Mike Tomlin likes run-and-hit LBs
Tomlin likes run-and-hit LBs
By Bob Labriola – Steelers Digest
There was something for the fans who wanted the team to add a cornerback who could come in and start next year (possibly). Something for those who wanted more oomph from the offensive line along with a big running back who could take advantage of that. Even something for those who wanted a quarterback, a veteran to boot, and he was added 48 hours before the three-day extravaganza began.
But what’s the deal with all those linebackers?
“We like 250-pounders who like to run and hit,” said Coach Mike Tomlin.
There you have it. So even though the Steelers will be judged on whether the guys they picked during the three days of the 2010 NFL Draft can play, and while it might not be determined definitively for years, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin combined to create a class that stayed true to what the franchise believes.
History shows that when the Steelers are winning and contending for championships, they play a physical style, or as Tomlin chooses to describe it, they play attrition football. In a 2009 season that was a disappointment because it ended without a spot in the playoffs, the Steelers were incapable of that in enough critical situations along the way to have their year ruined by a five-game midseason losing streak.
A few days before the draft began, Colbert had said the issues contributing to that 9-7 finish would drive the decisions the team made over these last three days, and he stayed true to his word.
It was shortly after last season ended when Steelers President Art Rooney II said he expected the team to figure out a way to run the football more efficiently, and the first-round pick of center Maurkice Pouncey was a step in that direction. The addition of 229-pound running back Jonathan Dwyer in the sixth round served to bookend that line of thinking, and maybe it’s also worth noting that the last time the Steelers picked a back who operated out of a pseudo-wishbone in college it was 1990 and his name was Barry Foster.
Other deficiencies in 2009 were the defense’s inability to protect leads in fourth quarters, and the special teams’ problems with getting opposing kickoff returners on the ground at some point before the beginning of a touchdown celebration.
Enter those 250-pound guys who like to run and hit.
There were three of them among the 10 picks the Steelers made during this draft – in order, Jason Worilds in the second round, Thaddeus Gibson in the fourth and Stevenson Sylvester with the last of three picks in the fifth.
“First and foremost, I hope they are capable of being kickoff coverage unit men. That would be the first job description they have,” said Tomlin. “If they can do an adequate job of that, then we’ll get to see if they are capable of rushing the passer. (Worilds and Gibson) are two quality, young, 250-pound-ish men, if you will, and of course, we value that here in Pittsburgh. We believe that’s a formula for winning football. They are big guys who can run, guys who love to play the game in a physical manner.”
Worilds has been described as a more athletic version of Jason Gildon, who just happens to be the franchise’s all-time sack leader, and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau figures to be able to do some diabolical things eventually with him in the lineup. Gibson had value to the Steelers, because the Buckeyes play a scheme that’s similar to the one used here, and so he will arrive with a degree of familiarity that helps remove some of the guesswork associated with all mid-round picks.
The third of the three linebackers, Sylvester, figures to play inside in the team’s base 3-4 alignment with the Steelers thinking he possesses the versatility to line up outside as well.
“We believe that’s a good building block for a football team,” said Tomlin about his newest run-and-hit linebackers. “Some of those guys were presented to us, such as Jason Worilds, who we believe has a nice pedigree as an outside rusher; Thaddeus Gibson as well; and my man Sylvester Stevenson, No. 10 from Utah as a run-and-hit linebacker. We believe that’s a building block of football. They will add quality depth to that position, competition to that position, plus quality depth and competition to our special teams game, so we’re excited about the addition of those three young men.”
Steelers fans, maybe not so much, but they may have been mollified by the return of cornerback Bryant McFadden, who was acquired in a trade with Arizona that sent one of the Steelers’ four fifth-round picks to the Cardinals in return for a cornerback with NFL starting experience plus a sixth-round pick they then used to pick receiver Antonio Brown.
“(McFadden) is a guy who has been a part of two world championship teams here in Pittsburgh,” said Tomlin. “We know the player. We know the person. He’s well respected by his teammates. He’s capable of playing winning football for us at a high level. We were presented with an opportunity to bring him back into the fold, and really, we jumped at it. He’s a quality person and a good football player, one we know and have a history with. As you can see, we followed that theme in several instances in the offseason – Larry Foote, Byron Leftwich, Antwaan Randle El. We’ve got some guys who know what it means to be Pittsburgh Steelers, understand the culture we have here, and get along great with the men we already have.”
Leftwich is the recently-added veteran quarterback, and his arrival – along with McFadden’s – can be considered part of the work done by the Steelers in this 2010 draft.
“Again, adding quality depth and competition has been our mantra for the offseason,” said Tomlin. “We followed that plan in free agency and we were able to follow that plan here in the draft as well. We truly believe we strengthened ourselves for the challenges that await us in the 2010 season. It’s going to be fun to watch these guys carve out roles for themselves along with some of the new veteran players that we acquired. And we’re excited about it.”