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Archive for March, 2009

The 3-4 and the Steelers’ draft (part 4)

March 31, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

March 31, 2009
By Donald Starver

Note:  This is part 4 in a series.  If you haven’t already read the previous chapters, please click the appropriate link below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

In part 3 of our series on the 3-4 defense and how it affects the Steelers’ draft, we talked about the defensive end.  Now it’s time to break down the glamor position on any 3-4 defense; the linebackers.

The 4 in the title “3-4 defense” represents the fact that there are 4 linebackers in a 3-4.  Unlike the 4-3, where there are two outside linebackers (the Sam and the Will linebackers) and a middle linebacker (the Mike linebacker), in the 3-4 defense, there are two outside linebackers and two inside linebackers.  In the Steelers’ case, LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison are the outside linebackers, while James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons are the inside linebackers (notice how I subtly promoted Lawrence Timmons to starter).

While pressure in a 4-3 defense come from the four down linemen, in a 3-4 defense, the pressure comes from the linebackers.  At least one of the outside linebackers will be rushing the quarterback on almost every play.  Unlike the down linemen, the OLB’s rush from a 2 point stance, so they’re standing up.  The outside linebackers will almost always lead a 3-4 team in quarterback sacks.

The linebacker is probably the most flexible position on the field, and can be used in a myriad of ways.  Linebackers may blitz, they may stay in their area and protect a zone, or they may drop into coverage and guard a tight end or even a running back going out for a pass.

Because of the wide variety of things that linebackers are asked to do, linebackers come in many sizes.  Typically, linebackers will range from 225 pounds to 270 pounds, depending on their specialty.  However, former Steelers linebacker Levon Kirkland often played at a weight of nearly 300 lbs.  Moreover, Kirkland was surprisingly fast and was reasonably good at dropping into coverage.

The two inside linebackers typically weigh around 240 lbs., and are expected to be quite athletic.  They must be able to chase down extremely fast running backs who penetrate the defensive line.

The two outside linebackers will typically be bigger than the two inside linebackers, since they have to face massive offensive tackles on a regular basis.  Outside linebackers in a 3-4 will generally weigh between 255 - 270 pounds and be quite fast.  Many 3-4 linebackers were actually defensive ends in college.  However, they may have been either too small to play DE in the NFL, or they may be able to play both DE or OLB depending on which type of defense their team runs.  The Steelers’ LaMarr Woodley was a defensive end at Michigan.

The Steelers don’t have a grave need at linebacker.  In addition to last year’s starters, Lawrence Timmons is poised to break into the starting lineup, Arnold Harrison was re-signed, Keyaron Fox is a solid backup, and Bruce Davis will have a year of experience under his belt.  However, you can never have too many linebackers in a 3-4 defense.  I won’t be surprised if the Steelers select at least one linebacker in this draft.

This year’s draft class is loaded with talented linebackers and “tweener” defensive ends who will be moved to OLB in a 3-4 system.

The top two inside linebackers in this year’s draft are Rey Maualuga of USC and James Laurinaitis of Ohio State.

Rey Maualuga is 6’2″ and weighs 254 pounds.  He is strong and extremely physical.  He can deliver punishing blows at the point of attack.  His best position will be the “Mike” in a 4-3 defense.

James Laurinaitis is a 6’2″ 240 linebacker from Ohio State.  He is a 3 time All-American, a very intelligent player, and some consider him to be the safest pick of this year’s linebackers. 

The best of the outside linebackers include Aaron Curry, Brian Cushing, Clint Sintim, and Clay Matthews.

Aaron Curry (6’2″, 246 lbs.) is viewed by many as the elite linebacker in this draft.  He has a rare combination of size, strength, and speed.  He is equally good dropping into coverage as he is in run support.  He is the most versatile linebacker in the draft, and will probably be the first linebacker selected.

Brian Cushing (6’3″, 243 lbs.) played DE, OLB and MLB in college.  Probably best suited to play strong side linebacker.  A sure top 20 pick.

Clint Sintim (6’3″, 249 lbs) is a strong, fast pass rusher.  He is a bit stiff, and struggles in coverage.  He was once thought of as a potential first round selection, but poor performances in Senior Bowl practices and a sub-par pro day have dropped him to the second or third round.  He probably won’t excel in a 4-3, but he would be a good pick as a rush linebacker in a 3-4.

