The NFL Owners Meetings are always a fun time for us here, because it provides us with one of those rare opportunities during the offseason to hear directly from Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who spoke with reporters yesterday—not to mention general manager Kevin Colbert, whose previous comments we also highlighted extensively on the site.
Among the topics that Tomlin discussed was the Steelers’ biggest outside acquisition over the past two offseasons, former San Diego tight end Ladarius Green, who was signed to a four-year, $20 million contract about two weeks ago upon the opening of free agency.
Tomlin let it be known that his and the team’s interest in the 6’7”, 250-pound tight end is not simply a recent phenomenon, but rather one that has some history behind it dating back to their scouting of him during his college career.
“We did good research on him when he came out for the draft”, he said. “He was a guy that visited with us at our facility prior to that”. And indeed the Steelers did have him in for a visit along with three other players at the time, as we covered back in April of 2012, the year that he came out.
This is all not much of a surprise, of course, given that every team’s scouting department eyes literally hundreds of draft prospects every year, and that includes the teams’ head coaches. Tomlin, as with any other coach, tends to have certain players that he favors, among them Ross Cockrell, whom they signed last August after he was released by the Bills while entering his second season. Cockrell is another player that the Steelers hosted for a pre-draft visit, as we noted back in April of 2014.
Interest in players does not cease once they are drafted, after all, and that wasn’t the case for either Green or Cockrell. The Steelers played the Chargers just last season, and Tomlin noted yesterday that the team “prepared for him”, knowing the skill set that he brings as a passing threat. Green had five catches for 50 yards against Pittsburgh as the second tight end.
Cockrell did not play much at all during his rookie season, but it just so happens that the Steelers and the Bills had an arrangement during the 2014 season to hold some inter-squad practices during training camp, which gave Pittsburgh a chance to get another close-up look at him.
Tomlin considered the team’s pre-draft interest and their pre-game scouting of Green last season “the basis of a relationship” as the Steelers look to integrate him into an offense that has never really had a player that brings along his skill set.
“I think we are going to discover ways to use him, and I look forward to that process of seeing how he fits and what dimensions he is going to add to us”, he said. “I am not going into it with any preconceived notions or to try to squeeze him into a box of any kind”.
The Steelers traded up in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft to select nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu, who proceeded to go on a drunken rampage and find his way out of town within two years. The Chargers added Green just one selection later. Pittsburgh may have been playing the what-if game ever since, and now they get to try to find out.