Could Montee Ball be the answer at running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers?
The NFL Scouting Combine is a time for the Pittsburgh Steelers front office and coaching staff to get an up-close and personal look at the draft’s top prospects.
While the results of the combine interviews and workouts will not be the sole way the Steelers evaluate potential draft picks, there will be a lot to learn.
The Steelers have needs at almost every position and must do their due diligence as they gather information on prospects and continue to evaluate their draft board. Adding young talent is imperative if they want to improve upon their 8-8 record.
With the combine well underway, there have been a number of players connected with the Steelers who could be wearing black and gold come draft day.
Here is an examination of the players the Steelers have reportedly been interested as well as other players who could be targets.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com.
Chance Warmack will get all the headlines when it comes to the interior linemen in this draft, but Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider reported that the Steelers met with Jonathan Cooper of the University of North Carolina.
Cooper would represent the third interior lineman selected in the first round in the past four seasons (Maurkice Pouncey in 2010 and David DeCastro in 2012) if they were to select him with their first pick this year.
With offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. implementing a new scheme, the Steelers will be looking for smaller, more athletic linemen who can move. Cooper fits the mold.
At 6’2” and 311 pounds, Cooper is an athletic guard who was good in pass protection and has the ability to pull. He has good power putting up the 225-pound bench press 35 times
Cooper’s three-cone drill time was 7.78 seconds and 20-yard shuttle 4.84 seconds, both of which are below DeCastro’s numbers from last year (7.30 seconds and 4.56 seconds, respectively).
It remains to be seen if the Steelers will have an opening at left guard or not, but if they do, Cooper would be a nice fit, albeit a slight reach in the first round.
A running back is arguably the Steelers greatest offseason need and it must be addressed in the draft. With a lot of mid-round talent, the Steelers would be wise to wait until the middle of the draft to address the position.
Jim Wexell reported that the Steelers have met with Wisconsin’s Montee Ball.
Ball has ideal size at 5’10”, 214 pounds and had a very productive college career with 5,140 rushing yards and an incredible 77 rushing touchdowns.
The Steelers need an every-down back and Ball could be that man, but he is not without his limitations.
Ball ran behind a terrific offensive line in Wisconsin and does not have the breakaway speed that the Steelers could be looking for, running the 40-yard dash in 4.66 seconds.
However, if the Steelers want a back with game-breaking speed, they can find a role player late in the draft. What they do need, though, is a player who can carry the load, and Ball is that type of runner.
Besides a running back, the Steelers are in need of a wide receiver, especially with the impending free agent loss of Mike Wallace.
A receiver with a combination of size and speed would be ideal and they could be getting that with Robert Woods.
Jim Wexell reported that the Steelers have met with USC’s all-time leading receiver.
Woods doesn’t have ideal height at 6’0”, but he had a terrific career as a receiver and returner at USC and is the type of receiver that could develop into a starter for the Steelers. Even better, the Steelers could get him in the second round.
No one will mistake Woods for Wallace after his 4.51 40-meter time. This won’t matter too much considering he is a strong route runner.
Woods would not be a big playmaker for the Steelers, but he would be a solid addition to the receiving corps and would help ease the loss of Wallace.
The Steelers could always use depth along the defensive line, so it comes as no surprise that Jordan Hill told Audrey Snyder of Penn Live that the Steelers are interested in him.
Hill played in the 4-3 defense while at Penn State, but he says that he believes he can make the transition to the 3-4 (via Penn Live):
“You’ve got to have a good sense of how to answer questions truthfully and honestly,” Hill said. “It’s just something that you’ve got to get used to. I told them I played five technique in college so I could play in a 3-4 at the five tech and it wouldn’t be anything new to me.”
Hill is undersized to play in the 3-4 defense at 6’1” and 303 pounds, but this could afford him leverage against taller linemen.
While he hasn’t been overly powerful on the field, Hill put up the bench press 28 times.
Hill is not the best fit for the Steelers, but if he begins to slide in the draft, he would be worthwhile to take a look at in the fifth round.
There is something special about Penn State linebackers and there is one that could be a late-round steal for some NFL team.
Coming off of an ACL injury, Mauti will be a late-round selection, but he will be a great addition to whoever gets him.
Mauti is a 6’2”, 243-pound inside linebacker who had 96 tackles, two and a half sacks and three interceptions prior to injuring his knee.
This was a tough way to end the season for Mauti, but it did not deter him from pursuing his NFL career as he sent every NFL GM a letter that he loves the game.
While Mauti lacks physical attributes, he has all of the intangibles that you could ask for as an intelligent player and team leader.
Mauti’s knee injuries are a concern, but he would certainly be worth a shot in the sixth or seventh round.
One of the most intriguing prospects in this year’s draft is BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah. He is very raw, but showed some of his potential at the Senior Bowl and will look to continue to impress as the draft approaches.
DraftInsider.net’s Tony Pauline tweeted that the Steelers are “drooling” over Ansah.
Ansah has tremendous size at 6’5”, 271 pounds. However, that may almost be too big to play outside linebacker considering he would have to drop into coverage.
