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.