Steelers Draft Needs

March 27, 2007

Pitt Basketball season just ended and the NHL playoffs are just around the corners, but it’s NEVER too early to start talking about the Steelers and the NFL Draft. When you look at the Steelers and the up-coming NFL Draft, it’s hard to pinpoint one position of need. This is still a good football team returning on paper, but many of the parts are getting a tad older. The Steelers could use some more depth on both the offensive and defensive lines, they could also benefit from a bigger, short-yardage running back. And then, the more I think about it, another good young wide receiver would be nice. So, which one of the aforementioned positions should the Steelers address? Neither. The Steelers need to draft a position that has burned them in the past: The Hybrid Pass Rusher. It looks like new Head Coach Mike Tomlin will flip-flop between the 4-3 and 3-4 defensive fronts, so a quality end rusher will be vital. Preferably one who can rush either from a down position or standing up. I know what you’re thinking, Steeler fans. The names Nathaniel Adibi and Alonzo Jackson instantly come to mind; two major Steeler draft busts of the decade. But, let’s remember, with Bill Cowher now cooling his heels in North Carolina, Director Of Football Operations Kevin Colbert figures to have more say in who the Steelers select. Colbert is as good a judge of talent as there is in the league. He’ll find the right player to be able to handle life in the Steelers new-look defense. I don’t think it can be underestimated how valuable Joey Porter was. Sure, his production dropped off last season, but he was still a threat as a pass-rusher, and putting pressure on the quarterback is a Steeler defensive tradition and it’s also the best way to even the playing field while the team continues to adjust to a new coach and a new era. As Al Davis was so quick to put out, ‘The other team’s quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard.’ The other positional needs can be met in the later rounds, but my advice for the Steelers: grab the best guy available who can put the other team’s quarterback on his wallet.

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Pitt center Aaron Gray is a likable young man. He was voted as the Big East Conference’s Scholar Athlete and he’s been a fine player and teammate throughout his career with the Panthers. But, Gray’s performance in the Big East Tournament left a lot of people with a sour taste in their mouths about the well-mannered seven-footer. After riding the pine for most the Louisville game with foul trouble, Gray was non-existent in the Big East Tournament championship game loss to Georgetown, shooting a dismal 1-for-13. Gray has improved dramatically in his college career. But, now, in his senior year, he has to do more. Gray has to put this basketball team on his broad shoulders and carry them to the Sweet 16 and beyond. There’s no secret that the Panther offense goes through Gray and his play will go a long way toward whether or not Pitt can make a deep run this March. Remember last year when Pitt lost to Bradley in the second round? Gray was man-handled by an unknown player named Patrick O’Bryant, who lit him up for 28 points and wound up being an NBA lottery pick. That can’t happen this year. Gray should be able to have his way in the opening-round game against Wright State. The Raiders’ tallest player stands 6’8″. A good first game should get Gray’s confidence going, and he’ll need it in the Panthers’ possible second-round matchup against Duke. Gray will need to be smart, he’ll have to score when needed, and he must pass out of double teams and give his shooters a chance from the outside. There’s no doubt Aaron Gray will play hard for as long as the Panthers are in the Big Dance, but his play will have to match his effort for his team to make this a memorable March.

Joey Porter leaves the Steelers as one of the best on-field leaders this team has seen in recent history. In my view, Porter ranks right up there with the likes of Jerome Bettis, Levon Kirkland, and Jason Gildon. Sure, he wasn’t always politically correct off the field, but more often than not, his heart was in the right place. I had the good fortune of getting to know Joey Porter during the 2005 Superbowl season. He asked me to co-host his cable-tv variety show and I don’t know if I ever had as much fun in my life. I found Joey to be a very funny, thoughtful and intelligent person. Most people see him as the fire-breathing, trash-talking, boot-kicking monster, but off the field he’s nothing like that. He’s a loyal and caring husband and father of four. And, contrary to what you might think, he really does care what people think about him, and he truy loved the Steeler fans. Despite his often-times loud demeanor, he was one of the most unselfish players you would ever want to meet. Everyone talks about how great Ben Roethlisberger played during the Superbowl run, and how inspirational Bettis was trying to win the Big One in his hometown in his final game. But, let’s not forget, it was Joey Porter who set the defensive tone that season. During the Steelers’ three playoff games, he was virtually un-blockable. I fully understand why the Steelers made the move to cut Joey Porter. He’s 30 years old, his production has diminshed, and he recently had surgery on both knees. But, his presence both on and off the field will certainly be missed. I for one wish him well. Steelers fans: you should, too!