Scouting combine report: Memphis giant full of Poe-tential as NT
California of Pennsylvania offensive lineman Rishaw Johnson goes through a flexibility test Saturday as part of the NFL combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Johnson was invited to the combine after also being invited to play in the Senior Bowl last month.
Share with others:
INDIANAPOLIS -- Dontari Poe is a large man who can fill large holes in the middle of a defensive line. He also is so strong in the weight room he could be an elite power-lifter if he chose to pursue that profession rather than football.
That could be just the right combination for the Steelers.
They need a nose tackle who is large enough -- literally and figuratively -- to replace Casey Hampton. And they need someone who can strengthen the middle of a defense that is beginning to age.
Poe, a redshirt junior from Memphis, could be the answer.
He is the best and largest nose tackle at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium and has a chance to be available to the Steelers, who have the 24th overall pick in the April draft.
And get this? His favorite NFL nose tackle is none other than the player he eventually could replace with the Steelers -- Casey Hampton.
"I've always followed him," Poe said Saturday. "Being one of the best, as he has been for a long time, I've followed him for a long time."
"He's aggressive," Poe said. "He's one of the more aggressive defensive tackles this league has seen. His hand strength, once he gets his hands on you, he controls you. That's what I admire most about him."
Former Baltimore Ravens coach and NFL Network analyst Brian Billick said Poe is the perfect Steelers nose tackle.
"Absolutely," Billick said Saturday on a break at Lucas Oil Stadium. "He's that guy. If you're going to run the 3-4 [defense] in particular, there's not a lot of cats like that. And that will up him because the reservoir of players you can go to [is small]. People who want to run the 3-4 need that dominance. There's just not a lot of those guys."
Then Billick added, "I can't see him going to the Steelers, though. I have too much Raven blood in me. I want him to go somewhere else."
In the NFL today, nose tackles have assumed a diminishing role because they usually come off the field in passing situations.
But the Steelers consider the position to be one of the most -- if not the most -- important in the 3-4. Their entire run defense is built around the philosophy that the nose tackle is the anchor who eats up two blockers in the middle of the field.
"You can't get to third down if you don't stop them on first and second," said Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. "Anybody you take in the first round, you want to be three-down players. But nose tackles, chances are you aren't going to get them if you don't take them high, if they're worth anything.
"Can you take a guy that's not a three-down player high? Absolutely. But it's got to be unique, and they've got to be special, and nose tackle is a special part of our defense."
Colbert already has said -- and somewhat emphatically -- he expects Hampton to return in 2012, despite having surgery Jan. 27 to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. It is the second time Hampton has had ACL surgery on his left knee.
The Steelers believe Hampton will be able to return quicker than Rashard Mendenhall, who also had ACL surgery, because he doesn't have to rely on cutting and quickness as much as a running back. But Hampton is scheduled to earn $5.9 million this season -- a lot of money for a nose tackle who will be 35 when the season begins and is coming off major knee surgery.
He is freakishly large -- 6 foot 4, 346 pounds -- and is a monster in the weight room, bench-pressing 500 pounds, squatting 700 pounds and power-cleaning 400.
Memphis strength coach Ryan Cidzik called him "the strongest athlete I've ever coached in my life." His size and strength have drawn comparisons to Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and the Steelers know all about trying to block him.
But Poe is raw and unfinished, and his game will need some major refinement from defensive line coach John Mitchell. That, though, is usually OK for the Steelers, who rarely let rookies play in their defense, anyway.
"I love the weight room, I do," Poe said.
"It's something I got into in high school. I never let up on it. I'm intrinsically motivated to do it, but football is the most fun part about it."
There are other nose tackles who could command some attention in the draft. Washington's Alameda Ta'amu (6-3, 348) could go in the second round, and Alabama's Josh Chapman (6-3, 310) might have had higher draft stock if he didn't have surgery for a torn ACL after the season. But Poe is the attraction.
"It's not as deep as some of the other positions but there's enough," Colbert said. "We'll have enough to look at some in higher rounds."
First Published February 26, 2012 12:00 am