Labriola on Day 3 of the NFL Draft

Labriola on Day 3 of the NFL Draft

NFL Draft Classes. College Recruiting Classes. Pictures of newborns. Within each of these categories, an automatic benefit of the doubt clause is considered when dealing with any level of self-assessment. No couple believes that their baby is anything but the cutest, and it’s a historical fact that those involved in either the design business or the recruitment industry always strike an upbeat tone when asked to rate their labor .

The Steelers have been in each of the 88 draft drafts in NFL history, and their role in the 88th of that draft ended early Saturday night. Over the course of those three days they selected seven players and sometime on Sunday they will announce the signing of a number of rookie free agents to put the finishing touches on the collegiate group that will forever be identified as the Khan’s inaugural class . Tomlin era. This inaugural class will then serve as one of the many historical markers that contribute to the legacy of one of the NFL’s most iconic franchises. No pressure or anything.

The names of the Steelers’ seven draft picks may not yet be etched in the memories of those who tend to pound a note on them, but what might help is that instead of learning who they are, everyone focuses on that what he is.

Who They Are: Offense tackle Broderick Jones, cornerback Joey Porter Jr., nose tackle Keeanu Benton, tight end Darnell Washington, outside linebacker Nick Herbig, cornerback Cory Trice Jr., and offensive lineman Spencer Anderson. What they are: A young group of football enthusiasts who believe it’s better to give than take when it comes to kicking ass on the field. At least that was the plan.

“I really feel that we are a better football team today than we were at 19:59 on Thursday,” said general manager Omar Khan. “I can’t wait until we get to rookie minicamp in a couple of weeks and really see our new Steelers in action. It will be fun. I think we’re in a good place.”

A review of the 2023 draft class shows that the Steelers added 3,300-plus-pound linemen, a couple of 6-foot-2-plus cornerbacks and an offensive lineman-sized tight end.

“I don’t know if size per se was a focus,” said coach Mike Tomlin when asked about it, “but obviously we value physicality and those who are able to play the kind of football that we value .”

The Steelers finished last in the NFL when they rushed into the 2020 regular season and they finished last in the NFL in running defense for the 2021 season. In neither of those two years did the Steelers play the mark of football, which the franchise has historically valued, and while improvements have been made since those embarrassments, going from worst to first in those two categories is a process. The draft class of 2023 aims to contribute to this process.

Managing football effectively and preventing opponents from doing the same is part of a general mindset that is a requirement for teams looking to consistently compete for championships. With this ultimate goal, some specialized purchases have been made. Jones and Washington came from a Georgia program that has been 29-1 in back-to-back national championships for the past two collegiate seasons. Benton and Herbig were significant components of a Wisconsin program that doesn’t have the cache of Ohio State or Michigan but has nevertheless maintained its place in the Big Ten with determination and perseverance year after year.

When Porter is described as physical, competitive, and relentless, that’s another way of saying he’s his father’s son. And according to secondary trainer Grady Brown, Trice just won’t budge.

“In today’s game,” Brown explained, “guys often run to the line of scrimmage and as soon as the receiver moves or flinches, they go back and we give back the space that we went down (to the line of scrimmage) to take away . (Trice) doesn’t. He was coached well at Purdue by those guys on how to play aggressively. Really, I shouldn’t say aggressive, just keep the line of scrimmage and get receivers working.”

Over the last couple of seasons — particularly those where the Steelers were either last on fast offense or last on fast defense — Tomlin has referenced in-game events that told a story of how they played on one or other side of the line were physically treated scrum. Apparently, not getting dealt on one side or the other of the line of scrimmage is a focus this offseason. One point Benton said was made to him during the preliminary design process.

“Just talking to Coach Tomlin the main thing I took away from that was he wants jerks out there and he wants someone who isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty and I think I am the best option for this guy.”

When later asked if Benton had accurately reproduced the conversation, Tomlin denied anything, although he was disappointed that his boy had spoken it out loud.

“That’s an accurate description,” Tomlin said, “but I’m going to give him some media training so he can keep some of our private conversations private.”

Then again, maybe it’s time to ditch the subtle approach, because subtle isn’t a quality that has room in an NFL line of scrimmage when it comes to winning the series of one-on-one fights that erupt every time the ball is snapped. During this period of free agency and now the draft, the Steelers have added or retained players on both sides of the ball who aren’t afraid to get their noses dirty where it all has to start.

And that’s really all. A start. Because while there will be judgments, some individuals unfairly criticized and others prematurely anointed, the combined three days of the 2023 NFL draft are nothing more than another preliminary part of the ongoing process. Precise conclusions are not possible, and those who try anyway can slip into the role of a permanent punch line.

That is exactly what happened when the following passage appeared in the January 30, 1974 issues of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It was written in response to the first five rounds of the two-day 1974 NFL Draft, in which the Steelers selected Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, cornerback Jimmy Allen and Mike Webster on January 29:

“The Steelers appear to have come out of wide receiver significantly stronger from the first five rounds of the draft, but nowhere else. They didn’t get a tight end, and the ones that remain are more suspect than promising. They didn’t get a punter, even though none of the top collegiate punters in the nation walked in the first five rounds. They didn’t get any offensive tackle that might have support, which could well become a weakness. What they got was Swann, who seems a sure bang to help; Lambert, who poses as the No. 5 linebacker when he folds; and three question marks.

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