When I was a sports writer for my college paper, and even in the few years after school I spent doing occasional freelance work, there was always this one writer -- I won't identify him other than to say he looked like the aborted spawn of Ben Stiller and a chimpanzee -- who used to ask terribly boring and vague questions and nothing else. Regardless of the scene, the goings-on, pre-game, post-game, pre-season, regular season, post-season, a blowout or a nail-biter, there was...this guy with his go-to gem, "Coach, could you talk about the defense?"
And with that, we give you the FTC NFL Draft Preview, Part II
DL: For all of the talk last year about how the Steelers' front three were aging, the drafting of Ziggy Hood -- who looked pretty darn good when he got on the field last year -- and the team's inexplicable ability to both lose and re-acquire Sonny Harris bode well for the line. Casey Hampton, who a lot of us here at FTC had written off as being way over the hill, actually had himself a very productive season in 2009. With Aaron Smith coming back at full strength and the return of the surprisingly capable Nick Eason, if the Steelers don't look to draft a defensive lineman higher than the fourth or fifth round, it won't be a catastrophe. They're probably not going to find another late-round gem like Smith, but there's no immediate cause for alarm here. The defensive coaches in this organization seem to have knacks making productive players out of undervalued ones.
Prediction: Despite no immediate need, the Steelers burn their 2nd round pick on a defensive end, and pick up a tackle on the third day of the draft.
OLB: If the Steelers draft anyone who James Harrison perceives as having a chance to eventually take his job, Harrison will kill and eat that player. The Steelers know this. They will not draft any outside linebackers.
Prediction: The Steelers draft no outside linebackers, but sign two as un-drafted free agents to come to training camp. Upon seeing them, James Harrison pounces on one of them and begins gnawing at his flesh like a starving lion. When LaMarr Woodley eases in to try to share the prey, Harrison growls and shows his teeth. Woodley backs away slowly.
ILB: As much as it pains me to think it, James Farrior can not play forever. Additionally, it does not appear as though Lawrence Timmons has the chops to hold down his position full time. Larry Foote and Keyaron Fox will both get playing time this year if they're both on the team, and that's fine, but there are no long-term solutions here.
Prediction: The Steelers will sign an inside linebacker after the draft who will blossom into the second coming of Larry Foote. Or they won't. Kind of a crapshoot here, honestly.
CB: William Gay can not get it done. He might, if the stars align, one day be capable of taking over for Deshea Townsend. Ike Taylor is streaky as hell, but he has the ability. Nobody is really sure yet about Keenan Lewis or Joe Burnett. Translation: the Steelers need a cornerback.
Prediction: The Steelers trade Ben Roethlisberger to the Oakland Raiders for, among other things, the 8th overall pick in the draft. With that pick, the Steelers draft Florida cornerback Joe Haden...OR...The Roethlisberger trade also nets the Steelers CB Nnamdi Asomugha, whom the Raiders tried to include in a deal for Donovan F. McNabb. The Steelers would then use the 8th overall pick to take an offensive lineman or ILB Rolando McClain. If Tennessee safety Eric Berry is still on the board, though, he's the easy choice.
SS: Troy Polamalu is so good. And you can't really game plan around the idea that he's just never going to play a full season, but really, we all know that he's probably not going to play a full season. Still, he's just so, so good.
Prediction: Troy Polamalu plays ten games this year, Tyrone Carter somehow remains more employable than anyone with a PhD in a field encompassed by "the humanities." Ryan Mundy continues to underwhelm.
FS: Ryan Clark is back, but probably just for a year, two at the absolute max. He was awful last year, and the Steelers really need to find a free safety who can 1) tackle, and 2) always, always, always be in position. You know, for that 50% of the time when Troy launches himself at a ball carrier and misses with grit and gusto.
Prediction: The Steelers use their 4th round pick on Myron Rolle, FS, Oxford. Rolle, who we're told is a quick study, spends approximately four hours learning Dick LeBeau's encrypted defense and supplants Ryan Clark as the starter in week seven, when Clark develops yet another rare blood disorder. Clark misses the remainder of the season recovering from surgery to replace all of his internal organs with small hydraulic machines. Rolle becomes a passable NFL safety who quotes Keats when staring down receivers after de-cleating them, then makes post-game donations to the United Way in the names of each of the players he tackles.