effective run supporter and isn't afraid of contact. Mayock describes Clinton-Dix as "better range [than Pryor], more of a deep third or half guy, covers well, complete player." - http://youtu.be/_PWWf12zHeo

Free agency likely dictates whether either of these men will be taken in the first round. With free safety Ryan Clark likely leaving, a big hole will need filling. Would cornerback Ike Taylor be the short-term solution there? - http://tinyurl.com/krlvz8v

But being thin all over the secondary, the Steelers may also want to bring in a veteran who can complete to start rather than to have a rookie playing free safety next year.

If they do go with either of these two, however, we lean toward Clinton-Dix because, as Mayock pointed out, he has the better range of the two. The Steelers already have a hitter in the box and slot cover guy in last year's strong safety draft pick, Shamarko Thomas.

Dion Bailey, Strong Safety, USC 6'0", 201 LBs, 4.66/40, 62 Tckl, 5 INTs, 6 PD, 1 FF (2nd-3rd round) - Bailey is a classic tweener who started off playing linebacker in college before moving to strong safety. His best shot in a hybrid role (think Myron Rolle). Though he compares himself and his game to Troy Polamalu, he won't play that role in Pittsburgh. - http://tinyurl.com/mc4al6h

Terrance Brooks, FS, Florida State: 6'1", 211 LBs, 4.49/40, 56 Tckl, 2 INTs, 5 PD, 2 FF (4th round) - The former cornerback took over the starting FS role the last two seasons using his range, athleticism and ball skills to make him a truly viable option for the Steelers. Has good vision and that see-to-do thing mentioned earlier. Good tackling and jumping ability (38" vertical) has others believing the senior graduate would be a fit for the Black and Gold as well. - http://tinyurl.com/mtzukt8

Possible late-round gems -

Kenny Ladler, FS, Vanderbilt: 6'0", 207 LBs, 4.7/40, 91 Tckl, 5 INTs, 4 PD, 5 FF (5th-6th round) - A three-year starter who has experience at both safety positions. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau does at times use his safeties interchangeably, so that could work in Ladler's favor. His penchant for turnovers does also - he had 10 in 2013 alone. - http://youtu.be/i8zx3OgsOog

Brock Vereen, S, Minnesota: 5'11", 199 LBs, 4.47/40, 59 Tckl, 1 INT, 6 PD, 1 FF (6th-7th round) - Per GopherSports.com, he has extensive experience starting in the Golden Gophers' defensive backfield, so that versatility should help him. (See Ladler) - http://youtu.be/Ql5BpFzjK_M

While there are actually a few others who might be on the Steelers' radar, these here are the ones we feel could find themselves in the Steelers' Training Camp on the roster next season. By May 10th we'll know whether that will be the case.