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Labriola in the Steelers' 2024 Draft Class


It is a given. Each. Single. Time. Similar to the parents' response to the question about their newborn baby. In the immediate aftermath of bringing a new draft class into the world, the NFL's 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 the strains of “Home On The Range” as background music.

“Where rarely heard, a discouraging word
“And the sky isn't cloudy all day.”

General Manager Omar Khan and Coach Mike Tomlin offered no discouraging words when they met with the media at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Saturday after the Steelers finished selecting/adding seven players over the course of six rounds of the 2024 NFL Draft. But at no point during the twenty-minute session did anything they say come across as unfair. And the reason had to do with the 'why' for 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 draftees, and while unique individuals with different skill sets they are all tough, they are football enthusiasts who are physical in their approach to the sport, and they are finishers, which in this context should be taken as coach-speak for having a mean streak.

• Fautanu said: “There is only one way to play, and that is dirty 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's Pittsburgh getting with you?” Wilson responded, “A man who, when 75 downs are played, I want to be there for all 75, and I'll try to rip someone's head off on every one of them.”

• Roman Wilson is a fast, big player, but he revealed his motto when it comes to the rough, physical work that comes with his position: “No block, no rock.”

• 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 so similar, from using hands to understanding leverage and how to get people moving.

• Lee said about how and why he grew up a Steelers fan: “I had a friend and his dad, Austin and Rich. They were huge Steelers fans. So they got me going, and that's when I really got into the historical history. NFL stuff. I just loved the Steel Curtain era. I loved seeing Mel Blount hit people in the head.

• McCormick, when asked to explain his approach as a run blocker, said: “I always bring the same intensity and effort. I mean, it's something I take pride in. I feel like that gets things going 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 free agency, it's easy to get caught up in that excitement.

Khan reiterated a core belief after choosing Fautanu on Thursday evening: 'I've said it from the beginning: the offensive line, the defensive line, those are big priorities. The big men. That's where it starts. physical football team, and it has to start there.”

Really, 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 as their defensive teammates. Tackles Fautanu and Broderick Jones; guards Isaac Seumalo, James Daniels, and now McCormick and Frazier added to the interior.

It is said that there is strength in numbers, and in the world of professional football, toughness and attitude can be contagious within the larger group. As was said about Mike Webster's presence impacting the rest of the offensive linemen, “It's like walking down a dark alley with a big stick in your hand.”

After the 2023 10-7 regular season finish, the Steelers have been busy rebuilding their offense. A new coordinator, who was previously good enough at that job to turn it into head coaching. A major overhaul of the depth chart at quarterback. A completely different addition at wide receiver. And now another year of putting together a group of mobile, agile and hostile offensive linemen. Throughout Tomlin's tenure, it has never been fun for opponents going against the Steelers defense. It's starting to look like going against the attack won't bring much giggles to the opponents either.

The Steelers entered the draft needing a starter-capable center, wide receiver help, at least one capable cornerback, additional competent backups along the offensive line, and several depth/complementary pieces on the first two levels of their defense.

As they enter the post-draft/offseason program phase of the calendar, that cornerback is still missing, and it would certainly be reassuring to have another receiver. To that end, the Steelers restructured Alex Highsmith's contract a few days before the draft to create a maximum savings of approximately $7 million. Some more ammunition in case an opportunity arises in the next month.

During the draft phase, Khan brought up the topic of openness and willingness to listen to ways to improve the squad a few more times during media sessions, and since getting the job he has been able to come up with a realistic plan to reduce the associated risks. by choosing the aggressive path that has driven positive change. The Steelers are still three weeks away from the start of OTAs, which is nothing more than non-contact, football-like activity in shorts anyway. There is still time, and it is better to be smart than reckless.

Fifty years ago, the Steelers put together the greatest draft in NFL history, and it is absurd and cruel to suggest or predict that any other draft class could match it in the categories of star power or impact on either the franchise or the League. As a whole. What they're looking for instead is a return to the style of play that was a trademark of those Steelers teams.

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

To put a face to that, Troy Fautanu.

“His dedication to the game and his passion for the game was very evident in communicating with him,” Tomlin said of the franchise's most recent No. 1 pick. “That's what we were told 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. Combined with his tremendous athletic talent.”

And in the immediate aftermath of selecting a seven-man class that filled some positions of need and bolstered other parts of the depth chart with committed, passionate guys like Fautanu, it's fair to commend those responsible for drafting the plan and then thoroughly implementing it. .

A job well done. Now it's time for the next phase, and a lot of work still needs to be done.

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