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Steelers ready to move forward with Big Ben; mock draft madness

Thoughts on The New Draft, the inexact science of mock drafting, why I miss Paul Zimmerman so much at this time of year, the tackle who's all over draft boards ... but first, the only story of the week:

The Ben Roethlisberger saga, and what the Rooney family plans to do about it.

I spoke to Art Rooney II, the Steelers president and franchise caretaker since owner Dan Rooney is at work as Ambassador to Ireland, and wanted to get one thing straight: "My read of what you said in your news conference, and to the New York Times, is that you're moving forward with Ben as a Steeler.''

"That's a fair reading, yup,'' Rooney said.

So unless Roethlisberger screws up again -- unlikely because of how scared he is right now, I'm told -- he'll be the quarterback of the Steelers this year. That is after he's suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell for some period, which I now think has to be at least four games at the start of the season, for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

I feel confident this is going to be league discipline, not Steeler-imposed discipline, even though Rooney made it clear he'd rather the team punish Roethlisberger. The league handles hot-button discipline issues like this from 280 Park Avenue consistently, and I just don't think Goodell wants to cede authority to the team on such a hot-button issue. This also allows the league to rap Roethlisberger longer; the max sanction a team can mete out is four games. The league has no such limit.

On Sunday night, Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reported Goodell is expected to suspend Roethlisberger either Monday or Tuesday. I'd been told last week that the league would still be gathering information on the incident for several more days, but then the 572-page police investigation was released, a damning lot of evidence against Roethlisberger. Whether he's suspended this week or after the draft, there's little doubt Goodell will act swiftly on a Roethlisberger sanction once he feels he has all the pertinent information.

So Roethlisberger stays a Steeler. And the league, not the team, is likely to handle the punishment. Those are the two headlines here, but there's so much more. First, I'm not sure the Steelers giving Roethlisberger another chance is going to mollify Steeler fans. I think the anger of the fans is not going to be soothed very soon, and rightfully so. If a quarter of the accusations from that night in Georgia are true, he deserves the wrath he'll feel. There could be picketing in bucolic Latrobe this summer, at training camp. He'll get booed in his own stadium. He'll have to have cotton in his ears in every road stadium. He'll be a huge distraction to his own team. The Steelers are counting on time healing the wounds of the Steeler public. I'm not sure they're right about that. We'll see.

I know Steeler fans well. I married a Pittsburgh girl. The tenor of the fans I've spoken with goes something like this: I'll always love the Steelers, but I'll never cheer for that bum Roethlisberger again.

"I understand what's out there,'' Rooney said. "It's a difficult situation. I know our fans feel strongly about it. I'm hearing from them in large measure. I've gotten e-mails, been on some message boards and on Facebook. I've read the anger, and I understand it. Ben is embarrassed by it.''

But I'm also left thinking Roethlisberger's image might have been less sullied had he been charged with a crime. We've heard a fairly one-sided portrayal of events of the evening. An underage college girl and some friends are plied with alcohol, and Roethlisberger disappears with a totally intoxicated one, and the totally intoxicated one, who hit her head at one point, told police she remembers saying no to Roethlisberger's advances twice.

I'm not sure how reliable those statements should be, but it's likely the Roethlisberger side will try to let the story die and not refute anything. I believe the night probably happened close to the way the victim and her friends say it did, and that Roethlisberger is a lout. But in this job, I'm always uncomfortable hearing one side of a story, and the damning statements of the victim and her friends will likely be all we hear on this one. Maybe ever.

As for Roethlisberger, he's lucky the Steelers have a different morality standard for their star quarterback than for their Super Bowl MVP receiver. They could have traded Roethlisberger to Oakland, and if you think I'm kidding, you don't know Al Davis. But as angry as they obviously are with him, they're going to back him, assuming he turns his life around.

We could argue all day about the relative fairness of dumping a guy, Santonio Holmes, who is one strike from being banned for a year and entering the last year of a contract the Steelers probably were not going to extend, and keeping the marquee quarterback with two Super Bowl rings and a problem with how he treats women. The fact is, the quarterback's far more important to the team than the receiver, and he's going to get a little more rope. But there's no doubt he's reached the end of it with the Rooney family.

"When I met with Ben, he said he's going to be changing his life,'' Rooney said. Then he paused for two or three seconds.

"Words are the easy part,'' he said. "We have to make sure Ben puts himself on a path to do better. It's a tall order, but it's something he has to do.''

He has no choice if he wants to stay a Steeler. And if he wants to stay a free man.

