MONDAY, FEB. 24
You've probably heard bits from this by now, but here's the entire group interview with Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix, who struck me as a leader who gets it done with a smile on his face. I joined the group a few questions in, as they were talking about his weight loss:
Q: Why did you put the weight on?
LN: I didn't put it on. It was already there for a while. I don't know. I mean, I enjoy my weight. (Pause) But people wanted me down, so I lost weight.
Q: When you came out of Jacksonville, what made you pick Notre Dame?
LN: It's a special place, probably one of the best universities in the world. It was different than what I was used to. Culture shock at first. I wasn't used to the cold. Didn't like it at first. But I stuck with it. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Q: How's the knee?
LN: How's the knee? It's fantastic. How's your knee?
Q: Doing pretty well.
LN: Yeah, see.
Q: What weight did you lose?
LN: Oh, about 23 pounds since January, when I first got to API out in Arizona.
Q: What did you measure here?
LN: I think they had me at 6-2, but I think I'm 6-3. And I was 331.
Q: Is that where you want to keep it?
LN: It depends on who you ask. If somebody wants me to stay there, I'll stay. If they want me to get sexier, I gotta.
Q: What have teams told you so far?
LN: They've told me I would probably be best small, 330, so I guess I'm staying here.
Q: Isn't the knee concern intermingled with the weight concern?
LN: I can't diagnose myself and say that. I'm not a doctor.
Q: You can't keep a knee healthy with all of that weight, right?
LN: I don't know. I see a lot of big people walk around with nice knees. I mean, I hope it helps my knee and I plan on staying low, so hopefully my knee stays good like it is now. I'll be good.
Q: Where do you see yourself being drafted?
LN: In a perfect world, I wish I was the number one pick, but I don't see that happening because I'm not a quarterback or Jadeveon Clowney. I just want to get drafted, to be honest.
Q: Favorite teams?
LN: Growing up I was a Jaguars fan, but now I'm trying to get a job. I don't have favorites right now.
Q: What teams have reached out to you?
LN: Everybody's been consistent, about the same. None more than the other.
Q: How many formal interviews have you had here?
LN: About seven.
Q: Any that stand out?
LN: I was kind of star struck by Pete Carroll. I seen Tomlin and Harbaugh. He was kind of nice. Sorta.
Q: Which Harbaugh?
LN: The Ravens.
Q: Where do you rank with the nose tackles in this class?
LN: Where do you think?
LN: Thank you.
Q: Are you a hold-the-point only guy? Or do you have some wiggle?
LN: I think I can wiggle a little bit. I have dance moves, so that should prove a lot.
Q: Prefer 4-3 or 3-4?
LN: No, I don't care to be honest.
Q: What do you hope to show teams Monday?
LN: That my knee is well. I can run on it. I've got a little wiggle. Just show that I'm back to myself a little bit. Less weight though.
Q: Do you feel the difference with the weight at all?
LN: Yeah, man, my stomach doesn't stick out as much. That's kind of nice. I enjoy that part. And my thighs got a little smaller. I just feel sexier, man.
Q: What's the favorite food that you cut out?
LN: Five Guys. I enjoy my share of Five Guys and cajun fries, but I'm starting to like salads now. They're starting to taste good.
Q: What's your favorite dressing?
LN: No dressing. I eat it like chips. Just pick it up.
Q: Do you take pride in what you do on Twitter?
LN: I don't know how coaches will take it. If they don't like it, I'll get off of it. But I take pride in it. People love me; I love people. I just like to entertain.
SUNDAY, FEB. 23
One by one, the inside linebackers I like the most -- beyond no-show, not to mention potential medical reject, C.J. Mosley -- said the Steelers haven't shown interest.
Telvin Smith? No. Shayne Skov? No. Kyle Van Noy? Wasn't saying. Chris Borland? Haven't seen him.
So I approached an interview with Jordan Zumwalt with low expectations.
And was met with a surpising answer.
"We met Friday night, informally," Zumwalt said. "We went over defensive stuff, like game planning, or things that we ran at UCLA."
