BREAKING DOWN DAY 3 PICKS
By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — While he won’t start right away, the Pittsburgh Steelers thought highly enough of Alameda Ta’amu to move up in the fourth round to take him with the 109th overall pick in the NFL Draft Saturday afternoon.
The Steelers swapped fourth-round picks and dumped their sixth-round selection to the Washington Redskins to get the nearly 6-foot-3, 350-pound nose tackle from Washington. If Ta’amu plays much at all this season, it should be as a backup in the middle of the defensive line.
“We’re not going to ask him to play tomorrow, in the next week or the next month,” Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell said. “We’re going to take our time with him, and I’m going to get him ready to play. When is that going to be? … We don’t open up until sometime in September, and he’ll be ready.”
Mitchell noted that veteran Casey Hampton, who had offseason knee surgery, was in last week. But Mitchell deferred to the loquacious Hampton when asked if he thought the 12th-year player would be ready for the season. Mitchell added an unsolicited comment about third-year player Steve McLendon as well.
“Everybody wants to discard McLendon, but let me say this,” Mitchell said, “Hold your opinion until the season is over. … I’m saying to hold your opinion until after the season, and then you can make the decision.”
In an interesting note, Ta’amu’s worst game at Washington last year probably came against offensive guard David DeCastro and Stanford. The Cardinal pounded Ta’amu’s Huskies 65-21, and DeCastro dominated.
“It’s going to be great to have David as a teammate,” Ta’amu said. “I played with him in a high school All-American game and against him, and you can really feel his presence. That doesn’t happen too often, but he’s very explosive from the first play to the last play. So, I’m glad to be his teammate.
“(And) I’m looking forward to coming in and learning from a guy like Casey Hampton. He can hold his own in the middle, and I really like the way he plays. I had a feeling that I’d come to the Steelers. I just had a feeling. They talked to me at the Combine and the Senior Bowl, so I thought it could happen.”
Ta’Amu also looked forward to playing on the Steelers defense with fellow Pacific Islander Troy Polamalu, who the new draft pick wanted to meet more than Hampton after he arrives in Pittsburgh.
“He represents a lot of the Polynesians out here on the West Coast, and the Samoans out here,” Ta’amu said. “To be able to play next to Troy Polamalu, I’ve heard a lot of stories from my coaches who have coached him.
“And he’s the best football player overall that they’ve ever played with because he knows the game. The way he’s out there representing Samoans and his people, I will be honored just to meet Polamalu.”
Mitchell is hopeful that Ta’amu can make half the impact that Polamalu has made during his career with the Steelers.
“In our scheme, when you get a nose tackle, you’ve got to make sure that this guy can play the double-team,” Mitchell said. “And his job is to keep the linebackers free or the safeties free, because we like to bring the safety into the box. So, if he can’t do that, he’ll have a tough time playing for us.
“He did that very well at the University of Washington. If he can keep the linebackers free and make plays, we’re going to start him from guard to guard, get him familiar with the scheme, and then expand him tackle to tackle. … I think this guy will play a long time and be a pretty good football player.”
5TH ROUND: STEELERS ADD FLORIDA RB CHRIS RAINEY
The Pittsburgh Steelers finally added some depth at running back when they took 5-foot-8, 178-pound Chris Rainey from the University of Florida in the fifth round during the NFL Draft Saturday afternoon.
Rainey, who spent the draft at the Pouncey household in his hometown of Lakeland, Fla., reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds at his Gators Pro Day. And that makes him among the fastest Steelers this year, which was intriguing to new offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
“He’s a guy that we’re real excited to bring into the mix,” Haley said. “He’s a real versatile player that, obviously, is fast and explosive. He can catch the ball and run with it and return it. So, that’s a commodity, and we’re real excited to bring him aboard, work with him and put him into the mix.”
Haley described Rainey as a situational player, when it comes to offense, and that’s not a surprise since his 19 starts at Florida were split with six as a slot receiver and 13 as a tailback. Rainey ran for nearly 2,500 career yards and 13 touchdowns (6.22 yards per carry), including 861 yards and two scores this past season. He also had 69 career catches for 795 yards and six scores (11.52 average) with 31 catches last fall and two TDs.
“It might be third down or in a package, and you might see him as a receiver or a running back,” Haley said. “You’ll probably see him do a little bit of everything, but we’re excited to get an explosive, fast player with some of those skills in the building.”
Rainey also is a dangerous return man, especially on punts, and he became the first Gators player to record a rushing, receiving and return touchdown in one game last season. Rainey has scored on runs for 76 and 75 yards, both among the top-10 long runs in Florida history. On Gators coverage units, Rainey has been dangerous as well, as he set an SEC record with six blocked punts.
Since third-year pro Antonio Brown will be a starting wideout this season, he likely won’t return punts as often, according to Haley, who said: “When you talk about guys who aren’t 6-4 and 220 pounds … we have to make sure that they’re around for the long haul.”
As far as Rainey is concerned, he’s with his perfect team, his dream team.
“They’re Super Bowl contenders,” Rainey said. “They win games, and they are good in every phase of the game, special teams, defense, offense, everything. I fit perfect. Special teams, offense, whatever it is that I have to do. I can play running back. I can play slot. I can play special teams. Wherever they want me, because I’m a playmaker all around. I feel that I fit perfect with the offense.”
