So this is turning into a 3 Part Analysis now, so here is two and three should be up tomorrow.
Let me start by addressing something that I was asked on part one. Is Sean Spence our future safety replacement for Troy Polamalu. First let me address everyone who ever says the phrase "Replacement for Troy." That is never going to happen. Troy is a special player. Spence may play faster than his 4.71 40 yard dash, but Troy plays faster than his 4.37 40 yard dash. He is gifted in ways that other players envy. Every generation has one or two safeties that are special, guys you have to game plan against. Troy and Ed Reed are this generations. Darren Sharper before them. In the 80’s when I started watching football it was Ronnie Lott, Kenny Easley, and Derron Cherry. Steelers fans are spoiled at the safety position: Donnie Shell (should be in the HOF), Carnell Lake (Even Rod Woodson and Lebeau think he belongs in the HOF), and now Polamalu (future HOFer). That’s flat out ridiculous. If I said Cornell Gowdy, Tim Everett, Lee Flowers, and Brent Alexander does the thought "Gotta avoid throwing their direction" pop into your head. No, but those were our interim guys at safety between our stars.
Now, for Spence, if anyone can convert a Linebacker to Safety its Coach Carnell Lake, who did exactly that when he was drafted out of UCLA. However, let me say I don’t see it. Spence isn’t quite the athlete Carnell Lake was. He is very good in coverage, for a LB. He can cover TE and RB, but is better up close. He is also 30 lbs heavier than Shell, Lake, and Polamalu who all played around 205. Besides, I think he can either play the Buck based on his read and react speed, or put Timmons there who is bigger and he could play Mack. Gonna be a year or two developing I think, but man, wouldn’t a rookie season like Kendrell Bell’s be a pleasant surprise. This kid is a baller, so I am not counting it out. Oh, and once again to debunk the myth of him being too small to play Mack, go to steelers.com, click on the roster, sort by weight. There are two guys listed at 231, 5’11" Spence, and 6’2" Stevenson Sylvester, the front runner for MACK. Like I have said, they drafted him to compete with Sly, best man wins the job for a few years (that is after Foote plays a bunch this year).
But back to the main idea of this introduction. I will never say no, but I don’t see it. A major conversion like a switch to safety is something the Front Office tends to say right after the draft.
Well now for what you all really came here for, analysis of picks 4-6.
4th Round (109 Overall) Alameda Ta’amu – Nose Tackle – Washington 6’2", 348 lbs
Strengths – Your classic 3-4 two-gap nose tackle. Demands a double team (ask the center or guard from Nebraska during the 2011 Holiday Bowl). Powerful, with weight room strength that translates to the field. Big bubble butt, thick thighs, and huge core make him an ideal space eater. Collapses the pocket with a powerful bull rush. Has a swim he uses occasionally. Quicker than given credit for, shows the ability to shoot the gap when pulling guard vacates. Identifies screens and draws very well. When he does, sinks his hips, holds his blocker in place and looks for the ball. Gives pretty good effort chasing from behind. Even dropped into pass coverage occasionally in Washinton’s scheme.
Weaknesses – Short arms are a hindrance at times (only 32"). Sometimes can be controlled by longer/stronger arms which he will face in the NFL. Uses primarily his bull rush, and often spins late in the bull rush. This is ineffective and often opened a seam or made him lose sight of the ball carrier. Doesn’t knock down a bunch of passes. This is not just due to his arm length, but he also raises his arms late in the rush if at all. Weight issues in the past need to be addressed. Reported has been as heavy as 390 lbs and has played as heavy as 360 lbs. Conditioning, much like Big Snack, will be a year in year out issue.
Coach’s Analysis – Ta’amu should be spelled Ta’aMOO, because he is built like a bull. After last year was considered a first rounder, fell this year due to lower production. I will address that immediately. Ta’amu is a big nose tackle, Big Snack style, and weight issues are a concern. This year, I believe he started the season overweight, and as his weight dropped, his production increased. Does this sound familiar to any other Steelers fans? By end of the season, Hampton plays like his first few seasons. Ta’amu had arguably his best college game during the 2011 Holiday Bowl, where he weighed in at 337 lbs. If I am the Steelers, I am putting weight clauses in his contract to keep him right around 335 lbs. That is where Hampton was at his best, and Ta’amu too. However, this kid still plays big. Few C/Gs in the league will be able to handle him one on one. Watching film, I watched him drive single linemen into the QB, crush the pocket against double teams, and on a few occasions triple teams. My favorite, was watching Nebraska send a TE in motion and try to block him one on one from a DE position. That didn’t work for the TE or QB Taylor Martinez. He is also much quicker than he is given credit for. 40 times are useless for Linemen on either side of the ball; the 10 yard split is a much better measurement. Ta’amu ran a 1.78 10 yard split. Comparatively, Michael Brockers (drafted 14 overall) ran a 1.77 10 yard, Dontari Poe (11 overall) a 1.68 10 yard, Penn State’s Nathan Stupar (drafted 230 overall) ran a 1.77 at 241 lbs, and Melvin Ingram, one of the highest rated pass rushers and the number 18 pick ran a 1.72 at 264 lbs. Ta’amu is comparable, he just can’t sustain that speed for long. For anyone who wants to complain about his low sack totals (1.5 in 2010, 3.5 in 2011), please do a little more study of the workings of a 3-4 defense. A NT is the least sexy position in professional sports. You are told, "Hey, please make sure no one can get through either C/G gap. While you are at it, make sure you are blocked by at least two offensive linemen so our linebackers can make the tackle." If a NT has 12-15 sacks, he probably isn’t doing his job against the run. The only thing I want Steelers fans to complain about is how much he is being held, something that happened throughout his college career and happens to NFL NT’s all the time. They only call is when it directly affects the play or is blatantly obvious on the television cameras.
