Monday, February 26, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
INDIANAPOLIS -- What kind of structure the Steelers use to play defense this season could come down to simply whether they draft someone such as Jarvis Moss or Paul Posluszny.
Each suits the 4-3 defense more than the 3-4, which is the kind the Steelers have used for nearly a quarter of a century.
Coach Mike Tomlin said he will let the talent on his team dictate which defense they play, but it will be him and Kevin Colbert who decide what talent they pick in the April draft that could lead them in one direction or the other.
Pick someone such as Moss or Posluszny and it signals a 4-3.
Moss stands a tad taller than 6 feet 6 and played defensive end at Florida. Mel Kiper, in his first mock draft, picked him for the Steelers at No. 15. The Steelers interviewed him at the NFL Combine and talked with him about possibly playing linebacker, as many teams have. In reality, the 250-pounder is a perfect, pass-rushing defensive end in a 4-3.
Posluszny stands 6-1 and weighs 238 and looks the part of the perfect outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, the way Jack Ham played it in the Steelers' 4-3 in the 1970s.
The Steelers have taken a keen interest in linebackers and defensive ends since the combine started Thursday. Many of those players have listed the Steelers among the teams that have interviewed them.
"They seemed pretty interested because they do have an older linebacking corps,'' said Anthony Spencer, a 6-3, 266-pound defensive end from Purdue.
The Steelers must decide by March 6 whether they will pay linebacker Joey Porter a $1 million roster bonus, followed by a $4 million salary. There are indications they will not and instead cut him loose. If that happens, they will be thin at outside linebacker.
But they have options, whether they line up in a 3-4 or a 4-3.
In a 4-3, end Aaron Smith can move to tackle and play what they call the 3-technique, which would line him up on the outside shoulder of the guard with Casey Hampton slanting over the center. Brett Keisel can remain at end in the 4-3 but the Steelers would need another, either through the draft with someone such as Moss or using Clark Haggans there. The middle linebacker could be Larry Foote with James Farrior moving outside along with James Harrison. But they also would need more pure 4-3 outside linebackers such as Posluszny or maybe a Jon Beason of Miami in the second round or even Penn State's speedy Tim Shaw later.
If they stick with the 3-4, they already have their front in place and could simply stick with Haggans on the left and start James Harrison on the right -- barring any immediate draft help. They also could draft Moss and use him as a situational rusher until they move to the 4-3, perhaps in 2008. Or, they could draft Posluszny and let him play on occasion as a rookie until a switch to the 4-3 is made.
Nebraska defensive end Adam Carriker measured 6-6, 296, and that would seem to suit a 3-4 end. But he could play either and that's something the Steelers might want at this point.
"It really doesn't matter to me," Carriker said. "Whatever teams want me to do. I did it at Nebraska, had no problem with it. If they want me to play 3-technique [tackle in a 4-3], if they want me to play D-end, whatever, I don't care."
Carriker met with the Steelers at the Combine and said he talked at length with their position coach, presumably John Mitchell.
"He said he's watched film of me, the D-line coach, and he said I reminded him of one of his D-ends right now," Carriker said.
"Yeah, that's what he said."
There were 327 college football players at the Combine this week auditioning for the NFL. The ones the Steelers choose on defense in two months should help determine what kind of defense they aim to play.