Ron Cook: First Colbert-Tomlin draft is a real puzzler

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Does anyone have a cell phone number for Bill Cowher?

Is it too late to try to talk him out of retirement?

How about bringing back Tom Donahoe as well? He and Cowher didn't speak at the end of their time running the Steelers, but, even in that uncivilized state, it's hard to imagine them having a worse NFL draft weekend than Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin had this past weekend.

OK, so that's an intended exaggeration, offered strictly for effect. Everyone knows Colbert has done a superb job with the Steelers' personnel department, so good that he had a huge role in the franchise's Super Bowl XL win. As for Tomlin, who can say? It's way too soon to judge the new coach. He hasn't lost a game yet. Of course, he hasn't won one, either, but you get the idea.

It's just that it's pretty hard to like what Colbert and Tomlin did during the NFL's 72nd annual Player Selection Meeting.

It's not so much their sexy picks, the top two picks. There's nothing wrong with those. Florida State junior outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons might have been a bit of a reach at No. 15 in the first round, but it's forgivable if he was. The Steelers had a screaming need at the position. Joey Porter is gone. Clark Haggans probably will be gone after the '07 season. No one is sure James Harrison will get it done as Porter's replacement. Colbert and Tomlin were smart to take not just Timmons, but outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley in the second round. Woodley, a dominating player at Michigan, looks like especially good value.

It's the third- and fourth-round picks that are troubling.

A tight end and a punter.

Really, has anyone seen Cowher's number?

While you're looking for it, see if you can find a running back, will ya?

You know, the one the Steelers had to draft but didn't.

There's only one thing dumber than a franchise that long has under-utilized its tight ends drafting a tight end in the third round. That's trading up in the fourth round to take a punter.

A punter!

Donahoe is out of work and available, isn't he?

All right, enough of that.

At least it's comforting to know new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is flexible. He emerged from a bunker at the Steelers' South Side headquarters Saturday after the team drafted Minnesota's Matt Spaeth in the third round and allowed he really might like to use three-tight end sets from time to time. Earlier, he had said he hopes to use four wide receivers on some first-down plays.

Here's the kicker:

(No, not that blasted punter.)

Arians could end up doing both a lot more than he had planned. He might not have a running back to line up before the '07 season is very old. There's Pro Bowler Willie Parker. And there's ...

Well, there's Willie Parker.

The Steelers want you to think Najeh Davenport is another Jerome Bettis, but it's OK to be a nonbeliever. They also have hopes that Verron Haynes will work his way back into the mix, but he wasn't very good when he was healthy. Now he's trying to come back from a major knee injury?

That's why it made no sense for the Steelers to pass on a running back in the third round. They could have had Penn State's Tony Hunt. He would have looked good giving Parker the occasional break, wouldn't he?

Certainly, the Steelers could have gotten a running back in the fourth round. They gave away their sixth-round pick to move up seven spots to take Baylor punter Daniel Sepulveda. Why not move up a little further and take Louisville running back Michael Bush? Oakland got him with the first pick of the fourth round. Bush could end up being the steal of the draft if he's able to come back from a serious leg injury. Or how about Ohio State's Antonio Pittman, a productive player at a big-time football school? He went to New Orleans just four picks before the Steelers took Sepulveda.

But, hey, look at the bright side.

The Steelers will get a lot of use out of Sepulveda if they can't run the ball.

We're talking about a team that lives or dies with the run. It's the only way to go. The Steelers play in the Northeast, often in cold, wet, unforgiving weather that isn't conducive to throwing pass after pass. But even if they were a dome team, they should want to ease the load on Ben Roethlisberger. You might have heard, Big Ben is coming off a 23-interception season.

Tomlin is supposed to continue the Steelers Way. No problem, he says. From day one, he has talked about football being a game of toughness, a game of attrition, how his team will be the one standing after running the ball and stopping the run all day.

Therein lies the contradiction.

Sepulveda makes the Steelers tougher?

He had better have 4.3 speed.

He could end up at running back if Parker goes down.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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