One last point: However it happened, and finger-pointing aside, at least two women have come forward in the last nine months and accused Roethlisberger of taking advantage of them -- in graphic, sordid detail. That's why Goodell's punishment can't just be four, six or eight games. It has to include some mandatory counseling. If Roethlisberger's serious about changing his life, there's some evidence there that he needs to change how he treats women, and that should include figuring out why he keeps ending up in this spot.

***

Is Bryan Bulaga the next Robert Gallery?

Two Midwestern kids, two Iowa left tackles, two guys forecast to be high picks when they entered the draft, two short-armed guys (more about that later).

Gallery went number two overall, to Oakland, in 2004. He was a disappointment at left tackle, and eventually moved inside to guard, where he's been a good player. But not good enough to have merited the second pick in a draft, ahead of wideout Larry Fitzgerald andquarterbacks Philip Rivers and Roethlisberger, clear positions of need for the Raiders.

Bulaga had a sub-par season in 2009, missing three games due to a thyroid condition and not regaining top form until Iowa's bowl game. A couple of scouts told me they're not sure he's even a first-round talent after watching Michigan's Brandon Graham abuse him on tape last fall.

"They're pretty different in terms of profiles,'' their coach, Kirk Ferentz, the former NFL line coach, told me Friday. "Bryan's a third-year college player who didn't redshirt and came out early. He came here and started at left guard as a freshman; I've told lots of the scouts that in my years of coach, there're not many true freshmen who came in and played at a high level -- Mark Stepnoski and Bill Fralic at Pitt, and then Bryan would be in their class for how he played right away.

"Robert was a career tight end [in high school and his first year at Iowa] until we switched him to tackle midway through his second year here. He stayed five years. With Bryan, it's so hard to judge him if you look at last year's film, because he wasn't allowed to do any physical conditioning for the three weeks he was out, and when he came back, he obviously wasn't the same. Look at his '08 film. He dominated. And when he came back this year for our bowl game [against Georgia Tech], watch him when [first-round defensive end prospect] Derrick Morgan lined up against him. Bryan beat him.''

Ferentz won't say it, but those close to Gallery believe he was rushed into the full-time left tackle job at Oakland when he might have been better-served playing inside a year or two, then moved outside. Ferentz compares Bulaga to Jordan Gross, who has effectively split his career playing well on the left and right side at tackle for Carolina. At 6-foot-5, rock-solid and 316 pounds, Bulaga could start his career inside at guard, or at right tackle, then move to the left side when he get more comfortable with the speed of the pro game.

In the spy-versus-spy world of mock drafting, I've thought for a while that Bulaga was a natural to go to Kansas City at five. GM Scott Pioli is so close with Ferentz I thought at one point he might try to hire him as his head coach in Kansas City. But Ferentz told me he hasn't spoken with Pioli about Bulaga this offseason, and Pioli hasn't been to Iowa City since the fall. Hmmm. Another layer to consider about the landing spot of Bulaga. I think he'll be picked in the top 14; I doubt he'll get past Seattle's second pick of the first round.

Why Mock Drafts are madness, yet we all do them anyway.

I e-mailed Linda Zimmerman, wife of Dr. Z, the other day to issue a plaintive wail about the art of the mock draft. "You have to tell him to come back and do this mock NFL draft,'' I wrote, "because it is driving me out of my mind.'' I used to love how seriously Zim -- still working hard to overcome the effects of three strokes suffered in November 2008 -- did the mock draft. He'd start shortly after the Super Bowl, go to the league meetings in March trying to hit as many coaches and GMs as possible to try to whittle away at the process, then spend hours on the phone in April with teams. Linda wrote back and said, "When I first met Paul, he wouldn't go to the bathroom for the entire week ... didn't want to miss a call. 'Hey, Paul, you can get a wireless, handheld phone!' As you know, electronics were never his strong suit.''

My mock draft was filed to Sports Illustrated on Friday, and I made a few revisions Saturday. You'll have it in your hands Wednesday, when the mag gets to your mailbox, and you will be able to find it online here at SI.com as well. Would I have liked three or four extra days to make changes and have it out Thursday? I'll answer that two ways. One: Of course I would. Two: Of course I wouldn't.

I've always done a mock draft, but Zim's version, I thought, was The Mock of Record. So taking over the mock for Zim was a tremendous burden. I know how he toiled over it. I'll never forget four or five years ago, calling him on the Sunday before the draft to give him some last-minute tidbit that was at odds with something he'd heard. "No! Don't tell me that!'' he said, or something close to it. "Now I gotta go back and rip everything up!'' For days he'd obsess. I wish I could think of a good example, but I know two or three times there was one lie, or one piece of bad information, that served as the domino to knock everything in his mock draft off-kilter.

