Steelers gamble on rookies with serious medical concerns

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FIRST ROUND PICK–Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 first-round draft pick, Jarvis Jones, left, is presented with a team jersey by team president Arthur J. Rooney II, April 26, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

 

by Smokin’ Jim Frazier

Football often has been described a “collision” sport, rather than a contact sport, the implication being that the contact players engage in upon the football field is considerably more violent than what they might face in other sports.

Former NFL star linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide last year because he suffered a debilitating brain disease, likely caused by two decades worth of hits to the head.  Surprisingly, during his 20-year career, he had never been diagnosed with a concussion.

The Steelers drafted several rookies last week with serious medical concerns.

They used their first round pick to select outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (6-2, 245) of Georgia. Jones began his collegiate career at USC in 2009. He decided to transfer to Georgia in 2010 after not receiving medical clearance to return to football from USC doctors due to spinal stenosis.

Spinal stenosis is an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal that may occur in any of the regions of the spine. Georgia is known as the “Peanut” state and any doctor who clears a player with spinal stenosis has a peanut brain.

It was puzzling why General Manager Kevin Colbert would waste a first round pick on a player who will likely sit on the bench for the next two seasons. Pro Bowler LaMarr Woodley and Jason “All” Worilds are the starting outside backers.

“I have never started a rookie linebacker since I have been here,” said linebacker coach Keith Butler. “Jason Worilds is the next man up. He has worked hard and knows our system and he will be our starter.”

Running the football is an important part of the Steelers offense and their history.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s offense is a zone blocking scheme where stretch plays can create cut back lanes to be exploited by a back with some speed and power and they found their man in the second round.

Le’Veon Bell (6-2, 245), of Michigan State, is a big back that draws comparison to Eddie George and Steven Jackson. Bell rushed for 1,793 and 12 touchdowns to lead the Big Ten in 2012.

He can step out of tackles, drop his shoulder and plow through contact. Bell is light on his feet, displays an effective spin move and hurdling ability in the open field.

Rashard Mendenhall now plays for Bruce Arians and the Arizona Cardinals, so Bell will compete with Issac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer for the starting running back position.  Pittsburgh also signed former Pitt halfback LaRod Stephens-Howling. He was an unrestricted free agent who played for Todd Haley in 2009 with the Cardinals. He is also a good kick returner.

The Steelers were looking for a player who has the speed to stretch the field the way that former receiver Mike Wallace could do.

Wide-receivers are the engines that drive the high-flying, big-yardage offenses across the league and the Steelers found a replacement for Wallace in the third round.

Markus Wheaton (5-11, 185) set the Oregon State school record for career receptions with 227. He led the team in receiving with 91 catches for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012.

Wheaton is a speedster who also ran track for the Beavers. He joins Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery to give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a dangerous group of receivers.

The Steelers traded away their third round pick in 2014 to the Cleveland Browns to get an additional pick in the fourth round and then drafted a safety and a quarterback.

Safety Shamarko Thomas (5-9, 215), of Syracuse, is a very mature young man. His father was killed in a motorcycle accident during his freshman year. His mother passed away in her sleep when he was a sophomore. He is taking care of his five brothers and sisters.

Thomas is a physically tough player who has a history of concussions.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley appears to be buying into all the stereotypes attached to Black quarterbacks. Haley has replaced Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon, Jerrod Johnson and Bryon Leftwich with John Parker Wilson, Bruce Gradkowski, Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones.

Haley was the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs and the offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals and never had a Black quarterback on his roster.

Quarterback Jones (6-4, 225), of Oklahoma, is the Big 12’s all-time leader in passing yards with 16,646 yards and 123 touchdowns. Jones suffers from “big-game” disease.  Jones will panic under pressure and has played poorly in big games. He could not avoid the rush against Notre Dame, Kansas State and other powerhouse teams.

“Getting to stand behind Roethlisberger is going to be a huge opportunity for me,” said Jones.  “Ben’s sister Carlee played basketball on the same team as my wife and she was in my wedding.”

Fifth round draft choice cornerback Terry Hawthorne (6-0, 195), of Illinois, led the team in interceptions in 2011 and was named the Kraft Hunger Bowl Defensive Player of the Game.  Hawthorne averaged 21-yards on Punt returns and has kickoff return experience.

Hawthorne, broke his right hand as a freshman and broke his right foot as a sophomore.  As a senior he was carried off the field on a stretcher against Wisconsin because of a concussion.

With their first pick in the sixth round the Steelers took Oklahoma wide-receiver Justin Brown who transferred from Penn State after the Sandusky scandal. With their second pick in the sixth round they grabbed middle linebacker Vince Williams of Florida State.

In the seventh round the Steelers selected defensive end Nick Williams of Samford and also signed 15 undrafted rookies.

The off season began with the Steelers missing the playoffs. The consensus outside the Steelers organization was that their first round draft choice needed to be an offensive lineman. The offensive line allowed nearly 200 quarterback sacks over the last four seasons.

After an 8-8 season there is plenty of blame to go around. So why isn’t General Manager Kevin Colbert receiving any?

In 2008, Colbert drafted Mendenhall in the first round, Limas Sweed in the second round, Bruce Davis in the third round, Tony Hills and Dennis Dixon in the fourth, Ryan Mundy in the fifth and Mike Humpal in the sixth. None are still part of the team.

By the way, Colbert’s 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011 drafts were equally as bad.

In spite of the construction of PNC Park, Heinz Field, the Rivers Casino and the Consol Energy Center, for now, it looks like the Steelers are bent on team destruction.

I give the Steelers draft a failing grade. Colbert and his Mickey Mouse scouting department seem to be Gomer Pyle-ing there way through the draft!

An Afterthought: The Rooney Rule is failing. The rule requires that each team interview, but not hire, a minority candidate. Eight NFL teams fired their head coaches and all eight teams hired White coaches.

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