Clay Matthews (6’3″, 246) is the third USC linebacker who might get selected in the first round.  Matthews played both LB and DE at USC.  He lacks the size to play DE at the next level, and will move exclusively to LB.  His size and skill set probably makes him best suited to play ILB in a 3-4 system.

In part 3 of our series, we outlined several college defensive ends who could potentially make the change to OLB in the NFL.  Here are two additional college defensive ends who will probably be best suited to play OLB at the next level.

Aaron Maybin (6’4″, 248 lbs.) is a unique player.    He is very experienced at dropping into zone coverage.  He is tall and has a tremendous burst as a pass rusher or in chasing down ball carriers.  However, Maybin is lacking in the strength department.  He has no bull rush, and struggles to disengage from blockers.  This probably eliminates him from consideration as a 4-3 DE.  His best option is as a 3-4 OLB.  However, he will need to spend lots of time with the strength coach at the next level.

Larry English (6’2″, 254 lbs.) played defensive end at Norther Illinois.  However, he lacks the bulk to play that position at the next level.  He has no experience dropping into coverage, so teams will be evaluating his potential to do so.  However, his overall speed and athleticism appears to translate well to the 3-4 OLB position.

 Because of the large number of linebacker candidates available in this draft, several quality linebackers will be available when the Steelers draft at #32, and a few may even be available at #64.  However, since LB is not a glaring need for the Steelers, they are much more likely to pick up a LB later in the draft.

To read the other installments in this series, click below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

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Steeler Condoms

March 30, 2009 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

Those wacky guys over at Benstonium are at it again.   Here is their latest Steelers parody video. 


Be sure to check them out at to enjoy more of their fine work.

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The 3-4 and the Steelers’ draft (part 3)

March 27, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

March 28, 2009
By Donald Starver

Note:  This is part 3 in a series.  If you haven’t already read part 1, please click here.  If you haven’t read part 2, please click here.

In part 2 our our series on the 3-4 defense and how it affects the Steelers’ draft, we talked about the most important position on any 3-4 defense; the nose tackle.  In this installment, we will take a look at the other position on the 3-4 defensive front, the defensive end.

In a 3-4 defense, there are two defensive ends.  The left defensive end lines up to the left of the nose tackle, and the right defensive end lines up to the nose tackle’s right.  Those three players make up the front line in a 3-4 defensive scheme.  Contrarily, in a 4-3 defense, the front line would consist of a defensive end, two defensive tackles, and another defensive end.

The roles of the defensive end in a 4-3 and a 3-4 are different.  In a traditional 4-3 defense, the defensive end is responsible for bringing the pressure from the edge.  The primary weapon of a 4-3 defensive end is his strength, speed, and athleticism.  The right defensive end is generally the faster of the two defensive ends, and he brings the pass rushing threat from the typical quarterback’s blind side (this is not the case for left-handed quarterbacks).   The left defensive end doesn’t have to be quite as fast, but he must be able to stop the run, since most right handed runners prefer to run to the right.  The  ideal 4-3 defensive end will be around 6’5″ tall, and weigh between 265 - 280 lbs.

The ideal 4-3 defensive end can beat his defender with either strength or speed.  But one way or another, the 4-3 DE has to get around the corner and either tackle the runner or pressure the quarterback.  Premiere 4-3 defensive ends include the Carolina Panthers’ Julius Peppers (6’7″, 283 lbs.), the Houston Texans’ Mario Williams (6’6″, 283 lbs.), and the Tennessee Titans Javon Kearse (6’4″, 265 lbs.).

The 3-4 defensive end is typically bigger than his 4-3 counterpart.  Unlike the 4-3 defensive end, the 3-4 defensive end is not primarily responsible for pressuring the quarterback.  In the 3-4, that responsibility typically falls to the outside linebackers.  Instead, the job of the defensive ends is to occupy blockers to allow the linebackers to be isolated against a running back or tight end.  In either case, the linebacker should have a decided advantage.

While the 3-4 defensive end won’t face double-teams as often as the nose tackle will, he must be able to handle the double-team on a fairly consistent basis.  That’s why the prototype 3-4 defensive end will typically be around 6’5″, and weigh between 290 - 310 lbs.  Many 3-4 defensive ends were actually defensive tackles in college.

