A disappointing regular season is still fresh in the minds of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization.
Since there isn't an offseason anymore, the focus has turned to recapturing the Super Bowl swagger Pittsburgh carried into the beginning of last season.
The front office wants more running, the coaching staff was purged, and a sense of urgency has enveloped a franchise where the players are getting older by the minute.
The meat market time known as free agency and the draft begins in earnest with the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. The game is Saturday, Jan. 30, but the real game is going on right now.
All 32 NFL teams have sent a delegation that includes coaches, scouts, and even owners, to watch and evaluate the top senior talent in the nation all this week. Of course, the real poking, prodding, and testing will be at the NFL Combine next month, but the Senior Bowl is where the evaluating period begins.
With that in mind, here's a look at five players, in no particular order, the Steelers should be targeting, or at least taking notice of, in Mobile. USC safety Taylor Mays is not on this list because he'll be gone before Pittsburgh picks at No. 18, and I'll talk about Florida QB Tim Tebow in another article.
Sean Weatherspoon - OLB - Missouri
Weatherspoon has been all over the field in practice and his draft stock is rising quickly, in part because of his versatility. The 6'2", 250-pounder has the size to play inside and the speed and agility to go outside as well.
He led the Big 12 Conference in tackles (11 per game), as well as being a Butkus Award Finalist and unanimous first team All-Big 12 selection. His 155 tackles this season was the second most in Missouri history. He was also a four-year starter for the Tigers.
He's a high motor guy who plays sideline-to-sideline. His three interceptions and team-leading seven pass breakups shows he can play the pass as equally effective as the run.
The Steelers are getting old at linebacker. James Farrior is 35, James Harrison is 32, and Lawrence Timmons can't stay healthy. A guy like Weatherspoon would be the perfect fit for Dick LeBeau's defense.
Dexter McCluster - RB - Ole Miss
McCluster is another player whose stock is rising because of his versatility. He's been used in practice this week at wide receiver and, by all accounts, has performed very well.
He proved he wasn't one-dimensional in 2009 by rushing for 655 yards and catching 44 passes for 625 yards, with a combined total of seven touchdowns, for the Rebels.
The negatives are his size (5'8", 165 pounds) and the ability to stay healthy for a full NFL season.
The Steelers will most likely part ways with Willie Parker, who wants to be a starter, and McCluster could be a dangerous threat out of the backfield. Pittsburgh already has a capable third down back in Mewelde Moore, but McCluster would be a nice change of pace for the bruising Rashard Mendenhall.
Mike Iupati - G - Idaho
The Steelers need offensive linemen. Boy, do they need them bad.
Pittsburgh's offensive line gave up 50 sacks last season, after surrendering 58 the previous year. This can't continue or they'll be taking Ben Roethlisberger off the field in a body bag.
Iupati is the best guard in the draft and could be had in the second or third round.
Iupati was tackle in college, but will be moved to guard in the pros. He has the size (6'5", 325 pounds) and attitude needed at the next level. By all reports, he's been a beast in Senior Bowl practices, particularly run blocking.
He will need some work on his pass blocking to make it at the next level. Iupati was never in a three-point stance in college because the Vandals ran the spread.
If the Steelers can get him in the second or third round, they should pull the trigger and get some help for a very disappointing offensive line.
Kyle Wilson - CB - Boise State
The Steelers' secondary was woefully inadequate in 2009.
Losing Troy Polamalu had a lot to do with it, but all of the secondary, especially the corners, underperformed last season. That's why the front office and coaching staff should look long and hard at this Boise State product.
Wilson was a four-year starter for the Broncos, so he knows how to play in big games. The 5'10", 186-pounder has been the class of his position in practice, defending everything thrown his way.
He rolled up impressive numbers during his senior campaign (five interceptions, 10 pass breakups, and 15 passes defended) on his way to All-WAC honors. In addition, his 14.2 yards per punt return was the best in the conference.
Are you listening, Mike Tomlin?
Terrence Cody - DT - Alabama
Casey Hampton is a free agent and, even if the Steelers bring him back, he'll be 33 starting next season, so it's time to begin looking for his replacement.
Enter "Mount Cody."
We all know his exploits with the Crimson Tide: A first-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press and league coaches, a consensus first-team All-American who anchored the No. 2 rush defense (74.1 yards per game) and the No. 3 total defense (263.5 yards per game) in the country, and a Chuck Bednarik Award semifinalist.
Cody (6'4", 370) is a space eater, sometimes taking on two or even three blockers at a time. Remind you of anyone in particular?
There are questions about his weight and how many plays he can be in, but there is no doubt about his ability to disrupt an offense. He has been a star at the Senior Bowl practices and would be a nice fit at nose for the Steelers.
The scouts are saying the same things about Cody they said of Hampton when he came out.
How did that turn out for the Steelers?
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