Darren Perry was an eighth-round draft pick in 1992 and he played on opening day, not to mention the next six of them for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Not that the Steelers needed a safety before the draft. In fact, they had two of them. But Thomas Everett held out and was eventually traded. His replacement, Gary Jones, tore a ligament in camp. Up next was Perry and he intercepted Warren Moon in the opener and Ken O’Brien in the second game. He led the Steelers with six picks and was the team’s Rookie of the Year.
It surprised almost everyone, because in that defense, the same defense Dick LeBeau is taking into the Mike Tomlin era, the free safety has to be smart.
Just how smart was Darren Perry?
“The thing you have to remember,” Perry said a few years ago, “that defense was new to everybody that year. If I didn’t know it, chances are no one else knew it either.”
So that’s the background as Darren Perry II comes to town in the form of Ryan Mundy. He comes with a lofty reputation for intelligence. Before the draft, Scout.com draft expert Tom Marino raved about him.
“Ryan Mundy was so important to that West Virginia defense,” Marino said. “He got those guys lined up and put them in position. … Boy, he’s a good player.”
So the Steelers – possibly shellshocked from watching the hyperaggressive Anthony Smith play half a season as the replacement for injured Ryan Clark – drafted Mundy with their last pick, pick No. 194 in the sixth round.
“This is a very, very intelligent kid,” Kevin Colbert said on draft day. “(He’s) a very mature kid that will have a nice chance to make this team.”
Make the team? What about starting the opener as Perry had?
Mundy was asked at minicamp about the “concept” of starting the opener.
“I’m just trying to make the team right now,” he said. “I’m trying to be as humble as possible and just take it one day at a time.”
Once he stopped being humble, Mundy said that he picked up the Steelers’ defense “fairly well” at minicamp.
“A lot of the stuff I ran in college,” he said. “The coverages and the techniques are pretty familiar to me. I just have to get out there and refresh it.”
Veteran cornerback Deshea Townsend, for one, was impressed with Mundy.
“Very smart,” said Townsend. “He’s picking up the defense a lot quicker than most. Coach is putting a little pressure on him, too. He had to call out all the defenses, and when he comes on film he’s been on him.”
Mundy, 215 his pro day, weighs 19 pounds heavier than what the 5-foot-11 Perry weighed in 1998, his final season with the Steelers.
Mundy’s stout against the run, but speed has been the question mark. Marino estimated Mundy’s 40 time at 4.65 and questioned his cover skills. But Mundy felt he held up well, athletically, at minicamp.
“I felt like I competed at this level,” he said. “On the outside looking in you see guys at this elite level of football, but once you get in there you’ve just got to realize it’s the game of football.
“One thing that helps me is the more I know about the game, as far as my assignments, the faster I can play. That definitely helps me out.”
Mundy, of course, was a local prep star at Woodland Hills. He caught passes from Steve Breaston before both went off to the University of Michigan. Breaston was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals last season and Mundy transferred to West Virginia University. He watched Breaston score the go-ahead and eventual winning touchdown against the Steelers with a 73-yard punt return last season, and had a gripe.
“That was his first touchdown in the league and it wasn’t too hot of a celebration, so I got in his head about it,” Mundy said. “He didn’t do anything. He just leaped across the goal line.”
That same weekend, Mundy’s Mountaineers lost to South Florida and seemingly fell out of the national championship picture. But they worked their way back to the top, only to lose to rival Pitt as 28-point favorites. Breaston might now criticize his friend for his celebration – the one WVU obviously held before the game.
“What happened?” Mundy repeated. “It was a rivalry game and you know how rivalry games can go in college. Pitt brought it’s ‘A’ game. I felt like we were more than prepared; we just didn’t execute. Coach (Rich) Rod(riguez) did a great job getting us ready for that game but we just didn’t go out there and execute. We held them to 13 points on defense but offensively we couldn’t get the points we’re accustomed to getting.
“As far as what it did to the university, I think it kind of humbled the university. We felt like we’d arrived before that game happened. The community felt we were going to beat Pitt, that it was a formality, and that we’d be in the national championship. But you never know what’s going to happen in college football and it kind of humbled us.”
Didn’t the loss tear down the program?
“Yeah, but I think we responded well in the bowl game,” he said. “Pretty much the whole country doubted us against Oklahoma and we just went out there and whipped them up and down the field. We responded well that game, but we’ll see how they do this season. That’ll be the true test.”
Mundy calls himself both a Michigan and a West Virginia man. He graduated from Michigan with a degree in sports management. He’s still working towards a Master’s degree in athletic coaching at West Virginia.
Is the Steelers’ defense more complex than his post-graduate studies?
“It’s about the same,” he said. “But one’s more fun. I love doing this.”