Two things impressed me about Zumwalt this past season: his length (measured 6-4, 235 here) and his violence. In this past Sun Bowl, Zumwalt eviscerated gargantuan quarterback Logan Thomas as Thomas was rolling left and throwing back across his body. Zumwalt was already answering that question as I approached. It was put to him by a guy whose gaining more of my respect each time I bump into him, Bruce Feldman. He and I split the following questions:
Q: Was the hit on Logan Thomas the best hit you ever had?
JZ: "You know what, man? Against a guy who was throwing the ball? Against a quarterback? Absolutely. That was probably the best hit of my career. I'm really grateful for that opportunity to have happened."
Q: Was it sweeter because he talked the whole week?
JZ: "Yeah (laughing), you know, everybody wants to take the quarterback out of the game. And you don't do it with poor intentions like, ‘I'm going to go kill the quarterback.' No, it's nice when you don't have to play against the starting quarterback."
Q: Are there any teams worried about you going over the edge with too many personal fouls?
JZ: "No. I don't believe that's a problem. It's one thing when you're a guy who goes out and just disregards the rules and doesn't think about penalties or just loses his head. It's another thing when you have a guy who doesn't try to lead with the head and throws his shoulder. That's how they know they're conscious of making that mistake so they can help coach it."
Q: You were penalized for a gesture earlier this season. I forget what exactly it was after you filled a hole and decked the running back. Do you remember which one I'm talking about?
JZ: "Oh, yeah. I actually didn't end up getting penalized. It was against Oregon. I had hit No. 6, De'Anthony Thomas. I hit him across the middle and I gave him like a ‘Good night' (hands together, up against side of face as if he were sleeping). I was just all emotion. Thinking back to it, I'm an IDIOT for doing that. You should never do that. It looks bad. But I was just really caught up in the emotion and that's just what I did. It just felt right at the time."
Q: If I recall, you looked like you were waiting for a flag.
JZ: "Well, yeah, of course. That's the way football is going these days. They're throwing flags for any sort of hit. I hit -- never mind. I'm not going to talk about it. It's just that's the way football is going these days. They're throwing the flag a lot on contact that's big contact. And a lot of times you don't think it's a penalty but it's big enough contact to throw the flag."
Q: Did that hit on Logan Thomas hurt you? That's a big dude.
JZ: "Not really. It hurt a little bit, but a couple plays later. So I wasn't sure if it was that hit or a couple of other ones."
Q: Did you and he talk at the Senior Bowl?
JZ: "Yeah, he's a great guy. Absolutely. Logan Thomas is awesome. We're good friends now. I've seen him throughout this process the last couple days, too. Yeah, he was a little bitter at first. But, nah, it was funny. We joked about it right away. I came up to him and I said, ‘Hey, man, Jordan Zumwalt. I just want to kill the elephant in the room, man. I had no intentions of hurting you. I was just playing football. You know what's up.' And he said, ‘Yeah, absolutely, I totally get it. No hard feelings at all.'"
Q: So you're not the crazed, demonstrative beast that some of these incidents would indicate?
JZ: "Oh, on the field is a different story than off the field. When you go on the field, you can flip your switch, like people who play football would call it. The switch is something that you don't flip when you're in a regular society environment because you either end up in jail or dead. That doesn't belong in society, so you get to flip that switch when you're on the field. And so that's why when you're on the field, you act like a completely different person. Richard Sherman is the perfect example. If you talk to him off the field, he's a really educated, bright person. On the field, like that whole incident that happened, that everybody blew out of proportion, he flipped the switch, man. He was ready to roll on the field."
Q: Is there a lot of pride in the linebacking unit at UCLA?
JZ: "Oh, yeah, absolutely. We call it LBU for a reason. I like to think we're very prideful on our linebacking corps. I like to think that we had the best ‘backer corps in the country. We were pretty nice. EK -- Eric Kendricks -- and Myles Jack are still there these next couple of years. EK will be done this next year, but we had a really good corps, yes."
Q: What was your specific responsibility?
JZ: "I played every single ‘backer spot last year. I played outside; I played nickel; I played dime; I played mike; I played jack; I played outside backer; I played d-end. So I played everything we needed. Anytime somebody was needed somewhere, I played it."
Q: Who was the boss?
