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Labriola on Day 3 of NFL Draft

Posted Apr 29, 2017

The picking might be over, but now is when the real work begins.

The picking is over. Now comes the hard part.

It’s a reality of NFL life, that the difference between those who make it big and those who become just a footnote in history are the ones who understand the difference between the beginning and the end.

As one example, making the 53-man roster coming out of a particular preseason isn’t a sign of a job well-done, but it’s rather the beginning of a more important phase than the one ending with the awarding of a roster spot. The guys who go on to fashion lucrative and decorated professional careers are those who understand that it’s what is done after making the team that is most important, that making the team is just the beginning of the hard work and not the signal of a job well done.

So it also is with the NFL Draft. Getting picked during this just-completed three-day weekend, or getting signed as a free agent after not being picked, is just the start of the journey for all of these professional hopefuls as well as for the teams pinning a portion of their futures on them.

“We’re excited about the young men we added to our roster, but also excited about the process we’ve gone through this weekend,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “It’s the culmination of a lot of work and it’s been a very enjoyable process. I feel good about what we’ve been able to do this weekend, but it’s not the end. It’s just the beginning. Whether it’s the beginning in terms of making additional signings, or whether it’s the beginning in terms of getting these guys acclimated to Pittsburgh and getting to know them from a football perspective, we’re equally as excited about what lies ahead as we are about what happened this weekend.”

The Steelers went into the draft with eight selections over the seven rounds, and they came away with two outside linebackers, two cornerbacks, one quarterback, one running back, one wide receiver, and one long-snapper. They didn’t pick any linemen on either side of the ball, and they didn’t draft a tight end.

AN HEIR, OR A ROOM REMODELER?
Nothing gets the juices of the fan base flowing quite like drafting a quarterback, and the Steelers opened Day 3 of the 2017 NFL Draft by doing that for the first time since 2013. That was the year when the Steelers used their second pick in the fourth round – the 115th overall – on Landry Jones, and today they again added a quarterback in the fourth round when they used the 135th overall selection on Joshua Dobbs.

“I think you are always trying to better yourselves in the room,” said quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner, “regardless of what Ben Roethlisberger is doing, just to throw that out there. Whether (Roethlisberger) plays five more years, six more years, I tease him all the time saying we have to go eight (more). That’s irrelevant. It’s a matter of strengthening the (quarterback) room, finding some characteristics that he can bring to the Steelers that we value to make us better. I think our room just gets competitive. That’s always a good thing. You are looking for competition, and it just happens that it fell at quarterback this year.”

Dobbs (6-foot-3, 216 pounds) literally comes to the Steelers as a rocket scientist. He is on track to graduate in a few weeks with a degree in aerospace engineering, with a minor is business, and in a recent interview with Peter King, he said, “My senior year I was taking astronautics, propulsion, and an aerodynamics class . . . all on the same day. At the same time as football season when I was leading an SEC team. I think I can handle it.”

At Tennessee, Dobbs was 23-12 as a starter, with a 3-0 record in bowl games, and those numbers tied him for the fifth-most wins by a quarterback in school history. Dobbs set school records for career rushing yards by a quarterback (2,160), career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (32), single-season rushing yards by a quarterback (831 in 2016) and single-season rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (12 in 2016). He also ranked fifth in Tennessee history in career passing yards (7,138), and his 9,360 yards of total offense (7,138 passing, 2,160 rushing and 62 receiving) rank third in school history. Dobbs, whose completion percentage improved from 59.6 in 2015 to 63.0 in 2016 left Tennessee as one of three quarterbacks in SEC history to record 15 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in multiple seasons.

With this offseason being one that included Ben Roethlisberger’s first public recognition of his football mortality, the issue of if/when to draft his heir apparent has been a hot topic throughout Steelers Nation. As a fourth-round pick, Dobbs is entering the NFL the same way as Landry Jones, who was drafted to be groomed into a backup; but as a quarterback drafted just three months after Roethlisberger said what he said, there are bound to be conclusions drawn regarding the timing of that.