If we look at the defensive ends who ended the season with the Steelers, their physical stats are as follows:

Nick Eason (6’3″, 305 lbs.)

Brett Keisel (6’5″, 285 lbs.)

Travis Kirschke (6’3″, 298 lbs.)

Orpheus Roye (6’4″, 330 lbs.)

Aaron Smith (6’5″, 298 lbs.)

Brett Keisel is the runt of the litter.  He is probably a bit light for a 3-4 defensive end.  Moreover, he is not as stout against the run as his predecessor, Kimo von Oelhoffen.  Kimo was 6’4″. 299 lbs.

Keisel does bring much greater speed than von Oelhoffen had, and Dick LeBeau has talked about moving him around like he does Troy Polamalu.  However, while LeBeau has talked about it, we have seldom seen that type of movement of Keisel actually utilized in games.  Some might even argue that Keisel would be better as a 4-3 defensive end than as a 3-4 DE.

With an understanding of what is required of a 3-4 defensive end, we can now take a look at the class of 2009 and see which draftees might be appropriate candidates for the Steelers to consider.

The first thing that jumps out at me when I look at this year’s draft class is that most of the top defensive ends are too small to play DE in a 3-4.  Many project to be 3-4 OLB’s at the next level.  Others seem more appropriate for a 4-3 than a 3-4.

Of the Defensive ends coming out of college this year, Tyson Jackson may be the only premiere 3-4 DE in the class.  Jackson is 6’4″ and weighs 295 lbs.  He is strong, and can hold up against the run.  However, he lacks the speed to generate adequate edge pressure.  This makes him best suited to play in a 3-4 defensive scheme.

Brian Orakpo (6’4″, 256 lbs.) is probably the top DE in the class.  However, he is best suited for a 4-3 defense.  In a 3-4 defense, he projects as a rush linebacker, not a DE.

Everette Brown (6’4″, 246 lbs.) is another 3-4 rush linebacker or 4-3 DE.

Michael Johnson (6’7″, 259 lbs.) has rare physical tools, but is much too small to play DE in a 3-4.

Aaron Maybin (6’4″, 236 lbs.) is another super-athletic player who will probably be best as a 3-4 rush linebacker or 4-3 DE.  Definitely not a 3-4 DE.

Robert Ayers (6’3″, 273 lbs.) projects as a 4-3 DE.  He has the frame to add weight, so he might someday be able to play the 3-4.  But at his current size and skillset, his best position in a 3-4 would be OLB.

Paul Kruger (6’5″, 265 lbs.) is a versatile player with a non-stop motor.  He is a very intelligent player who will be equally effective as a 4-3 DE or a 3-4 OLB.

Jarron Gilbert (6’5″, 287) is the only other DE besides Tyson Jackson who projects as a potential 3-4 DE who could potentially be drafted on the first day (likely a 3rd round pick).  Gilbert displays incredible speed for his size.  He is a bit raw, and is more of an athlete than a football player.  He played at a small school (San Jose State) against sub-par competition.  Moreover, he is not particularly physical, and is recognized for being fast rather than strong.   However, there are so few potential 3-4 DE’s in this year’s draft, that someone might take a gamble on Gilbert in the second or third round of the draft.  Because speed is his primary weapon, Gilbert may be more of a 4-3 DE than a 3-4 DE. He may even be a better candidate for 4-3 DT.  That is the problem with Gilbert.  It’s hard to determine what position he projects to at the next level.  But with so few 3-4 defensive ends in this year’s draft, he will certainly be considered for the position.  In my opinion, using Gilbert as a 3-4 DE will negate his primary weapon (speed), and accentuate his primary weakness (stoutness at the point of attack).

Despite the lack of quality 3-4 DE’s in the class of 2009, all is not lost.  I believe there are several defensive tackles who will be best served converting to 3-4 DE’s at the next level.

Fili Moala (6’4″, 303 lbs.) projects as the second best 3-4 DE in the class of 2009.  He has all of the tools to fulfill the role.  USC has 3 linebackers coming out this year who all have legitimate chances of being drafted in the 1st round.  They can thank Fili Moala for their success.  He occupied blockers for them the same way that a 3-4 DE must do for his linebackers.

