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Mike Tomlin Not Sold on Drafting Nose Tackle in First Round

At a time of year when smoke screens and red herrings run rampant throughout the NFL, it’s refreshing to see one man throw some Xs and Os behind the factors that could influence his team’s decision on draft day. Such was the case for Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who appeared reluctant to stroke the narrative of the Steelers drafting a nose tackle in the first round.

“There is no dilemma, to be honest with you,” Tomlin told reporters during a breakfast press conference at the annual Owners and Coaches meeting. “We were in over 70% of sub-package football last year, meaning that…we had five or more defensive backs [on the field]. To make decisions with base defense in mind is not really realistic.”

The Steelers defense of Dick Lebeau in the past was known for its strict adherence to the 3-4 scheme, and though new defensive coordinator Keith Butler mixed in some 4-3 last year to varying degrees of success, the team still relies on three capable defensive linemen to push the pocket and give its outside rushers an easier path to the quarterback.

As such, the system typically demands a pure nose tackle in the middle of the line, capable of engaging multiple blockers and plugging the interior in the run game. The Steelers had that – in spurts – from Steve McLendon last year, but his inconsistent play and lack of playing time ended with him signing a three-year deal with the Jets.

Now, with sixth-round pick and an equally inconsistent prospect in Dan McCullers at the top of the depth chart, NT looks like a sexy pick in round one. The Steelers have shown a past affinity for drafting the best player available, which has often times turned out to be contributor in the front seven.

Many fans have grown enamoured with the play of Baylor’s Andrew Billings over the offseason – an every-down nose tackle with excellent stamina and even better hands – and are hoping he will still be in play come pick number twenty-five.

But Tomlin’s comments could be an indication that the team is finally turning its attention to the woeful secondary, where cornerback talents like Mackensie Alexander and Eli Apple should still be on the board. Or maybe, just maybe, Tomlin is playing us all for saps and is trying to throw other suitors off the trail. Welcome to draft season.

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