Second Alabama Pro-Day Worth Paying Attention To For Steelers Fans

By Christopher DiMarino

The second Alabama pro day is scheduled for today and should be fun to watch. With so many highly touted players (several of which could possibly end up available at pick 24) it will be an event to seriously consider. In particular, many black and gold eyes are focused on linebacker Dont’a Hightower. He wasn’t really considered a 1st round talent until he surprised many at the combine with his athleticism. I still think he is on the lower probability side for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the ball is in his court.

We all know the kid is a run stopper, but that is more of a pre requisite to being drafted at inside linebacker in a 3-4. He needs to show how his new found athleticism translates into dynamic skills that the Steelers can use outside of the run stopping downs. The skills he needs to demonstrate are coverage abilities, blitzing prowess and great coverage instincts. When it comes down to it, unless he can show some promise of use on 3rd/long yardage downs, I believe a 1st round pick is too high a price.

One of the bigger issues with the Steelers the past few seasons has been secondary man coverage by the linebacking core. Often times I’ve screamed at my TV, “Why is James Farrior covering the running back!?” If memory serves, the Steelers lost a big game to the Cincinnati Bengals because Farrior couldn’t keep up with Brian Leonard. This all alludes to the fact that Hightower will need to show coverage skills. Even if he can blitz, when you have LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison off the edge, this can only be considered a compulsory skill. Part of the reason why Lawrence Timmons is one of my favorite Steelers, is because he is a run stopping linebacker with the speed to square up with certain caliber tight ends and running backs. Having a second such linebacker would increase the dynamic ability of this defense.

Safety Mark Barron will also be a fun story to watch. His double hernia surgery will likely limit what he can do, but anything would be nice. He has been described as a physical run support player as well as a ball hawk. If he can show some speed and agility, a good coaching staff (Carnell Lake) can work with him coverage wise and develop him into a special weapon. Though the odds of the Steelers drafting him are low, I still believe if he impresses enough and no other preferred players are available, he is the best pick.

For all those corner enthusiasts who still think the Steelers are considering that position, Dre Kirkpatrick will be a main story. He is in the funk of being a top 15 pick that is a popular option to drop off because of the specialized skill set he developed at Alabama. He is however the only really likely 1st round option the Steelers would even consider at Corner.

The non first round players to watch would be Josh Chapman and DeQuan Menzie. If you read Dave’s latest mock, you’ll see he entrusted the 3rd round pick and future of the Defensive line to Chapman. He is an intriguing option who brings the experience that you want for a position with the immediate need that NT has. Menzie is a corner that will go around the 3rd round. If he drops, the Steelers would likely be looking to add depth around that position.

  • “Why is Farrior covering the running back!?”

    Bingo! The NFL has become a pass dominant league, and offenses look for, and try to create these types of mismatches. 5 years ago, a ILB who was poor at pass coverage, wasn’t considered a liability, because it was much easier to predict passing downs. For the most part, teams ran on first and second down, and passed on third down. This made it much easier to hide a pure run stuffing ILB, or even get him off the field, by replacing him with a DB. Today, many OC’s consider first and second down, as passing downs. Teams also line up in formations, such as multiple TE sets, that allow them to run or throw from the same personnel group. In the case of Farrior, offenses would send the RB, or one of the TE’s in his direction, forcing him into pass coverage, and creating a favorable match up for the offense.

    I agree with you about Hightower. Even if he shows good movement skills at his pro day, you still have to be skeptical of his coverage skills. There’s no tape highlighting his effectiveness in coverage, because he was never asked to drop into coverage. As you stated, defending against the run is a pre-requisite. For a ILB to be worthy of a first round grade, he needs to be good against the run, good at dropping back, and good at rushing the QB.

    The other reason I don’t see the Steelers taking Hightower, at least in round one, is because he doesn’t fit the prototype for an inside backer in the Steelers defense. With the exception of Timmons, and Levon Kirkland, our inside backers have all been in the 240-250 lb range. At 250+ lbs, Timmons can be the “thumper” in the middle of the defense. I’d much rather see the Steelers draft a player like Mychal Kendricks, in the middle of the draft, than Hightower in the first round.

  • Broderick Wallace

    Steelers used to blitz on 3rd down, but they got away from that because Farrior’s ability to shed blockers and get to the passer deteriorated rapidly after 2008 season.

  • TO

    Spot on. I will not be surprised if they take him though. That will tell is if the game is passing Colbert and Tomlin by. I’m not optimistic, given their almost complete disregard of upgrading the oline the past few years.

  • chris dimarino

    Yes I agree. I afraid no matter what happens, if the Steelers draft Hightower he will be compared to Timmons. So I hope for his sake that the Steelers look elsewhere at 24.

  • Debow

    How have the Steelers completely disregarded upgrading the Offensive Line, are you stupid? In the past 2 Drafts the Steelers have 2 Starting very good linemen… First and Second round selections also… Where have you been?

  • Timmons is not a good run stopper by any means. Most of his tackles are after 4 yards. What games are you watching?