Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mike Tomlin Makes Easy Draft-Day Decisions

"It was an easy decision for me."
-- Mike Tomlin

Sunday's game at Lambeau Field will feature a pair of second-round rookie running backs who appear to be damn good players. The Steelers chose one over the other, and the more Mike Tomlin talks about draft-day decisions, the more he makes it clear that they are his decisions.

Tomlin made the following comment in response to a question this week about the decision to draft running back Le'Veon Bell with the 48th overall pick instead of Eddie Lacy, who went to to Green Bay with the 61st overall pick.  
“It was an easy decision for me. Again, probably because of the things that I talked about with his versatility that he’s displayed here but also at Michigan State. Obviously, Lacy is a top-quality back and rightfully so. He was a great back at Alabama. Obviously, he is over 1,000 yards and is proving his worth in Green Bay. Probably it’s just a matter of preference. Just like I am sure Cincinnati went through the same discussions and thoughts when they took Giovani Bernard in front of both of them.”
Got that? No mention of Kevin Colbert or anybody else ....

"It was an easy decision for me."

Who Makes the Decisions?
Tomlin has made similar veiled statements previously. Which raises the question: Who's been making key draft-day decisions since Tomlin's first year, 2007, when the Steelers selected Lawrence Timmons?

In 2008, was Tomlin's decision "an easy one" to draft Rashard Mendenhall over Ray Rice or Matt Forte or Chris Johnson?  There's not one player left on the Steelers' roster from that infamous, unfortunate draft class.  Nor is there is a single player other than disappointing first-rounder Ziggy Hood left on the Steelers from the wasted 2009 draft class.

Was Tomlin also the one who made the decision to draft, say ... Alameda Ta'amu, Chris Rainey and, oh, take your pick

We'd like to know, but we never will.

Those draft-day decisions -- those failed drafts, the whiffs and misses -- are a large reason why the Steelers are where they are today. 

For the Record
We like Le'Veon Bell and believe he'll be really good. And, if you watched last Sunday's Green Bay-Dallas game, you'll probably agree: Lacy played like a ferocious beast -- fast, powerful, explosive. He ran hard, determined, and was extremely tough to bring down. He has a presence that is impossible to ignore. We'll see if it lasts, but he sure was impressive in Dallas.

Repeating something we included in an earlier post ...

After battling early-season injuries, Bell has looked solid for the Steelers.
  • Bell has 43 catches for 388 yards and 646 yards rushing on 96 carries. 
  • Lacy has 31 catches for 236 yards and 1,028 yards rushing on 248 carries and is in a leading candidate for offensive rookie of the year. He had 141 yards rushing last Sunday vs. the Cowboys. 
Joey Porter's Pit Bulls like Bell a lot and wanted the Steelers to draft him -- but we also were surprised the Steelers took him in the second round. He'd been projected to go later (third or even fourth round), so selecting him in the second round seemed a bit of an over-reach. They believe in him, though, and we'd love to see him succeed. Both he and Lacy appear to be good players.
It's very early in their respective careers, and way too early for second-guessing.

Who's better? Just enjoy the show on Sunday.

So Long, Joe Long

Joe Long
This may be kind of a footnote transaction, but the Steelers lost offensive tackle Joe Long off their practice squad yesterday.

A lot of people thought he'd make the active roster out of training camp. He'd been signed to the Steelers practice squad on Nov. 28, 2012, made it through OTAs and training camp, was waived on the final cut but signed to the practice squad and worked with the team all season.

Long played college ball at Division II Wayne State (Michigan) and was recipient of the 2011 Gene Upshaw Award as the top Division II lineman, both offensive and defensive).

Curious 'n Curiouser
Long's departure occurs near the end of a year in which the Steelers traded for left tackle Levi Brown during the season, only to have him go on injured reserve before playing a snap for them. And it occurs about two weeks after they signed former Browns tackle Rashad Butler, only to have him leave the team for "personal reasons" a few days later -- also without playing a down for them.

So, although the Steelers went after those two bums guys during the season, they kept a promising young player around for development only to have the Chicago Bears sign Long to their active squad (on a two-year contract) yesterday.  We'd previously wondered about these curious roster machinations.

The Steelers had signed Long to one of those "futures" contracts in January 2013, along with a lot of other players whose names were unfamiliar to most casual football fans. His last name, however, is a familiar one in the NFL: His brother Jake Long is a former first-round draft choice of the Dolphins who now plays for the St. Louis Rams.

The Rams had originally signed Joe Long as an undrafted free agent in May 2012, following that year's draft and kept him through training camp but waived him on the final cutdown at the end of training camp 2012.

Now, after two years struggling to make an active roster, he joins a first-place team, the Bears, that just happens to be battling the Green Packers, the Steelers' opponent this week, for a division title and the right to go on to the playoffs.

Good luck, Joe Long. We hope you apply all you learned with the Steelers to helping you become a Super Bowl champion this year.  What a story that would be.