JZ: "Coach Brick (Jeff Ulbrich) was the boss."
Q: But who was the boss on the field?
JZ: "Eric Kendricks was the main voice of the defense. Me and him worked really well together. We collaborated a lot. There were times when we covered each other. He'd take a certain call or I'd take the other call. He'd take care of this half of the field, and I'd take care of the other half. We worked really well together."
Q: With all the positions you played, where do you think you're best-suited to play in the NFL?
JZ: "I like inside. That's for them to decide. Every team asked me where I would like to play, but it's all up in the air to be honest with you."
Q: How are you in coverage?
JZ: "I got a lot of range, man. I can cover a lot of ground. My stride takes up a lot ground. So when I open up and start to run, I can catch up to people. That's a tremendous asset. As a quarterback you have to throw the ball over me. When I put my hand up, I'm somewhere over 8 feet, and I jump to get up well over 10 feet, so that's tremendous."
Q: The Steelers might be looking for a buck, someone to set the line, make the calls. Can you do that?
Q: But you didn't do that at UCLA?
JZ: "No, no. Look, this past year I actually did it a couple games where I was the single voice of the defense, when EK would get hurt. My freshman year I was 18 years old I came in and commanded a bunch of 23-year-olds. I did that really well. I did that the last six games of the season. My sophomore year I played outside. My junior year I commanded the defense. So I can absolutely do it, and I've done it."
SATURDAY, FEB. 22
Defense begins to roll into the combine media center for interviews today. Someone asked me whom I'll target and it will be pretty much anyone not named Michael Sam.
Not that I have any problem whatsoever with gay people or players. I have a problem with being part of a mob around one particular player when that player's interview transcript will be made available to everyone.
Anyway, the defensive linemen and the linebackers are coming through today, which will fit in nicely with this little interview I did with Vic Ketchman. He was my first boss in this business. He taught me the game at a Pittsburgh suburban newspaper. He's now working for the Green Bay Packers but he's kept his keen eye on the Steelers. So he agreed to give me his thoughts.
Q: Whom should the Steelers draft?
VK: Draft the big guys. Get the big guys early.
Q: Louis Nix?
VK: He's a big guy. That's always my position when you're sitting in the top half of the first round, which they are. I mean, this is your chance to get the big guys because they go early. When you're up there, get 'em, because when you're not up there you're not gonna get 'em.
Q: Planet Theory?
VK: Yeah, a form of it. I'll tell you who impressed this on me years ago was Tom Donahoe. He used to always say 'Get the big guys early.'
Q: A big receiver?
VK: Nah. When he said big guys he meant linemen. When I say big guys I mean linemen, offensive linemen, defensive linemen. They need both. They still haven't fixed their offensive line. Their new left tackle lasted until the seventh round. If someone lasts until the seventh round, there's something wrong with him. If there's something wrong with the left tackle, teams will find the flaw. All of their efforts are concentrated right there: 'How can we beat this guy?'
Q: They think they've fixed their offensive line.
VK: Well, maybe they have. I hope they have. But they clearly need a nose tackle. What are they doing with Ziggy Hood? You need an end. (Cameron) Heyward is now coming on. That's a positive. Keep the ball rolling. If you've got a quarterback of (Ben) Roethlisberger's caliber, and you surround him with big guys, you can get all the other guys you can find. It's a bad cornerback crop. That's what they're saying. So you're not going to that guy early. I hate taking safeties early anyhow, unless he's a (Troy) Polamalu.
Q: The problem with nose tackle is they're not playing as many snaps anymore.
VK: I think the position's being redefined. The Joel Steed nose tackle days are over. I think they're asking guys to do more like the Ravens asked (Haloti) Ngata to do more. I think they're asking him to hold the point on certain plays and penetrate and disrupt on others. And a guy like Louis Nix looks like he has that dual ability. It looks like he has the size to hold the point and the quickness to penetrate. This is a good draft, a deep crop of wide receivers they say. Why go early for one? A kid like (Jared) Abbrederis from Wisconsin, in another year people are drooling over him. This year, he's a down-the-road guy. I don't know this stuff as well as the draftniks know it. I just listen to them, but I like to stick to hard-and-fast theories and philosophies and the one that I've always believed in was the one Tom Donahoe impressed upon me: You've got to get the big guys early. When you have a chance to get 'em, get 'em.