Evander Hood (6’3″, 298) is another college DT who doesn’t have the speed or athleticism to excel at the position at the next level.  However, his size and strength may project well to the 3-4 DE position.

Sen’Derric Marks (6’1, 295 lbs) is a bit short and squat, but he might be able to make the transition to 3-4 DE.  He is a very good run stuffer who uses leverage to anchor himself against blockers.  However, his height is less than ideal.

With more and more teams playing the 3-4, the competition for players is becoming more intense.  This class is very deep in 3-4 OLB’s, but there are few quality 3-4 DE’s, and even fewer 3-4 nose tackles.  Teams that play the 3-4 will have to keep this in mind as they make their draft picks.  Some teams may have to reach a bit for players in order to make sure they get the personnel that they need to run the 3-4 properly.

Of course, this probably won’t be the case for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The Steelers have always believed in drafting the best player available (BPA), regardless of team needs.  Therefore, we aren’t likely to see them reach in order to fill a need, regardless of how few candidates are available.

To read the other installments in this series, click below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

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2009 bloggers’ mock draft: pick #32

March 26, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

Steelers Today has hooked up with 31 other NFL bloggers from around the country to do a bloggers’ mock draft. All 32 NFL teams are represented in the mock draft.

The mock draft is sponsored by Cleveland Browns blog No Logo Needed. For more details on the bloggers’ mock draft, click here.

With the 32nd pick of the 2009 NFL Draft the Pittsburgh Steelers select……

Fili Moala, Defensive Tackle, USC

I had a hard time with this pick.  Everyone knows that the Steelers need offensive line help.  However, all of the offensive tackles that I was interested in are gone.  William Beatty was borderline, but I ultimately decided that he didn’t deserve a first round selection.  The only interior lineman that I thought was worth a 1st round pick was Alex Mack, but he was taken by the Philadelphia Eagles (curse you!!!!).  I did think about Duke Robinson, but I just couldn’t justify taking him here.

I looked hard at defensive backs.  I absolutely love Sean Smith, and he would have been my selection had I not taken Moala.  I got a lot of feedback from readers asking me to select Alphonso Smith, the CB out of Wake Forest.  I know that Smith has great ball skills, but I just don’t think that a cornerback who stands slightly less than 5’9″ tall is what the Steelers need.  Dick LeBeau requires his cornerbacks to be strong in run support, and Alphonso Smith just can’t do that.  Besides, how many starting cornerbacks are there in the NFL who are under 5’9″?  See my point?

Darius Butler out of Connecticut also got a lot of support.  But he has similar problems as Alphonso Smith.  Butler has great ball skills, but he only weighs 178 lbs.  He has a very thin frame, and he eschews contact.  The word “physical” is not in his vocabulary.  He might make a good Cleveland Brown, but he wouldn’t make a good Pittsburgh Steeler.

The Steelers lost Bryant McFadden in free agency, so CB is a need.  However, backup William Gay is ready to start, so that need isn’t as pressing as it may seem.  We definitely need depth at both CB and safety, but we can take care of that later in the draft.

I was ecstatic when the Arizona Cardinals took Beanie Wells with the 31st pick.  Now I won’t have to explain not taking him to Steelers fans who are dying for a “power back”.  Besides, we took Rashard Mendenhall last year.  2008 was essentially a redshirt year for him.

Ultimately, I couldn’t overlook the fact that all of the Steelers’ defensive line starters are over 30 years old.  Aaron Smith will be 33 this season.  His days are winding down, and Dick LeBeau’s system is complex.  Few players start on the Steelers’ defense in their first year.  We need to bring in Smith’s replacement now to give him a year to learn, and prepare him to take over in 2010.

Fili Moala is a 6’4″, 303 lbs. defensive tackle who has started 38 games in one of the best programs in the country (USC).  I have Moala rated as the 3rd best defensive tackle in the draft.  However, I have him rated right below Tyson Jackson as the 2nd best 3-4 defensive end in the draft. 

Here is part of Moala’s scouting report from

“A more valuable contributor than his yearly average production (26 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks) would indicate, Moala isn’t going to fill the stat sheet, but his presence inside forced opponents to double-team him often, opening up opportunities for his playmaking teammates.”

