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Jim O’Brien: Do Steelers look for trouble in draft?

April 30, 2012

O’Brien: Do Steelers look for trouble in draft?

Pittsburgh sports author and Valley Mirror columnist Jim O’Brien

Sometimes the Steelers do something that baffles me.  The team’s owners and administrators like to boast about doing things “the Steelers’ way” and then they turn around and do something that doesn’t jibe with this proclamation.

         The team likes to think it conducts it operation on a higher level than the majority of teams, and drafts altar boys for the most part, but sometimes the Steelers stray from that modus operandi.

         The latest example came last Friday when the Steelers selected Ohio State’s Mike Adams in the second round of the newest TV reality show that is billed as the National Football League’s college draft.

         The Steelers need to bolster their offensive line.  So they drafted David DeCastro, a guard from Stanford, with their first round choice and then Adams, an offensive tackle, on the second round.

         There’s a big difference between DeCastro and Adams.

         DeCastro appears to have a clean record while Adams failed the drug test at the scouting combine in February.  How stupid is that?  The combine was on the calendar and one would think anyone regarded as a potential first rounder would resist the temptation to toot some marijuana for a few months in advance of the test with their pro football career on the line.

         Adams had tested positive for marijuana several times in his early career at Ohio State.  He also had to sit out the first five games of his last season at Ohio State because of an NCAA suspension.  He was one of the Buckeyes who got into trouble with quarterback Terrelle Pryor of Jeannette for accepting improper gifts and services.

         By coincidence, I was in Columbus, Ohio visiting our daughter and grandchildren to celebrate our granddaughters’ respective birthdays, so I was able to learn more about Adams by reading reports in The Columbus Gazette.

         Adams had told the Steelers he has changed and has agreed to submit to counseling to correct the errors of his ways.

         Steelers’ general manager Kevin Colbert is okay with that.  “It’s more of a risk than we’re usually comfortable in taking,” said Colbert in defending the selection of Adams, “but again, because he was forthcoming, because he took matters (into his own hands) and met our criteria, we’re comfortable in taking the risk.”         

         Surely, the Steelers could have found someone else of similar size and skills in the giant player poll that didn’t have such negative stuff in his resume.

         I recall how the Steelers selected another marijuana user from Ohio State in the first round back in 2006.  That was wide receiver Santonio Holmes.  There was a biographical sketch in the next day’s newspaper in Pittsburgh that concluded with this note: Is the father of three children to two different women, neither of whom he has wed.”

         Silly me, I looked at that information as suggesting a character flaw.  Holmes had great football talent, of course, and caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger that won Super Bowl XLIII at the end of the 2008 season.  So he was a great pick talent-wise.

         But Holmes had off the field problems, including being nabbed with marijuana in his car in a police stop, and became a cancer in the clubhouse.  He was dealt to the New York Jets and soon wore out his welcome there as well.

         Paul Brown, who was such an innovative and successful coach and owner of the Cleveland Browns way back when, believed that players with character flaws and low intelligence would ultimately fail and be detrimental to the aims and aspirations of a pro sports team.

         Mike Adams was thought to have first round ability in this 2012 draft, but teams looked elsewhere because of his checkered past and his marijuana history.

         Adams, mind you, is some physical specimen at 6 feet 7 ¼, 322 pounds, and hails from Farrell, Pa.  It was his dream to become a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  He knew the team was interested after he had contacted them in advance of the draft to express his desire to play for them, and to explain his personal conduct, but even he thought he blew his chances of realizing that dream when he tested positive for marijuana at the combine.

         Here’s my problem with all this: one would think the Steelers would be sensitive to picking up a potential problem player after what has gone down in recent years with off-the-field misbehavior involving Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, Jeff Reed, Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Cedrick Wilson and Hines Ward, just to name a few of the more publicized cases.

         I watched baseball and basketball games on TV throughout the NFL’s three-day draft, checking in on the draft from time to time just to see how it was going.  It seems to me that I have been hearing the same talking heads examining the draft prospects in depth for the last six months.  If I’m going to spend any considerable time at Radio City Music Hall it will be to watch the Rockettes dancing on the stage.

         The Steelers were thought to be desirous of drafting Dont’a Hightower, a linebacker from Alabama, on the first round, but they drafted DeCastro instead and Hightower went on the next pick to the New England Patriots.  Hightower is a linebacker and he’s sure to have more of a visible and measurable impact on the Patriots than DeCastro will with the Steelers.  It’s the difference in their positions and how most observers see the game. 

         There were some developments I didn’t understand any more than the Steelers selecting Adams on the second round.

         I don’t understand why the Washington Redskins drafted two top-notch college quarterbacks.  With the second pick in the first round, they, of course, chose Robert Griffin III of Baylor.  Then, in the fourth round on Saturday, the Redskins selected Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins.  How is Griffin to interpret that decision?

         I would have liked to have seen the Steelers pick up a young quarterback like Cousins to groom as Big Ben’s eventual successor.

         Then, too, it was mentioned that the top pick, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck would have to learn a new offensive scheme under offensive coordinator Bruce Arians with the Indianapolis Colts.

         They said Luck had been such a success with the West Coast offense employed at Stanford.

         If the Colts are virtually starting over with a new front office and a new coaching staff at Indianapolis in the post-Peyton Manning era, why not go with the West Coast offense that Luck has thrived in rather than the system favored by Bruce Arians?

         The same thinking applies to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Why do Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the Steelers have to learn a new offense under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley?

         The Steelers’ offense was good enough to win one Super Bowl and get to another.  Haley is a bright young coach and it’s his full-time endeavor and it would seem to me that it would be easier for him to learn the language of the Steelers’ offensive system, and tweak it a little to get in some of his favorite plays, than it would be for the entire team to learn a new playbook.

         I felt the same way when Chuck Noll brought Joe Walton to the team as its offensive coordinator back in 1990, and the entire team, starting with quarterback Bubby Brister – who wasn’t the brightest light bulb in the room – had to learn a new playbook.  They weren’t happy with that and it didn’t work out successfully.

           I fully expect that ESPN’s Mel Kiper & Co. will begin dissecting the 2013 draft any day now.

          Pittsburgh sports author Jim O’Brien has a series of “Pittsburgh Proud” books available at his website   He can also be found on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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