Labriola on Day 3 of the NFL Draft

NFL draft course. College recruiting classes. Pictures of newborns. In each of these categories, an automatic benefit of the doubt clause is taken into account when it comes to any degree of self-assessment. No couple believes their baby is anything but the cutest, and it’s a historical fact that those involved in the draft business or the recruiting industry always use an upbeat tone when asked for an assessment. of their work product.

The Steelers have appeared in each of the 88 drafts in NFL history, and their role in the 88th such draft ended early Saturday night. Over those three days, they picked seven players, and sometime on Sunday they will announce the signing of a number of rookie free agents to put the finishing touches on the college squad that will forever be identified as the inaugural class of the Khan- Tomlin era. This inaugural class will then serve as one of many historic markers contributing to the legacy of one of the NFL’s most storied franchises. No pressure or anything.

The names of the Steelers’ seven draft picks may not yet be etched in the memory of those inclined to rate them anyway, but what might help is that instead of learning who they are, everyone is more focused on who they are.

Who they are: Offensive tackle Broderick Jones, cornerback Joey Porter Jr., nose tackle Keeanu Benton, tight end Darnell Washington, outside linebacker Nick Herbig, cornerback Cory Trice Jr. and player offensive lineman Spencer Anderson. What they are: A young group of football lovers who believe that when it comes to kicking ass on the pitch, it’s better to give than to receive. That was the plan, anyway.

“I really feel like we are a better football team today than at 7:59 p.m. Thursday,” said chief executive Omar Khan. “I’m looking forward to getting to rookie minicamp in a few weeks and really seeing our new Steelers in action. It’s going to be fun. I think we’re in a good place.”

A preview of the 2023 draft class shows the Steelers added 3 linemen over 300 pounds, a few cornerbacks over 6-foot-2 and a tight end the size of an offensive lineman .

“I don’t know if height was a big deal on its own,” coach Mike Tomlin said when asked about it, “but obviously we appreciate the physique and those who are able to play the game. brand of football that we appreciate.”

The Steelers finished last in the NFL in rushing for the 2020 regular season, and they finished last in the NFL in rushing defense for the 2021 season. In those two years, the Steelers have only played the mark football that the franchise historically valued, and while there have been improvements made since those embarrassments, going from worst to first in those two categories is a process. The idea is that the draft class of 2023 contributes to this process.

Managing football effectively and preventing opponents from doing the same is part of an overall mindset that is a requirement for teams wishing to compete for championships consistently. With this as the ultimate goal, specialist purchases were made. Jones and Washington came from a Georgia program that was 29-1 with back-to-back national championships the past two college seasons. Benton and Herbig were important parts of a Wisconsin program that lacks the cachet of Ohio or Michigan State, but nonetheless holds its own in the Big Ten year after year with grit and perseverance.

When Porter is portrayed as physical, competitive, and relentless, that’s another way of saying he’s his father’s son. And according to secondary coach Grady Brown, Trice just won’t back down.

“A lot of times in today’s game,” Brown explained, “guys walk to the line of scrimmage and as soon as the receiver moves or flinches, they step back and we give back the space we have. walked (for line of scrimmage) to take away. (Trice) doesn’t do that. He was well coached at Purdue by these guys on how to play aggressive. Really, I shouldn’t say aggressive, just stay on the line of scrimmage and operating the receivers.”

Over the past few seasons — particularly during those where the Steelers were either last in rushing offense or last in rushing defense — Tomlin referenced in-game events that told of him being physically manipulated from a either side of the line of scrimmage. Apparently, not being manipulated on either side of the line of scrimmage is a point of attention this offseason. One point Benton told him was made during the pre-draft process.

“Just talking to Coach Tomlin, the main thing I took away from that is that he wants goons, and he wants someone who’s not afraid to get their noses dirty, and I feel like the best option for this guy.”

When later asked if Benton relayed the conversation correctly, Tomlin didn’t deny anything though he was disappointed that his youngster said it out loud.

“That’s an accurate description,” Tomlin said, “but I’m going to give him some media training so he can keep some of our private conversations private.”

Then again, maybe it’s time to ditch the subtlety approach, because subtlety is not a quality that belongs in an NFL line of scrimmage when the idea is to win the series of confrontations. one-on-ones that erupt every time the ball is broken. During this period of free agency and now the draft, the Steelers have added or retained players on both sides of the ball who aren’t afraid to get their noses dirty, which is where it all has to start.

And that’s really all it is. A beginning. Because while there will be judgments, there will be individuals unfairly criticized and others prematurely anointed, the three days of the 2023 NFL Draft have combined to be nothing more than another preliminary game. of the current process. Accurate conclusions cannot be drawn, and those who try anyway can throw themselves into the role of a permanent punchline.

This is exactly what happened when the following passage appeared in the January 30, 1974 editions of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It was written in response to the first five rounds of the 1974 NFL Draft, in which the Steelers picked Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, cornerback Jimmy Allen and Mike Webster on January 29:

“The Steelers appear to have come out of the first five rounds of the draft noticeably strengthened at wide receiver but nowhere else. They didn’t get a tight end, and those remaining are more suspect than potential. They didn’t get a punter. , although none of the best college punters in the country went in the first five rounds. They didn’t get an offensive tackle that could have cemented what could well become a weakness. What they did get was is Swann, who appears to be a sure-pop to help; Lambert, who figures to be the No. 5 linebacker if he succeeds; and three question marks.”

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