Ron Cook: Draft-day decisions haunt Steelers
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In a stunning moment of candor after the NFL draft in April, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert expressed public concern about the team's decision to take Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams in the second round. The Steelers had Adams rated as a first-round talent but took him off their draft board because he was suspended for taking improper benefits in the tattoo scandal that brought down Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, then tested positive for marijuana at the scouting combine in Indianapolis after telling team officials he had never used the drug. Adams sought a meeting with Colbert, coach Mike Tomlin and owner Art Rooney II and literally talked them into drafting him.
"He met our criteria, met our stipulations," Colbert said, quickly adding, though, that he won't totally feel comfortable about the Adams selection until the day Adams retires.
Who knew then that fourth-round pick Alameda Ta'amu and fifth-round pick Chris Rainey would be the players who caused the Steelers major headaches?
Actually, Colbert and Tomlin should have known.
At least they should have known, based on the players' history, that there was a good chance they would get into trouble again.
Ta'amu was arrested in October on five felony charges after an alleged drunken-driving rampage on the South Side. He was charged with driving under the influence in 2009 while playing for the University of Washington.
Rainey was arrested Thursday morning in Gainesville, Fla., and charged with one count of simple battery after an altercation with a woman over a cellphone. He was charged with felony aggravated stalking in 2010 after texting a female acquaintance that it was "time to die." He ended up pleading that charge down to misdemeanor stalking.
Shame on Colbert and Tomlin if they were surprised by Ta'amu and Rainey getting in a jackpot again.
Give the Steelers credit for dealing quickly with Rainey. They released him Thursday, a few hours after his arrest. It couldn't have been an easy decision -- at least not an easy football decision -- because Rainey was their top kickoff return man this season and had a significant, if mostly ineffective, role as a reserve running back.
But Rainey picked a bad time to get into trouble, so soon after the Ta'amu arrest. Clearly, Colbert and Tomlin are tired of the nonsense, the abhorrent behavior. It's absurd that they didn't immediately cut Ta'amu, who was suspended for two games, briefly released, re-signed to the practice squad and back on the 53-man roster at the end of the season. But even the most patient people get to the point where they've had enough. Colbert and Tomlin reacted the same way in April 2010 when they gave away star wide receiver Santonio Holmes in a trade with the New York Jets a few weeks after he was accused of throwing a glass in a woman's face and later tweeted to one of his critical followers, "kill urself." They might not have been so quick to get rid of Holmes if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hadn't been accused of sexual assault at roughly the same time in Milledgeville, Ga. They wasted no time releasing wide receiver Cedrick Wilson in March 2008 after he was involved in a domestic-abuse incident. They might have stuck with him if Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison hadn't been accused of domestic abuse a couple of weeks earlier.
Timing is everything in life and the NFL.
Tomlin's critics -- and they are many after an 8-8 season -- are partially right when they blame him for the Ta'amu and Rainey arrests, but not for the reason they think. They're screaming he runs an undisciplined team, that he's too soft on the players. Rainey might disagree this morning. I know I do. Tomlin isn't a baby sitter. He can't watch his players 24/7. Ta'amu and Rainey are grown men. They are responsible for their own behavior.
But Tomlin and Colbert are fair targets for bringing Ta'amu and Rainey into the organization despite being aware of the baggage each carried. You play with that kind of fire, you're going to get burned occasionally. To have it happen twice so quickly with the same draft class makes the burns hurt that much more.
Tomlin and Colbert are no better or no worse than other coaches and general managers who all but sell their souls to have a chance to win. They work in tough times, a win-at-all-costs time, a time when talent trumps everything, including character. When players show you who they are, as Ta'amu and Rainey did in college, the coaches and general managers would be smart to believe them. Sure, a lot of people change. But a lot don't.
This isn't the first time this happened with the Steelers. Former coach Bill Cowher and Colbert selected Holmes in the first round of the 2006 draft despite his history of questionable behavior at Ohio State. At least Holmes helped the team win before his boorish act became too much to take. He was the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII.
Rainey won't get the chance to have that kind of impact for the Steelers. It seems unlikely that Ta'amu will play for them, although Tomlin and Colbert must think he still has a chance or they would have waived him, too, right? Can you say hypocritical? That leaves Adams, who worked his way into the starting lineup this season before his left ankle was injured in late November. He could be a starter next season.
Colbert thinks he was nervous the day he drafted Adams?
He's just now finding out what nervous really is.
First Published January 11, 2013 12:00 am