Some fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers still talk about how the organization (mainly referring to Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert) does a poor job of drafting players. Despite the mountain of evidence stating otherwise, most complaints come from the Day 2 and 3 draft picks of the Tomlin/Colbert regime.
The fact of the matter is, for every Colin Holba taken in the 6th round, there’s an Antonio Brown, or L.T. Walton, to cancel out the poor selection.
Not every pick can be a home run, but string together some doubles and you’ll score plenty of runs.
As for L.T. Walton, he has turned into a very important depth piece of the team’s roster along the defensive line. In 2016, when Cameron Heyward was lost for the year with a torn pectoral muscle, it was mainly Walton who stepped up and performed well in his place.
Entering 2017, it was Walton who hasn’t only been filling in for both Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward, but who’s also added nose tackle to his resume. Before the season, defensive-line coach John Mitchell said it would be Walton, not Daniel McCullers, who’d be the first up if Javon Hargrave weren’t able to play for whatever reason.
As a 6th-round pick, Walton has become a very important part of the team, and his role could expand during the second half of the season.
Time to check on the Black-and-gold news outside the walls of BTSC:
The Steelers' depth chart at defensive end lists a pair of starters who were blue-chip recruits, went to big-time programs and were taken in the first 1½ rounds of the draft. The top backup is a former top-10 draft choice.
No. 4 on the list? L.T. Walton, a former two-star recruit who went to college at the only place that offered him a scholarship, per Rivals.com (Central Michigan of the Mid-American Conference). He was a sixth-round pick in 2015 who quietly has kept his roster spot, working behind the scenes to earn the trust of the Steelers’ defensive coaches.
“There's not many guys from Central Michigan — as unbelievable as it sounds, given that we’ve had a really good one (Antonio Brown) — who have come as far as L.T. has,” veteran Cameron Heyward said.
“But he's really grown a lot. You see the growth, whether it's strength or him knowing what he's got to do, and you see his motor out there, which you love.”
That motor has been more on display in recent weeks as Walton has gotten more reps in the absence of $60 million man Stephon Tuitt, a former second-round pick from Notre Dame.
While Tyson Alualu, the No. 10 overall pick in 2010, has been starting in place of Tuitt (back injury) at right defensive end opposite Heyward, Walton is the next man up at a position where rotating bodies is preferable.
Walton had perhaps his best game as a pro in Sunday's victory at Detroit when he played a quarter of the defensive snaps. Walton had a tackle in which he pursued a ball-carrier more than 10 yards downfield, in addition to a play in which he hit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford while batting down his pass.
That second-quarter play nearly resulted in a fumble.
“Just doing my job,” said Walton, who was unblocked on the play. “Honestly, I'm doing what I'm supposed to.”
The Steelers don't get a bye-week so much as a four-day bye.
They spent Wednesday morning in a team-bonding event at Dave & Buster's before being released for the league-required amount of time. Some Steelers take this time to get away from football, though most don't truly escape the sport for any length of time.
Here's a look at how five fairly prominent Steelers will spend the time between now and Monday when they resume formal preparation for rest of the season and the Indianapolis Colts:
Davis is staying in Pittsburgh. And while he plans to rest some, he'll also spend part of his days at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, coming in, working out and saying hello to Mike Tomlin.
“I'm in the lab this week," he said.
Davis feels he has to get better, he said, and will be hitting tackling dummies and sleds in his time off. There's nothing in particular he saw on film that's compelling him to, he said, other than feeling he has to improve.
Said Davis: "I'm not going to kill myself, but I'm not vacationing.”
Sitting in position-group meetings, Cameron Sutton comes off as thinking more like a defensive coordinator than the rookie with zero career snaps that he is.
"He's already onto the next level of why we do things, which is interesting because most young guys are trying to figure out how to do things," free safety Mike Mitchell said.
Sutton's questions have a more conceptual than positional focus. The third-round pick out of Tennessee showed Mitchell he knew where to be within their first weeks on a football field together.
On Tuesday, the Steelers took the first concrete step towards allowing Sutton to show the same on game days. Sutton, who’s on short-term injured reserve, practiced with the team for the first time this season. Pittsburgh has 21 days either to activate Sutton to the 53-man roster or leave him on reserve for the rest of the season.
And while Sutton (hamstring) has said he's been physically ready for weeks, it's what he showed Mitchell off the field that convinced the veteran safety the rookie will have a role to play this season.
"Every man in that room can make a play and Cam will fall in that group somewhere," Mitchell said. "Where, we don't know, but we know he can ball."
Since he became the Steelers’ starting quarterback three games into his rookie season in 2004, Ben Roethlisberger has been among the best in the NFL.
In fact, the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback is on a Hall of Fame track as he continues to climb the NFL leaderboard in a number of key categories — yards, touchdowns and completions among them.
Roethlisberger measures his success, however, in a far different fashion.
“Winning has always been my No. 1 priority,” Roethlisberger said recently. “I said that since the first day. That’s always No. 1 for me. But as a younger guy you definitely worry about if my stats (are) helping us win or lose. Everyone in this business wants to put up good numbers, but I think as you get older you just appreciate how you can win football games without just putting up big numbers.”
It’s a good thing, because the big numbers haven’t been there much lately.
In the past 17 games, including the post-season last year, Roethlisberger has thrown for 300 or more yards only three times. He’s thrown 22 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions during that span.
But the Steelers’ record in those 17 games is 14-3.
That’s why the Steelers, who are 6-2 this season as they head into their bye-week, aren’t overly concerned with their star quarterback’s recent struggles.