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The immediate reaction was as predictable as the Steelers’ pick-by-pick, nine-selection haul had been intriguing.
“I can’t think of a last day of a draft where I haven’t been excited,” head coach Mike Tomlin admitted.
Tomlin has always been that in such circumstances, even in 2016, when the Steelers drafted Artie Burns, Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave, Jerald Hawkins, Travis Feeney, Demrcus Ayers and Tyler Matakevich (none of those guys are still on the roster).
It’s an energizing time across the NFL, and coaches are often understandably optimistic when pondering the possibilities of their latest additions (Bill Belichick is probably an exception, but you get the idea).
Yet some of the soundbites still manage to resonate.
Following is a look back at the best of what we heard from the Steelers during the NFL Draft:
“I think people like to say they can teach it, but I think it is inherently in you. Like some people just naturally have that, as a coach you can be demanding of it, but in critical moments of a game when man measures man, whoever you truly are is going to come out. If you have that dog in you, that wolf in you, you are going to continue to do that in critical moments of the game. I love it when I find a guy that I don’t have to bring that out of. He’s just naturally like that, he carries himself that way, he plays with that nastiness at that position. This is just a guy that can do that. We have a number of guys in our group that can do that. Even if they can’t do it, we are going to demand all they have and more and try to get all that we can out of it. I’m really excited about it and in terms of what we’re talking about doing, he embodies all of that.” _ offensive line coach Adrian Klemm on third-round center Kendrick Green.
Green’s game is all about nasty and athleticism, and Klemm is clearly all-in on making the Steelers’ offensive line an ill-tempered bunch (I’m not sure Klemm cracked a smile during two post-selection media Zooms).
Whether this draft becomes a success or a failure depends on how quickly Green can establish himself as the starting center as much if not more than it does first-round running back Najee Harris delivering as advertised.
“It always speaks to me because that’s one of the first things I want to see, how far from the line of scrimmage the linebacker is when the ball is coming towards him. And when you attack the line of scrimmage, we call that going downhill, and Buddy does that really well. You can tell that he’s been around football a long time. He feels comfortable moving with the run and attacking blockers and things like that. I think he needs some work on just cleaning up some things just to be more proficient up here in the NFL, but the fact that he attacks as his main weapon is really good. You can’t teach that. Buddy got that growing up and however he came to fall in love with football. So that’s something that I don’t have to worry about. We’ll just clean it up a little bit, but it’s always one of the first things I look for is an attacking middle linebacker.” _ inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky on fourth-round linebacker Buddy Johnson.
The defense can also use all the nasty and athleticism it can get. Johnson, in theory, is a potential three-down, all-situations inside linebacker, one capable of stuffing the run and covering the pass. And the Steelers only had one of those prior to Johnson’s selection. But he’s also a fourth-round pick, which means he’s more likely to top out as a rotational contributor than he is Devin Bush’s established running mate at inside linebacker.
This was an uncharacteristically deep draft at the position in terms of what’s required at what inside linebacker has become, but I’m not sure it was four-rounds deep.
And the Steelers need another Devin Bush-type player at the position, perhaps more than they’ll willing to acknowledge.
“‘Temple TUFF’ is a mentality, not just physically tough, but mentally tough, and it’s a mentality you’ve got to bring every day. It’s something that we’re kind of conditioned to be. If you look at any Temple football player that has gone pro in the past, you’ll see that there’s a difference in their mentality than guys that come from elsewhere.” _ sixth-round edge rusher Quincy Roche.
“Temple TUFF” is more than a mindset, it’s an identity forged in North Philadelphia several years back by former Temple basketball coach John Chaney (a legendary tough-guy taskmaster). Roche gets it after having spent four years at Temple prior to his grad-transfer season in Miami.
His relative athletic limitations doomed him to Day 3 but his relentlessness produced 30.5 career sacks and 54 career tackles for a loss.
Roche will not be out-worked or out-competed.
Between Roche and veteran journeyman Cassius Marsh, the Steelers might have just enough in reserve at outside linebacker to keep the snap counts of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith at a reasonable level and, hopefully, keep Watt and Highsmith healthy.
“I think this year we showed that in this A&M offensive line we love to run the ball. That’s what we want to do. We want to run the ball. I mean, we get excited when our coach calls a run play, so I think that all should just tell you enough about the demeanor in which myself and my teammates had this past season.” _ fourth-round offensive tackle Dan Moore Jr.
The offensive line at Texas A&M was known as the “Maroon Goons.”
More mentality, mindset, attitude and nastiness, potentially, from a player who might be the swing tackle and might push starters Chukwuma Okorafor and/or Zach Banner, neither of whom are what you’d call established.
“I come from the South and they say defensive linemen are just like pretty women. There’s not a lot of them, but everybody wants them, and when you find a big guy like that and you want to get him on your team, I think that’s the thing you do. ‘Mike T’ (Tomlin) and (General Manager) Kevin Colbert did a good job of getting us some talent.” _ defensive line coach Karl Dunbar on fifth-round defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk.
Loudermilk measured in at a little over 6-foot-6 and 274 pounds and has been putting weight back on after shedding to be quicker for his Pro Day. He wasn’t overly productive at Wisconsin but he’s the physical-skill-set prototype for a 3-4 defensive end in the Steelers’ estimation.
He may never be that in the NFL but if his career achievement turns out to be inspiring the above observation from Dunbar, Loudermilk will have done enough.