Labriola on the Steelers’ 2024 Draft Class

It’s an offer. Each. Bachelor. Time. Comparable to the response of parents questioned about their newborn. Immediately after the birth of a new draft class, NFL general managers and coaches routinely sit behind microphones and smile and gush when asked about the fruits of their three days of picking. Listen closely and you might hear strains of “Home On The Range” playing in the background.

“Where we rarely hear a discouraging word
“And the sky is not cloudy all day.”

General manager Omar Khan and coach Mike Tomlin said no discouraging words when they met with the media inside the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex Saturday after the Steelers finished drafting/adding 7 players over the six rounds of the 2024 NFL Draft. But at no point during the 20-minute session did anything they said seem disingenuous. And the reason was linked to the “why” of the atmosphere.

No. 1 Troy Fautanu, No. 2 Zach Frazier, No. 3a Roman Wilson, No. 3b Payton Wilson, No. 4 Mason McCormick, No. 6a Logan Lee and No. 6b Ryan Watts are the recruits, and although unique individuals with different skills, they are all tough, they are football lovers who have a physical approach to the sport and they are finishers, which must be understood in this context as the language of a coach to designate a bad sequence.

• Fautanu said: “There’s only one way to play, and that’s mean and violent. You have to enjoy imposing your will on someone.”

• Said Payton Wilson at the Draft Day Party at Acrisure Stadium when Cam Heyward asked him, “What does Pittsburgh get you?” Wilson responded: “A guy that, if there’s 75 downs played, I want to be there for all 75, and I’m going to be looking to rip someone’s head off on every one of them.”

• Roman Wilson is a fast and capable receiver, but he has revealed his motto when it comes to doing the hard, physical work associated with his position: “No block, no stone.”

• Frazier said of the benefits of being a four-time heavyweight champion as a high school wrestler: “It helps a lot, because every snap is a form of hand-to-hand combat or just using leverage, that’s why wrestling is so similar, from using the hands to understanding leverage and how to move people, that’s really what offensive linemen do.

• Lee explained how and why he grew up as a Steelers fan: “I had a friend and his dad, Austin and Rich. They were big Steelers fans. So they kind of got me started, then I started getting really interested in history. NFL stuff. I just loved the Steel Curtain era. I loved watching Mel Blount punch people in the head. I was always a huge Steelers fan growing up.

• McCormick said when asked to explain his approach as a run blocker: “I bring the same intensity and the same effort all the time. I mean, it’s a pride thing. J I feel like it’s moving things forward for an offense, and it’s an exciting time to be a Steeler.

Based on the last two draft classes and the moves made during the free agency period, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement.

Khan reiterated a core belief after Fautanu’s pick Thursday night: “I’ve said it from the beginning – offensive line, defensive line, those are big priorities. Big men. That’s where it starts. We want to be a physical football team, and it has to start there.”

Truly, for the first time since many of these rookies were born, the Steelers appear to be able to put together an offensive line with the same playmaking behavior as their defensive teammates. Tackles Fautanu and Broderick Jones; guards Isaac Seumalo, James Daniels and now McCormick and Frazier have been added inside.

They say there is strength in numbers and in the world of professional football, harshness and behavior can become contagious within the group as a whole. As was said about the impact of Mike Webster’s presence on the rest of the offensive linemen, “It’s like walking down a dark alley with a big stick.”

After finishing 10-7 in the regular season in 2023, the Steelers have been working to rebuild their offense. A new coordinator, who was previously good enough at the job to make it into a head coaching position. A major overhaul of the depth chart at quarterback. A completely different complement to the wide receiver. And now, another year of putting together a group of mobile, agile and hostile offensive linemen. Throughout Tomlin’s tenure, it’s never been fun for opponents facing the Steelers defense. Things are starting to look like going against the offense isn’t going to give opponents much of a laugh either.

The Steelers entered the draft needing a capable starting center, help at wide receiver, at least one more capable cornerback, additional capable reinforcements along the offensive line and an assortment of depth/complementary pieces on the first two levels of their defense.

Now that they’re entering the post-draft/offseason phase of the schedule, that cornerback is still out, and it would certainly be comforting to have another receiver. To that end, the Steelers restructured Alex Highsmith’s contract days before the draft to create a cap savings of approximately $7 million. A little more ammo in case an opportunity presents itself over the next month.

A few times in press sessions during the draft, Khan brought up the topic of being open and willing to listen to ways to improve the roster, and since getting the job he has been able to design a realistic plan to reduce associated risks. by opting for the aggressive path that has been the driving force for positive change. The Steelers are still three weeks away from the start of OTAs, which is nothing more than a non-contact, football-like activity in shorts anyway. There is still time, and it is better to be wise than reckless.

Fifty years ago, the Steelers held the greatest draft in NFL history, and it is absurd and cruel to suggest or predict that another one of their draft classes could match that one in the star power or franchise and league impact categories. in its entirety. Instead, what they’re looking for is a return to the style of play that was the hallmark of those Steelers teams.

In that sense, the 2024 draft class certainly looks like a step toward a return to that style. Of course, returning to this style doesn’t mean there are 10 Hall of Fame players in the building, but putting together a roster of guys who love the sport and are passionate about competing for championships within it can do the job in this current version of the NFL.

To put a face to it, Troy Fautanu.

“His commitment to the game, his passion for the game was really very evident in the communication with him,” Tomlin said of the franchise’s newest No. 1 pick. “That was relayed to us by those who had the opportunity to coach him, and we also talked to a lot of guys who played with him. His passion is real. It’s a calling card. Coupled with his tremendous athletic talent.”

And immediately after picking a 7-man class that filled some needed positions and bolstered other areas of the depth chart with committed and passionate guys like Fautanu, it’s only fair to commend those responsible for crafting the plan, then its careful execution. .

A job well done. We are now moving into the next phase, and there is a lot of work to be done in this area.

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