From here on out, you will see each of the picks are luxury picks with special teams implications.
5th Round (159 Overall) – Chris Rainey – Runningback – Florida 5’8", 180 lbs
Strengths – Speed is an understatement. Goes from 0 to 60 immediately. Does not slow down to change directions. That instant burst helped him break the SEC record by blocking 6 punts. Very good in space. Has very good vision and patience, when paired with his burst can be deadly. A natural pass catcher with the ability to pull the ball in over his shoulder or out in front of him. Has the ability to return punts and kicks, his most likely immediate impact with the Steelers. Loves special teams. Being compared to Dexter McCluster and Percy Harvin.
Weaknesses – Size. Lacks the ability to be an every down back. Not a tackle to tackle runner, tries to get to the outside. No value in pass protection, simply can’t take on a linebacker. No true position, just a jack of all trades luxury type pick. Character issue with a threatening text sent to an ex-girlfriend. Did I mention size?
Coach’s Analysis – The character issue is a non-factor. The Steelers felt they had enough reason to draft him and I trust their evaluation of him. This kid is a special teams X-Factor in my opinion, but we will only keep one out of him and the UDFA Marquis Maze. They are similar size/tool set, and keeping both won’t happen. That being said, I think Rainey gets the nod. Watching film, he is much more explosive on tape than Maze, has more consistent hands, and is harder to bring down than his size would indicate. While Coach Haley compares him to McCluster, I think a different former Chief is a better comparison, Dante Hall. Dante Hall was similar size (5’8" 191 Lbs), speed (4.45 40) etc. But where they differ from the other comparisons is the 20 yard short shuttle which is all about directional change and speed when doing so. Dante Hall ran a ridiculous 3.82 20 yard SS. Rainey had the second faster SS at the combine running a 3.93 (second only to Casey Hayward, my favorite CB in the draft). Maze ran the SS at his Pro Day and ran a 4.33. That is 4 tenths of a second slower to travel 20 yards with change of direction included. Rainey makes the roster on special teams potential and expect a few fireworks, whether on blocks or returns. Not sure he sees the ball other than that, Brown et al need their touches. As for roster spot, he will be a 6th WR or a 5th RB.
7th Round Pick 1 (231 Overall) – Toney Clemons – Wide Receiver – Colorado 6’2 1/8" 210 lbs
Strengths – Size/Speed Combo Wide Receiver after being times as fast as 4.36 at his Pro Day. Generally good hands, particularly with jump balls. Plucks the ball out of the air using length and vertical jump to elevate about defenders. Excellent body control. Watch highlights if you get the chance and look at the number of sideline catches he makes where he had to adjust to get his feet down. A homerun threat after the catch. Agility and speed to make first guy miss and beat the rest to the edge. Tracks passes over the shoulder well. Not afraid to catch passes across the middle. Does good job of catching passes in stride and maintaining pace. Experience as a gunner on special teams. Willing blocker on running plays.
Weaknesses – When catching on the run, allows ball to get into his shoulder pads too often. Not as strong as size would indicate. Has decent after the catch ability, but not going to break many tackles. Needs to get stronger to run through arm tackles. Gets jammed at the line by smaller defensive backs. When blocking, gets too high and can get driven back. Doesn’t get in and out of cuts very fast. He needs to learn to drop hips when cutting. Routes aren’t crisp, and won’t allow for separation at the next level. Didn’t even lead his own team in receiving despite being the superior athlete at WR.
Coach’s Analysis – This kid is intriguing. A 4 star recruit who transferred from Michigan when Lloyd Carr was fired. The Size/Speed/After the catch ability are enough to make this a worthwhile pick. Add in the lack of depth at WR, and this 7th rounder has a chance to stick. Right now we have Wallace, Brown, Sanders, and Cotchery as locks. The rest are practice squanders. The most common name I hear Steelers fans clamoring about is Derrick Williams, formerly of Penn State. Just because he played here doesn’t mean he will make it in Pittsburgh. The 5th WR is going to be the guy with the most upside and special teams ability. Williams only averaged 22.2 yards per kick return when he had the job in Detroit in 2009 (which he then lost to Stefan Logan of the Steelers). And he was also on the cover teams and had exactly 2 special teams tackles, the same as the number of fumbles he had in 42 kickoff returns. Not a special teams stud. I actually think it is between Clemons, Connor Dixon (6’5”, 222 lbs, 4.4 40 yard dash, 39 inch vert, former Michigan State QB), and Jimmy Young of Texas Christian. I think Dixon is a PS guy unless he absolutely lights up the pre season and Clemons makes the roster. This could change if they keep Rainey on the roster as the 5th WR, but he is listed as RB and I think he stays there and Clemons is WR 5.
Well that is it for part 2, part 3 coming tomorrow.
So those that don’t know me, here is some background. I am a Defensive Coach (DB primarily) but have coached LB, K, P, LS, and RB, QB and WR on the offensive side of the ball. I am a 3-4 coach but have coached in a 4-2-5, 4-3, 5-2 Monster, and 44 stack. I am also a Strength and Conditioning/Speed coach. Not bragging, just giving some background so you can see where I am coming from.
SteelCage is a longtime Steeler fan, former player and current coach. For previous Blog spots, see http://www.sbnation.com/users/SteelCage/blog