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Cosell: Smith a good fit for Steelers offense

INDIANAPOLIS - Few people watch as much game film of NFL teams as does Greg Cosell.

That's why the NFL Films guru feels Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made a solid hire in adding offensive coordinator Arthur Smith to the staff to run the offense.

And the interesting thing for Cosell is how Smith, a former play caller for the Titans and head coach with the Falcons, will scheme things with the Steelers.

"He's been a run-game guy," Cosell said Wednesday while appearing on Steelers Nation Radio here at the NFL Scouting Combine. "He's been a base personnel guy who plays with multiple tight ends. This is what he's done. So the question is, is that what he's going to do in Pittsburgh? 

"When he was in Tennessee, they had Derrick Henry, and so obviously, the run game was the foundation of the offense in Tennessee. So, again, that's why the question is, is this what he believes in? Or was this just a function of personnel. They obviously didn't have a great wide receiver core in Atlanta and they had two good backs. I think it's pretty evident that Mike Tomlin wants to play a certain kind of football, and he might see Arthur Smith as being part of that physical football, grind it out, run the ball, have that be a meaningful part of how you play."

That would match up well with the personnel the Steelers have in place. In Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, the Steelers have a good one-two punch at running back. And they have tight ends in Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington and Connor Heyward that have proven they can function well at the NFL level. They also have a pair of wide receivers in George Pickens and Diontae Johnson who have topped 1,000 yards in a season at their disposal.

The Steelers averaged 118.2 rushing yards per game in 2023, which was 13th in the NFL, but averaged 145.2 rushing yards over their final 10 games of the season.

The key, for Cosell, is Smith getting the most from quarterback Kenny Pickett.

"You need him to be highly efficient," Cosell said of Pickett. "You need him when you go shot plays to be able to connect on those, because if you're going to build around the run game with multiple tight ends, when you're going to take a shot play, you're calling that with the fact that you know what you're going to get from the defense, the defense will be predictable, and you want to be able to hit those plays. And then you have got to convert third downs."

In his second season as a starter, Pickett's numbers weren't remarkably different from those of his rookie season. He completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,070 yards with six touchdown passes and four interceptions in 12 starts before suffering an ankle injury that sidelined him the remainder of the season.

Mason Rudolph started the final three games of the season and helped the Steelers get into the playoffs by winning all three of those games. And Tomlin stuck with the hot hand in Rudolph for the team's playoff loss to the Bills.

But the Steelers have expressed confidence in Pickett's future, though they would like to add some competition as he heads into his third season, whether that comes in the form of Rudolph, who is slated to become an unrestricted free agent, or someone else.

Cosell believes Pickett could still thrive in the NFL.

"I thought he was the best quarterback in that draft class, but I didn't think he was, 'Oh, my God special,'" Cosell said. "But I thought he could be a quality starter. And that's a relative term. Obviously it depends on your team, your scheme, the rest of your team. I don't think Kenny Pickett works on a team where he's got to put up 30 (points) every week."

• Off-ball linebackers took center stage at the NFL Scouting Combine Wednesday and one, in particular, already had ties to the Steelers.

North Carolina linebacker Cedric Gray has a No. 43 tattooed on his left arm, which is interesting considering Gray wore No. 33 for the Tar Heels.

Why 43?

"Troy Polamalu was one of my favorite players growing up," Gray said Wednesday. "Just the effort he played with, the tenacity and physicality that he played with, I try to model myself after that and play like that today."

Of course, Gray is a 6-foot-2, 232-pound linebacker, while Polamalu was a strong safety. But like Polamalu, Gray fills up the stat sheets in a number of ways.

In the past three seasons, Gray recorded 195 tackles, including 29 for a loss, five interceptions and 8.5 sacks while also forcing five fumbles.

Gray has the physicality and coverage ability to be an inside linebacker in the Steelers' 3-4 defense, something he hopes to show when he takes the field for drills here on Thursday.

"​​I feel like I move well for a linebacker," Gray said. "I feel like I have great ball skills. I feel like I made a few interceptions where you can see those ball skills come into play, understanding how wide receivers run routes, just the little techniques and the different triggers they might do while running the route. You can kind of expect what's coming. So I definitely feel that has benefitted me a lot."

• Two of the top defensive tackles available in this year's draft played next to each other at Texas. But though they played the same position, Byron Murphy and T'Vondre Sweat couldn't look much different.

Murphy is listed at 6-foot-1, 308 pounds, while Sweat is listed at 6-foot-4, 362 pounds.

That duo, who both figure to be selected within the first two rounds of this year's draft, set the tone for the Longhorns in 2023.

Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

"Playing next to T'Vondre, I just wanna say it was a blessing just to play with him," Murphy said. "Playing with a guy like that, he makes it easier for me, and I also make it easier for him. Each and every day, we just pushed each other trying to be great. We competed every day, and we also took a big step, a big role, in leading the defensive line. I feel like we led them in the right way."

Weigh-ins for the defensive line group will happen on Thursday, and there have been plenty of questions already of how heavy Sweat will be.

But the 2023 Outland Trophy Award winner – given to the nation's best interior lineman – isn't concerned, even though he was the only player to skip weigh-ins at the Senior Bowl.

"Last year, I played at 365, and that's where I'm comfortable at," Sweat said. "We have to grow into our bodies, and this is me, as you can see. I'm a big guy, big frame, and that's just how it is. I just grew into my frame."

• After dealing with a personal issue, Steelers General Manager Omar Khan will hold his availability here with the media Thursday afternoon.

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