The Tennessee Vol – Pittsburgh Steeler Connection
I attended the Universe of Tennessee for some of my graduate studies. Had the pleasure to have been attending while Peyton Manning was the quarterback. Got to watch Tee Martin take the Volunteers to a national championship. As a lifelong Steeler fan I also pay a lot of attention to Tennessee players who I think would be good fits for the Steelers. Unfortunately, and often, the Steelers, when they do dip into the Tennessee player pool end up drafting players I really don’t think should play for the Steelers. Here are some of my thoughts on the ones we’ve drafted and one who joined the team later.
The first thing that I want to say is pretty much every player we’ve drafted from Tennessee has been a really good guy. A few I’ve interacted with, most I haven’t, but all from all reports are high quality good people.
So let’s start out with the guy we didn’t draft. Justin Hunter was a great college player, fluid, fast, contested catches. But also someone who had a tendency for drops. I didn’t really seem him as a Steeler coming out of college and obviously, neither did the Steelers. But in the eternal quest for Big Ben’s tall, fast outside receiver Hunter has ended up on the roster for a couple of seasons and seems to follow the same pattern each year. Looks great in camp, makes some big catches in the pre-season, early in the season there are flashes that he and Ben have some chemistry. Then some drops, and then little PT, then a non-factor for the rest of the season. Honestly, I hope they don’t end up re-signing him this year.
Cam Sutton is a guy I really hoped would end up in Pittsburgh and was excited when he did. He was fantastic at Tennessee, solid player and a ballhawk with incredible speed and a threat to go to the house whenever there was a turnover in his hands. Things have been bumpy in the NFL for Cam, first a big injury and then difficulty finding his place. Having Mike Hilton turn into a surprise star hasn’t helped him get on the field. It looks like for Cam this is likely a make or break camp and season for him and I’m pulling for him to make an impact.
Ok, my assessment of Josh Dobbs is going to piss some people off because I know there is a big Josh Dobbs fan club out there. I was disgusted when the Steelers selected Josh Dobbs. First, to echo my initial statement above, Josh Dobbs is an amazing and great guy. Brilliant, nice, totally an above the neck kind of guy. He’s got a good arm, great athletic talent and can kill a defense when he breaks the pocket and runs. Unfortunately, I watched him play quarterback and Tennessee and the dude is infuriating as a quarterback.
You may recall this year, Dobbs comes off the bench after Ben goes down. Jumps in throws a huge completion for a first down. It was a tough and huge third down throw and he looked like a damn hall of famer. Of course the next series that he came in for, he looked like a rookie. That’s Dobbs, that was Dobbs in Tennessee and that is Dobbs in the NFL. On one series he can look like the second coming of Randall Cunningham and the next the second coming of Ryan Leaf. I know some folks don’t want to hear it, but Josh Dobbs is not the future. My best bet for camp this year is that when it’s over, Mason Rudolph is the number two quarterback on this team.
Dan McCullers, if ever a man deserved the nickname “big” he certainly does, a mountain of a man. But not just big, big and strong, nimble as hell for a man the size of an SUV. Sort of a megasized defensive version of the Bus. He was also the most frustrating player I’ve ever watched in college. At some point in the game, he would explode off of the line, knock someone back five yards, dance around a second blocker and destroy a quarterback or running back. Then, nothing for huge stretches. I wanted the Steelers to take a flyer on him, and they did. And although he’s improved and is back on smaller contract as depth, McCullers has never developed into the kind of defensive line beast everyone hoped for. It seems from everything I’ve heard and everything I’ve read that he’s just too freakin nice. He doesn’t have that angry, nasty edge that makes for a great defensive lineman. Too bad for us as fans, good for him.
Probably the greatest Tennessee Volunteer to Pittsburgh Steeler success story. Ramon Foster was a great lineman in TN and a great lineman for the Steelers. Sure, he’s not winning pro bowl nominations, but he’s been a solid and dependable guard on a great line for years. He’s talented, hard working, dependable and doesn’t get injured. I was happy he found common ground with the Steelers this year and is coming back on a new contract.
A quick nod to Tee Martin, like Dobbs, someone I like but never wanted to see come to the Steelers. As it proved out in the NFL, Tee Martin just wasn’t a starting level quarterback in the NFL. And that’s a great thing for college football, as Martin is turning into someone who has the potential to be a great offensive coordinator and maybe even a big time college head coach.
Finally, the one that got away. I knew there was never any chance that the Steelers would use the draft pick needed to pick up Kamara given we had Le’Veon Bell. But I wanted it to happen, and now, with the whole Bell saga I look prophetic and damn it would have been great. Alvin Kamara was the draft equivalent of a quarter horse I once liked at Los Alamitos. I bet this horse one night, only to watched it pull the 4 hole and get bounced around coming out of the gate, once it steadied this horse ran like lightning, but in quarter horse racing if you don’t get out clean there just isn’t enough time to make up ground. The next week I bet it again, same thing. The next week I bet it again the same thing. The first week it had been 3 to 1 odds to win, now in the fourth week, it was going off at 10 to 1, but it finally drew the outside post, which meant it would get away clean. I was in Reno and went to every sportsbook and not one had wagering on Los Alamitos. The horse came out of the gate clean, destroyed the field, paid 11 to 1, the exacta was $70, I would have made a ton of money on that horse.
I felt the same way I did that night, when the New Orleans Saints drafted Kamara. He didn’t have the greatest stats at Tennessee, but like the horse at Los Amatios it wasn’t his fault. He had guys in front of him, bad lines, a bad team but when he got his shots man he was spectacular. Once he got to the NFL, on a decent team it was the Kamara show all of the time. Personally, over the length of his career I think he’ll pan out to be on par or better than Bell.
2019 NFL Draft
Tennessee has had some rough years and literally had zero invites to the combine for this year’s draft. In fact, it’s so bad that the only Tennessee Volunteer football player worth talking about quit the program in mid-season as a running back only to re-emerge as a wide receiver draft prospect out of Baylor and his name is Jalen Hurd. He’s also someone if he’s available in the 5th round and we haven’t used up those picks to trade up for a Devin (oh please let us trade up for a Devin) than we should grab Jalen Hurd. This kid is a big receiver and I don’t just mean tall, he’s a tank with good hands and good speed and might be someone who could develop into a really good possession receiver and at 6’4″ 230, the kind of almost hybrid receiver/tightend guy that could be a matchup nightmare. He’s a good blocker and has a Steeler mentality. Would definitely be a project but having only played receiver for two years, his upside is really high, here’s his draft profile.