With just the seventh-round onslaught, four picks at the end, it appears that Haley was the big winner among the Steelers coordinators.
“We got three potential difference-makers who are going to come in here and compete with an already good group, and that’s always a good thing,” Haley said. “But I’m excited about the young players that we’re going to see this next weekend. … From our side of the ball, we’re saying where do we want to improve and create competition, and you can never be good enough up front.
“That’s where it starts, and that’s just not coach talk. I think, if you have a good front five or the better you are up front, the more you can dominate the line of scrimmage. And the more you’re winning the line of scrimmage, good things can happen for you offensively. So, that’s what we want to do.”
Rainey admitted that while Mike Wallace is fast, the rookie believed he could be the fastest Steelers player. The only person he hasn’t beaten in a race, Rainey said, was his brother — former XFL star Rod Smart, aka He Hate Me.
The Steelers apparently have looked past Rainey’s off-field issue in 2010, which he believed hampered his draft status. Rainey was arrested for stalking when he reportedly sent a harassing text message to his then girlfriend.
“I learned a lesson not to do that ever again,” Rainey said. “It’s something I know that I won’t ever do again. I didn’t even know that you could get in trouble over a text. Plus, I wouldn’t harm a fly.”
Notes: Haley said that running back Rashard Mendenhall has been at the facility, working out and “has got his mind set on being back and contributing, so when that’s occurring that’s usually a good thing.”
7TH ROUND: STEELERS ADD WR TONEY CLEMONS
PITTSBURGH — It took Toney Clemons a while to hit his stride as a college receiver and also to get picked in the NFL Draft, but he had a dream fulfilled when his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers took him late during the seventh round Saturday night.
A New Kensington, Pa. native from Valley High School, Clemons played sparingly in two seasons at Michigan before transferring to Colorado in 2009. After taking a redshirt season as a transfer, Clemons excelled with 86 catches for 1,162 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Buffaloes.
“I thought he was a young man who was hungry and had the film, as of late, to back it up,” Steelers receivers coach Scottie Montgomery said. “He’s a guy, over the last 3-4 ball games at Colorado, showed to be a productive receiver.
“He can catch the ball and has nice range, but he has a unique combination of size and speed. We were very lucky to get a guy of this caliber at this time.”
Montgomery noted that Clemons covers the 40-yard dash in the 4.4-range. But Clemons said he was clocked in 4.36 seconds, laser-timed, during his pro day at Colorado. In any event, at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, that’s moving. The coach added that Clemons has the personality to fit into the receivers room as well.
“You have to have that to come into our room and be successful,” Montgomery said. “So, we crossed our fingers about this young man, and we were fortunate to get him in the seventh round. There’s a lot of talent that’s going to be in our room, and I’m going to try to generate as much competition as possible.
“It’s a room that’s going to challenge you, any receiver, to come in and compete. But mostly it’s going to challenge receivers to come in and compete on a daily basis. And that’s how we judge our receivers. We grade them on each play, so they’re going to challenge each other as much as I will.”
Clemons finished strong last season with 25 catches for 476 yards (19 per catch) and five touchdowns, and that certainly caught the Steelers attention. And the Steelers always had attention from Clemons.
“It’s really a dream come true, but I don’t know if there’s really one word to describe it,” Clemons said. “Maybe exuberant. Maybe astonished, but I can’t really put it into words. It’s truly a blessing, and that’s all I can say at the moment. … I had a rough career with different coaches and transferring.
“And I really never thought, with the talent the Steelers have at that position, that it was a team that would want me. I guess they saw me as a valuable guy and thought enough about me to draft me. Without those big games at the end of the season, I wouldn’t have been on anybody’s radar.”
Many believed the Steelers had an opening since Hines Ward was released and because Mike Wallace has not yet signed his one-year tender. But Montgomery couldn’t shine any light on that topic, even though he’s talked with Wallace.
“When he shows up to get coached, I’ll coach him,” Montgomery said. “The business part of it, I’ll let someone else handle that. It’s a little bit above my pay grade. So, I’ll just coach him when he gets here. When it’s time for him to play and practice, I’ll be ready to coach him. And all I can tell you is that he wants to be coached, and I want to coach him.”
Going into a season for the first time without Ward also was an unknown.
“Not only due to the relationship that all the guys had with Hines, but the relationship I had with him,” Montgomery said. “It was just a very unique relationship for me to come in and coach a guy like he was a 22-year-old guy when he’s truly a 34-35-year-old man who actually was older than me.
“But he allowed me to do that. And the younger guys watched that; they watched me coach him and treat him when he made a mistake just like I would Antonio Brown or another young guy. The sad thing is that now I’ll get the brunt of all the old man jokes. But it’s definitely going to be different.”
Notes: Clemons is a second cousin with Steve Breaston, who reportedly lobbied former Arizona assistant coach Todd Haley to select his relative. WNBA star Swin Cash also is Clemons’ cousin.
Also in the seventh round, the Steelers selected tight end David Paulson from Oregon, cornerback Terrence Frederick from Texas A&M and offensive guard Kelvin Beachum from SMU.