“I am not trying to replace anyone,” said Dobbs. “I am just trying to be the best I can be each and every day. Show up and work. Learn as much as I can from a future Hall of Famer. It’s definitely an amazing opportunity. Each day I am working and preparing like I am a starter, but also treating it as a learning opportunity so that whenever my number is called, I am ready to go, ready to play, and ready to play at a high level.”

A L-O-O-O-N-N-N-N-G-G-G-G CORNER
Kyle Whittingham was a defensive coordinator before getting a chance to be a head coach, and he gets the credit for noticing that cornerback Brian Allen had a brighter future in football than wide receiver Brian Allen.

“My first two years at Utah, I played receiver and wasn’t being utilized a lot, so my head coach came up to me and told me, ‘We want to try you out on defense,’” said Allen. “I made the switch to defense in 2014, and I have just been there ever since.”

What makes Allen so very interesting is that he’s 6-3, 215 pounds, and has 34-inch arms to go along with that. Just as a point of comparing size, Mel Blount was listed at 6-3, 205 pounds. In 2015, his first-ever season playing defense, Allen had four passes defensed and an interception; those numbers improved to 10 passes defensed and four interceptions, including two in a game against UCLA, in 2016. Allen admits that tackling is not a strength of his game right now, and it’s fair to attribute it to having played defense for only two college seasons, but he seems to give the Steelers a quality they have been seeking in the defensive backs they’re adding to the roster this offseason.

“Well it depends on him, but Brian has shown the ability to get up in a receiver’s face, and he’s done a good job of pressing the receivers and disrupting receivers at the line of scrimmage,” said defensive backs coach Carnell Lake. “A guy who’s got a 35-inch vertical jump, and he’s 6-3, he’s a good jumper with good ball skills. It’s going to be tough for guys to throw that over his head. If his technique is good, which it is, and he continues to improve, it’s very difficult for these quarterbacks to get one in on the deep ball, especially if they attack it, and that’s what Brian gives you right now. He gives you the ability to disrupt at the line, the ability to play the deep ball, and he’s fast enough at 4.49 to stick with most receivers.”

 A SNAP DECISION
The last time the Steelers used a draft pick on a long-snapper was in 2004 when the team selected Drew Caylor, and it also used a sixth-round pick on him. The reason given back then for drafting Caylor was that the team was looking to populate its practice squad, and the stated reason for doing it this time has to do with competition.

“Not many long-snappers come along that we believe are draftable,” said Colbert, “and when we see one we want to add him into the mix just like we would any other position to provide competition for Greg (Warren). Colin certainly fit that bill, and that’s why we pulled the trigger when we did.”

The Steelers had signed Warren to another one-year contract at the end of the 2016 season for what would be his 13th NFL season. When asked specifically whether Warren was healthy, Colbert said, “Right now, yes. Like I said, we’re going to provide him competition. We’ll see where it goes.”

Colin Holba (6-4, 248) was a quarterback at Eastern High School in Louisville, and when it became apparent that path wasn’t going to be available to him in college, he became a long-snapper. And he had his previous experience in football to thank for that.

“In fifth grade we started punting, and I was a quarterback all growing up, so I was the only one strong enough to throw the football in between my legs upside down in fifth grade,” said Holba. “It was just sort of something I could do, and when I was done with high school and couldn’t play major college football as a quarterback, I just decided to give long-snapping a shot at Louisville, and it worked out.”

WHEN IN DOUBT, RUSH THE PASSER
In the seventh round, with their eighth and final pick of this draft, the Steelers revisited what many perceived to be their primary need entering this three day pickathon, and so it was that they bookended their Class of 2017 with pass-rushers. What started with T.J. Watt ended with Keion Adams.

Adams (6-2, 245) played in 50 games during his four seasons at Western Michigan, and he finished with 124 tackles, including 32 for loss, plus 14.5 sacks – 7.5 of which came in 2016 – five forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.

“Keion is a defensive end/linebacker who put up 7.5 sacks this year,” said Colbert. “He’s really an upside-guy who has developed over the last two years, and he’s athletic enough that he can stand on his feet and be that outside linebacker (in our scheme).”