by Will Graves
PITTSBURGH (AP)—Aliquippa native Brandon Lindsey spent the last weekend in April gathered in a room with his family waiting for the phone to ring.
The former Pitt linebacker didn’t expect to hear his name called in the first round of the NFL draft, or the second.
Then the third round passed. Then the fourth. Then the fifth.
At that point, Lindsey grabbed the remote and turned the TV off.
“I didn’t want to hear it anymore,” Lindsey said.
Instead he turned his attention to figuring out where he wanted to sign as a rookie free agent. The answer was stunningly obvious.
Lindsey had attended Aliquippa High School where as a senior he had 115 tackles on defense and rushed for 743 yards on offense.
Then he spent five years in the same building as the Steelers, practicing on the same expanse along the Monongahela River. He often wondered what it would be like to walk through the door on the left—which leads to the Steelers headquarters—instead of the one on the right that leads to Pitt’s football offices.
The reality is even better than he imagined.
“I’d been over here before but it’s nothing like when you’re a part of the organization,” he said. “Now you know you’re a part of their team and it’s a great feeling.”
One that is in stark contrast to the roller coaster Lindsey rode during his final year with the Panthers, who went through four head coaches—and a couple of interim ones—in the span of 14 months.
Lindsey was a second-team All-Big East selection at defensive end under Dave Wannstedt in 2010, only to see the coach who recruited him let go, leading to a series of missteps that culminated in Todd Graham bolting Pitt after just one season for Arizona State.
All that tumult hurt the Panthers on the field, and perhaps the professional prospects of the seniors. The draft came and went without a Pitt player being selected, the first time that’s happened since 1999.
“I think it hurt us just not having the sense of home,” Lindsey said. “We didn’t feel like we had a place we belonged. You go from one system to the next to another one. It’s hard for any 21, 22-year-old to get used to losing your coach two years in a row.“
Lindsey did his best to pitch in during Graham’s brief tenure, moving from end to “Panther” linebacker, a hybrid position that gave him the freedom to either stand up or get down in a stance on a given play.
All that shuffling around, however, came with great responsibility. Perhaps too much. Lindsey’s sack total dipped a bit to 8 1/2, though his presence freed up things for the guys in front of him. Defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Chas Alexcih combined for 17 1/2 sacks while linemen keyed on Lindsey.
Though Lindsey believes switching positions “hurt my production” it also gave him perspective.
“I tried to make the best out of a bad situation,” he said.
The constant moving made it difficult for NFL teams to project Lindsey at the next level. Does he pack on 30 pounds on his 6-foot-2, 250-pound frame to play end or drop a little weight to play outside linebacker?
The Steelers will have Lindsey stand up and try to find a spot behind veterans James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
The ranks behind the two Pro Bowlers are pretty thin—Jason Worilds is the only established backup—and Lindsey believes he’s got a legitimate shot to survive the long journey from minicamp to the final 53-man roster in September.
“It doesn’t hurt to play behind LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison,” Lindsey said. “You can’t learn behind two better players. Hopefully I’ll be able to pick their brains and see how they go about their business, how they practice, how they play and that will rub off on me.”