Steelers harvesting Georgia peaches
Jim Russell - SteelCitySports.com
June 26, 2003 at 11:14am ET
During the 1990s, the Pittsburgh Steelers spent most of their scouting time mining for talent in the state of Colorado. The staff produced prospects such as Joel Steed, Chad Brown, Deon Figures, Charles Johnson, Kordell Stewart, Joey Porter, Clark Haggans, and Aaron Smith. But the focus of the Steelers scouting efforts has recently shifted east to the state of Georgia.
For most of the 1990s, the favorite school of the Pittsburgh Steelers scouting staff was the University of Colorado . That all began to change in 1998 when the Steelers picked wide receiver Hines Ward out of the University of Georgia in round 3. Over the last six years, the Steelers have drafted more players from Georgia than from any other school in the country.
FB J.T. Wall was the most recent addition, following Ward, Kendrell Bell , and Verron Haynes from Athens, GA to Pittsburgh, PA. Perhaps these former Bulldogs lobbied the Steelers to draft their teammates.
Bell told the Steelers that Haynes was "the best player on Georgia's team last season." Bell didn't stop there and went on to say, "I know he's one of the toughest guys I ever played against." When Pittsburgh drafted Haynes in the 5th round, he had nothing but nice things to say about Bell.
"I reciprocate it right back to him because he's doing great things," Haynes said. "I missed one day of practice my whole four years of college. Kendrell hit me so hard one day in practice that the next day I couldn't even move."
But the Georgia connection runs deeper than a few chummy alumni. Ward, Bell, TE Ryan Sprague, and S Ainsley Battles all played high school ball in the state of Georgia. The Steelers apparently have a well-developed scouting network throughout the entire state. Defensive coordinator Tim Lewis even took the time to seek out Bell's high school (Laney High School in Augusta, GA) coach, Otis Smart, before the Steelers decided to draft him. The Steelers had been following Bell since his playing days at Middle Georgia J.C.
The Steelers scout in Georgia was Dan Rooney, Jr. Rooney essentially staked his reputation on Bell and the Steelers responded by trading up, something they rarely do in any draft (see Troy Polamalu ), in the second round to make sure the organization landed their man.
Playing geographic opportunists, the Steelers scouting team looked to squeeze everything they could out of the Georgian crop. Players from this part of the country exhibit the character that the Steelers like. These prospects are hungry, mirroring the traditions of high school football in Western Pennsylvania.
Besides Wall, the Steelers picked up UDFA RB Dante Brown . Brown is from Swainsboro, GA and also played at Middle Georgia Junior College.
"I came the year after Kendrell Bell left," Brown said. "They talked about him all the time, about how great of an athlete he was. It's kind of coincidental that after he graduated high school, we started playing his team. Then after he left junior college, I came in. I kind of kept missing him all the way up."
Before the 2003 draft, the Steelers also had their eye on another Georgia player, SS David Young , who played at Georgia Southern. Pittsburgh's scouts thought enough of Young to send newly hired secondary coach Darren Perry to Statesboro, GA to evaluate the relatively unknown prospect.
"During workouts, you're hoping to see some things that don't show up on tape," said Perry about his trip to see Young workout. "You've seen [a prospect] on tape, so you know how he competes. Now you want to see his time, flexibility, and ball skills."
Perhaps the Steelers were hoping Young would fall through the cracks, but the Jacksonville Jaguars ended up drafting him in the sixth round. The Jaguars have never been shy about grabbing the very same talent that the Steelers covet. Was it any surprise when Jacksonville picked former Bulldog DT Marcus Stroud in 2001?
By now, the Steelers' success in the state of Georgia is well known to the rest of the NFL. In order to stay ahead of the pack, something the front office has done extremely well through the years, the organization will have to discover greener pastures. The question is, which state will it be?