The NFL Combine: Missouri linebacker is Steelers' kind of player

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Sean Weatherspoon seems like a natural fit at inside linebacker for the Steelers. He chatters like Larry Foote, has played behind Ziggy Hood and even knows the difference between the buck and mack positions in their 3-4 defense.

And, like Hines Ward, he is smiling all the time.

"That's my thing, always talking, always having a good time," said Weatherspoon, a Missouri linebacker and one of the top inside prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I love football. It's not a right to play football. It's a privilege. The good Lord has blessed me with that privilege to be here, and I am excited. "

He might get another privilege: Eventually replacing James Farrior at inside linebacker in the Steelers' defense.

Of all the positions the Steelers might want to address in the NFL draft, perhaps none is in more need of attention than inside linebacker where Farrior, their captain, is 35 and without a young replacement behind him. That became even more apparent after nose tackle Casey Hampton, who will be 33 in September, signed a three-year, $21.3 million contract last week.

Weatherspoon is not considered the top linebacker in the draft. Right now, that distinction belongs to Alabama's Rolando McClain (6 feet 3 1/3, 254 pounds), who is bigger than Weatherspoon (6-1 1/4, 239) and played in the 3-4 defense in college with the national champion Crimson Tide.

But McClain might not get past the New York Giants, who have the 15th overall pick in the draft and are looking for a replacement for Antonio Pierce. Because of his size, McClain could also play middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense.

"I think me playing under coach [Nick] Saban kind of gave me an advantage, especially playing in his 3-4," McClain said. "His 3-4 is so complicated. He's coach Saban. He's one of the best defensive minds. I learned so much from him."

The Steelers have the 18th overall pick and, if they don't have a shot at McClain, might consider Weatherspoon, who played with last year's No. 1 pick -- Ziggy Hood -- at Missouri. Weatherspoon finished with more than 400 career tackles with the Tigers and is considered an inside linebacker in the 3-4 because of how well he runs to the ball.

Other teams, though, are looking at him as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. Not the Steelers, who met with Weatherspoon Friday night.

"Coach [Mike] Tomlin said he saw me fitting in at either the mack or the buck," Weatherspoon said, referring to the positions played by Farrior (buck) and Lawrence Timmons (mack) in the Steelers' defense. "He was saying inside, that is what he talked about. I don't have a problem with that.

"If I've got to do the dirty work and take on the linemen to free up the other players for them to make plays, then I am all about that. I am all about just being a team guy and taking care of business."

And what if he got to play behind Hood again?

"That would be cool," Weatherspoon said.


Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com .


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