USC has 3 linebackers who may be drafted in the first round; Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, and Clay Matthews.  Those are the “playmaking teammates” that the scouting report is talking about.  Without Moala, those guys are not first rounders.

Moala’s knock as a defensive tackle is that he is more of a run stopper than a pass rusher.  He just doesn’t get enough sacks.  However, he is lauded for his rare size, strength, and his ability to collapse the pocket and make tackles despite fighting off double teams.  Hmmmm, a 300 lb. run stopper who can handle double teams, collapse the pocket, and open up lanes for his playmaking linebackers.  Sounds like a 3-4 defensive end to me.  Aaron Smith’s successor has been found

By the way, I haven’t heard Moala’s name being tossed around on any Steelers messageboard, or seen it on any mock draft.  So I know that I’m on an island here.  But when you look at what he does, he’s perfect for conversion to a 3-4 DE. 

But I know that Steelers fans are a vocal bunch.  So let me know what you think.  Just keep it civil.  My readers know that I don’t tolerate name calling.  If you disagree, tell me why you disagree, and explain who you would have taken.  Don’t just write in to call me a “moron”, or to tell me that I’m “stupid”.  If you do that, I’m just going to delete your comment.  We only allow intelligent conversation around here.

The draft results so far are shown below. Click on the individual pick to read each blogger’s rationale for his selection.

1. Detroit Lions: Mathew Stafford, QB (Georgia)
2. St. Louis Rams: Eugene Monroe, OT (Virginia)
3. Kansas City Chiefs: Aaron Curry, LB (Wake Forest)
4. Seattle Seahawks: Michael Crabtree, WR (Texas Tech)
5. Cleveland Browns: Rey Maualuga, LB (Southern California)
6. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Smith, OT (Baylor)
7. Oakland Raiders: Jeremy Maclin, WR (Missouri)
8. Jacksonville Jaguars: B.J. Raji, DT (Boston College)
9. Green Bay Packers, Brian Orakpo, DE (Texas)
10. San Francisco 49ers, Everette Brown, OLB (Florida State)
11. Buffalo Bills, Clay Matthews, OLB (Southern California)
12. Denver Broncos, Malcolm Jenkins, CB (Ohio State)
13. Washington Redskins, Andre Smith, OT (Alabama)
14. New Orleans Saints, Brian Cushing, OLB (Southern California)
15. Houston Texans, Michael Oher, OT (Ole Miss)
16. San Diego Chargers, Eben Britton, OT (Arizona)
17. New York Jets, Tyson Jackson, DE (LSU)
18. Chicago Bears, Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR (Maryland)
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Percy Harvin, WR  (Florida)
20. Detroit Lions, Aaron Maybin, DE (Penn State)
21. Philadelphia Eagles, Vontae Davis, CB (Illinois)
22. Minnesota Vikings, Mark Sanchez, QB (Southern California)
23. New England Patriots, Knowshon Moreno, RB (Georgia)
24. Atlanta Falcons, Clint Sintim, LB (Virginia)
25. Miami Dolphins, Larry English, LB (Northern Illinois)
26. Baltimore Ravens, Kenny Britt, WR (Rutgers)
27. Indianapolis Colts, Peria Jerry, DT (Mississippi State)
28. Philadelphia Eagles, Alex Mack, C (California)
29. New York Giants, Hakeem Nicks, WR (North Carolina)
30. Tennessee Titans, D. J. Moore, CB (Vanderbilt)
31. Arizona Cardinals, Chris Wells, RB (Ohio State)
32. Pittsburgh Steelers, Fili Moala, DT (USC)

The Detroit Lions are on the clock.

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The Steelers are on the clock

March 25, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

Steelers Today has been participating in a mock draft among bloggers. 31 picks have been made, and the Steelers are on the clock.

To see all of the players who have been drafted so far, click here.

Many of the players that fans want the Steelers to take like Tyson Jackson and Alex Mack are already off the board. So, who do you think the Steelers should select of the players who are still left?

I have to make my selection by tomorrow morning, so let me know what you think.

(If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving a comment below. Also, please subscribe to our blog by pressing the orange button below. Thanks.)

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