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Savran: Will Farrior be tough enough?

Saturday, April 20, 2002

I have no doubt James Farrior is very athletic, can defend against the pass, can play three downs and leap tall buildings in a single bound.

But there's a critical immeasurable quality needed to play inside linebacker. Toughness.

The inside linebacker is the equivalent of playing nose tackle standing up. You're engaged in hand-to-hand-combat with guards, tackles and fullbacks -- constantly up to your behind in alligators.

Earl Holmes played the position with an edge and a pervasive toughness that spread throughout the entire defense, giving it that Steelers identity. It can't be measured by a stopwatch, nor in feet, inches or pounds.

It's something Farrior will have to display.

Heading into the weekend, Pokey Reese was hitting better than .300 and playing an a-MAZ-ing second base.

Armando Rios appears to be, as advertised, a solid, dependable performer. A pro's pro.

Ron Villone, Josh Fogg, and Kip Wells were a combined 5-3 with a 3.95 earned run average. Between them, Mike Williams, Mike Fetters and Brian Boehringer had a combined 1.30 ERA with six saves in six opportunities. All are late-season or off-season acquisitions.

Oh, and the team is winning. It's still very early, but how's that Dave Littlefield guy doing so far?

I could lop some salaries from the Penguins' payroll if they would allow me to trim the roster just a touch.

Letters of regret would go to: Janne Laukkanen -- nice guy but can't play; Hans Jonsson, even nicer guy but can't play; Mike Wilson, a nice enough guy but definitely can't play; Jean-Sebastien Aubin, a living testament to Murphy's Law -- what can go wrong will go wrong. After every game he bemoans his fate -- the bad bounce, the unlucky goal. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you expect things to go badly, most often they will. For Aubin, they most often do.

I would actively pursue trading Aleksey Morozov. This was his breakout season, so trade him now? For exactly that reason.

After finally doing something, his value has never been higher.

Plus, I don't necessarily consider 20 goals a breakout season. Not when he spent most of the year skating on a top line with either Mario Lemieux or Alexei Kovalev, and on the top power-play unit.

More than a third of his goals came during the stretch when Mario's hip was being -- shall we say -- chemically massaged. I don't think he'll ever be much more than he is, so now is a great time to get something for him.

Speaking of getting something, what do you get for a team that has everything?

Well, I'm not so sure the Steelers have everything they need.

The loss of Bobby Shaw left a hole, perhaps bigger than the team will publicly admit.

Troy Edwards has skills, but not necessarily the type that translate into being a good third receiver.

That position is about reading defenses, finding soft spots in that defense, and then actually hanging on to the football.

Although he certainly wasn't alone, Edwards didn't exactly find a comfort zone in Kevin Gilbride's offense, which required a great deal of reading and changing routes on the fly.

He did lead the team in receptions in 1999, but that was as an outside receiver.

And his reception total would have been elevated by a third had he caught half of the balls that clanged off his hands.

There's never a good time for a dropped pass, but it's especially crippling on possession downs. Edwards has skills and can contribute, but I wonder about him doing so in a role of such critical dimension.

Which is why, if you apply a modified definition to need, the Steelers should take a wide receiver in the first or second round. It's a deep draft at the position.

It would give this rookie a chance to actually contribute in his first year, and it would allow the team to use Edwards --if he makes the team -- in areas where his talents are better suited.

Other Best Athlete Available, nonspecific need first rounders for the Steelers: Dave Brown (1975), Bennie Cunningham (1976), Greg Hawthorne (1979) and Mark Malone (1980).

Will Daryl Sims, Aaron Jones, Tim Worley, Huey Richardson, Deon Figures and Jamain Stephens watch the draft today?

Do you suppose they all live together somewhere in a draft-bust commune?

Best line from a talk-show caller in many a moon.

"Well, Stan and Guy, got to go. I want to be at the front door when Derek Bell delivers my pizza."

Stan Savran is the hosts a sports talk show from 8 to 9 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970).

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