Already solid against the run, Ansah will have to show that he can stand up and drop into coverage as well as develop an array of pass rushing moves. He has been asked to work out as an outside linebacker, so there are a number of teams that believe he can transition to the position.
There are few players with ceilings as high as Ansah’s, but there are also few that are as risky as he is.
Should the Steelers take this type of risk in the first? If they think he can be a dominant pass rusher, then the answer would be an absolute yes.
When healthy, the Steelers have one of the best safety tandems in the league with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. But with Polamalu’s injury issues and both safeties nearing the end of their careers, it is time for the Steelers to plan for the future.
The Steelers could address the position in the first round if they decide to select Kenny Vaccaro from Texas.
According to a tweet by Jim Wexell, the Steelers will meet with the draft’s top safety.
At 6’0” and 214 pounds, Vaccaro is ideal for a safety. It will certainly be worth watching how he performs at the combine as he tries to separate himself from the other safeties in the draft.
Vaccaro is a terrific athlete who is not afraid to get physical in the ground and air games, but is fluid enough to run with some of the more athletic receivers he has faced.
By no means is Vaccaro a polished product, but he would have at least a year to sit and learn, and could be a contributor as a nickel or dime back for the Steelers.
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette speculated that the Steelers could be interested in California wide receiver Keenan Allen and Georgia defensive end Jarvis Jones.
Allen is one of the top receivers in the draft and could eventually develop into a top option for Ben Roethlisberger.
Allen has excellent height at 6’2” and would provide Roethlisberger with at least one big option at wide out. As far as his workout numbers, we will have to wait until he is healthy enough to perform.
The Steelers would need to use their first selection to get Allen, but it could be worth it as he can fight for 50-50 balls and has the ability to get down the field.
Meanwhile, if Jones falls to them, the Steelers may not have to think twice about their selection.
Even though he has been diagnosed with stenosis, Jones is one of the most talented players in the draft and if the Steelers medical team clears him, he would be the answer at outside linebacker.
Jones has good size at 6’2”, 245 pounds to gain leverage on the tall offensive tackles in the league.
He is a terrific rusher off the edge and led the SEC with 19.5 tackles for a loss and 13.5 sacks in 2011, and led the country in tackles for a loss (24.5) and sacks (14.5), and forcing seven fumbles in 2012.
Barring a bad medical report, Jones would be a no-brainer for the Steelers if he was available.
The Steelers are in need of an outside linebacker, but Sam Montgomery may be one that they should avoid.
Montgomery admitted to not just taking off plays, but taking off games (via ProFootballTalk).
“You know, some weeks when we didn’t have to play the harder teams, there were some times when effort was not needed,” Montgomery said. “But when we had the big boys coming in, the ‘Bamas or the South Carolinas, I grabbed close to those guys and went all out.”
“Of course, this is a new league, the NFL, and there are no small teams, small divisions, it is all Alabamas and LSUs every week. It’s definitely something I have to get adjusted to, but I’m sure with the right coaching I will be fine.”
Sorry Sam, you can’t coach effort and you clearly did not have enough of it.
For a team that has locker room concerns and has questioned the offseason training of LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers do not need a no-effort player.
Montgomery could develop into a good player, but it should not be with the Steelers.
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Sean Spence’s recovery is still unknown.
According to Dulac, Spence tore multiple knee ligaments, dislocated his knee and sustained damage to his peroneal nerve.
With his recovery time unknown, the Steelers will likely re-sign Larry Foote to start at inside linebacker and draft an inside linebacker at some point to add depth to the position.
The Steelers could be without their most consistent offensive weapon for much of the 2013 season.
Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert told the media at the combine that he does not expect Miller to be completely healthy at all next season (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette):
“In my mind, when you have an ACL late in the year, I still don’t believe a player is 100 percent until a year is up,” Colbert said. “They may play before that, but…if you get something 100 percent before a year, it’s a bonus. We’ll know more when we get to April. He’ll be back at some point, but if we look at a tight end, it will depend on the tight end more than Heath Miller’s status.”
Colbert’s final statement says a lot considering there are two excellent tight end prospects who could help the Steelers on offense.
Tyler Eifert has had a terrific combine and is a legitimate first-round prospect.
Eifert is 6’5”, 250-pound tight end who ran the 40 in 4.68 seconds. He also had an impressive 35.5 inch vertical.
While he would need to develop as a blocker, Eifert is an excellent receiver who would add a massive red zone presence for the Steelers and a legitimate second option at tight end.
The problem is the Steelers would need to invest a first-round pick on Eifert and they may not want to do that. That would leave Zach Ertz as a potential second-round selection.
Ertz is 6’5”, 249 pounds and played in a pro-style offense in college.
Though he is not as fast or explosive as Eifert, Ertz still ran the 40-yard dash in 4.76 seconds and had a 30.5 inch vertical.
Ertz is a polished route runner and goes out and gets the ball with his hands, making him a dangerous option in tight quarters. He is also a physical player who can block.
Either player would add a lot to the Steelers' offense whether Miller is ready to go or not.