FRIDAY, FEB. 21
From the notebook of a sportswriter who thought his readers would feel warmer if I trotted out the old camp picture and headline in the middle of this neverending winter:
* Please bear with me. The coffee's ready but the league is withholding cups until 9:30. So this column has a great bustability factor.
* Speaking of which, Kelvin Benjamin just checked in at 6-5, 240. Still my favorite beast.
* But of course, what gives him the bustability factor has nothing to do with his 9 percent drop rate or the way he slows down into and out of his breaks. It's due to the fact he's my favorite beast.
* No chance of getting a quiet one-on-one interview with him today, I'm sure. Not with every sportswriter in Pittsburgh now tuned into a guy who was getting absolutely zero attention from the experts until Daniel Jeremiah linked him to the Steelers with his first draft mock. Since then, the great Greg Cosell has jumped aboard.
* One of the things I'm hearing is that no one's talking about Louis Delmas' knee at Steelers headquarters, that the worry is only about being able to afford him. I guess that's good news.
* Somebody else told me Jason Worilds is working out consistently at the South Side and is giving every indication that he likes it there.
* Kevin Colbert said that Fernando Velasco just might be ready for spring practices, if still with the team through free agency. But one source waved off any spring workout and doubted Velasco will pass anyone's physical that early in the year. The source believes Velasco will sign a one-year deal with the Steelers, begin practicing at training camp, and then try to prove for a second year in a row that he's an NFL starter.
* I asked someone what they thought of my "21" priority story about the Steelers' own UFAs. He said I'm correct in valuing Al Woods as high as I did (No. 2 priority), but said he likes LaRod Stephens-Howing more than I do (No. 17).
* In the just-what-we-figured category: The 2014 secondary will most likely include Ike Taylor but it will have to be at a reduced cost, most likely via contract extension. But the secondary will be without Ryan Clark."
* I touched on this in my Day One combine story, that Brad Wing isn't as ensconced in the Steelers' punting plans as I had suspected. The Steelers like his talent, of course, and they believe marriage has mellowed those wild oats, but they won't settle on him until he proves he can be trusted to punt the ball out of the end zone. So a camp competitor will be necessary because his ability in the clutch won't be known until at least preseason games.
* Every sportswriter here at the combine must sign up to transcribe an interview with a GM, coach or player, no matter if the group around that person is a mob or just you. I didn't want to sign up for someone I really, really cared about. I prefer not to put good Steelers-related nuggets out there for everyone to read in the official. But I did want a decent player, at a position of partial Steelers need, who would draw a small to medium crowd so I wouldn't have to ask all the questions, but someone with whom I was familiar just in case I had to ask enough questions to satisfy the powers that be. So I chose Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz.
* I didn't want to do a story on the man whom only the NFL calls "Colton John." I really don't think the Steelers will draft a tight end that high. So this was just my duty. I instead wanted to do a story on Colorado State tight end Crockett Gillmore, who scored touchdowns in both the Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. I wanted to know why he was so determined to dunk the football over the crossbar. I wanted to know if he learned anything from Joey Porter as a defensive end at CSU before moving to tight end. I wanted to know how dominant he and college teammate Weston Richburg were as high school teammates outside of Amarillo, Texas. I wanted to know if he knew fellow Amarillian Ziggy Hood. And I wanted to know what influenced the name Crockett.
* I was able to get all of my Kevin Colbert work done while the offensive linemen were passing through the interview room. And late in the day I was free when they called Gillmore. As I sat down with him, the NFL announced that Richburg was appearing at another table at the same time. Just as I shook off my disappointment over not being able to interview Richburg to get his side of this future lead to my tight end story, the NFL announced that Colton Fiedorowicz was now at a podium on the other side of the room.
* I did manage a few quick questions of Gillmore, but my day-long idea was shot. Duty called.
* It turns out that C.J., a great blocker in an old-school pro-style offense, is a wide receiver at heart. That surprised me a bit. But he repeatedly referenced Rob Gronkowski as his model. And that made a lot of sense.
* Ah, coffee time.