I found myself being just as obsessive last year, and again the past few days. What I tried to do was focus on the eight or 10 things I felt good about in the mock, and building around them. Toward the end of the round, I tried to plug in players I felt would be first-rounders with the most logical team.

This year, the challenge was four through seven, and then Jacksonville (10) through the Giants (15). At four, Washington's Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan are championship smokescreeners or simply uninformative. At five, Scott Pioli has effectively shut up the Chiefs organization. At six, I agree with those who say Seattle's got three or four directions it can go and will probably go for Walter Jones' replacement -- but you can't know who that's going to be until you know what the 'Skins and Chiefs do. Down further, I've heard the following about Jacksonville at 10, some of this from people I trust a lot:

• "They're definitely trading down, even if they can't get value for the pick.''

• "They're taking C.J. Spiller. Write it down. Jack Del Rio loves him. They think he's the next Chris Johnson.''

• "Jason Pierre-Paul's their guy.''

• "I've heard they love Derrick Morgan. I think that's their guy.''

That, dear readers, is how a mock draft gets absolutely screwed up. What did I do with the Jags' pick? You'll know Wednesday.

***

The New Draft makes its debut.

The NFL has always been good at inventing television programs, and this week the league is going to try its hand at another. The 75th NFL Draft begins with the first round Thursday, and for the first time the draft will be in prime time. (The Rams go on the clock at 7:32 p.m. EDT Thursday.) But beginning at 6, the NFL Network will air a red-carpet treatment of the draft that will include the league parading out many of the 75 most valuable draft choices of all time as voted on by fans at NFL.com. (Seems like a silly concept to me, the 75 most valuable draft choices -- particularly if the 199th pick in 2000, Tom Brady, isn't very high on the list, or the 82nd pick in 1979, Joe Montana.) But the NFL has lined up several of those valuable picks -- including Dan Marino and Jerry Rice -- to walk the red carpet.

"For the first time, we are embracing the history of the draft," said Charles Coplin, NFL VP of Programming.

Other changes you'll see in the draft this year include the NFL allowing a Make-A-Wish child, a military veteran, sweepstakes winners and several Pro Football Hall of Famers to announce picks, probably in the second and third round, which will take place Friday. And beginning with Round 4 on Saturday, the picks will be announced at individual team tables at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

I like the NFL trying new ideas, but I'll miss the Saturday national holiday that the first day of the draft had become. And I also feel for West Coast viewers on the first two days of the draft. The draft begins at 4:30 local time for West Coasters on Thursday and at 3 p.m. (6 p.m. eastern) on Friday.

"We're always trying to manage innovation vs. tradition," Coplin said. "This league has tried flex scheduling, the Pro Bowl the week before the Super Bowl and prime-time postseason games. All of those got criticism when they were announced, but all three of those ideas resulted in bigger audiences. The fans have embraced them."

There's no question this draft will generate more buzz and probably a significant uptick in ratings. For the NFL's sake, I hope it isn't at the expense of fans on the West Coast.

"I'm not making any comment on that.''-- Steelers owner and U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney, asked Wednesday whether the Steeler organization stands behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Uh-oh.

"Ninety-five.''-- NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, asked on 106.7 The Fan in Washington (relayed by sportsradiointerviews.com) the percent chance that the owners will lock out the players in 2011.

"You're going to find out two of the hidden secrets in our society around 2029: Who killed JFK and who drafted Vernon Gholston.''-- Michael Lombardi of the National Football Post. In other words, no one in the Jets' offices these days is taking much responsibility for the drafting of Gholston in the first round of the 2008 draft. In two years, the pass-rush hope of the future has zero sacks.

"It's frustrating for me and it's frustrating for the other 216 guys. There are a bunch of other guys that are stuck in the same position. That's what we drew. The best thing I can do now is just go out and play football.''-- Jets running back Leon Washington, who signed his one-year, $1.8-million tender offer with New York last Thursday, meaning, in all likelihood, he'll be back with the Jets for the 2010 season. The frustration of which he speaks has been echoed, albeit quietly, by fourth- and fifth-year free agents who do not have the ability to be unrestricted this year because of the new free-agent rules in 2010.

Home-Court Advantage Dept.:

Sean Payton, the coach of the Saints, is the lead plaintiff among 2,100 alleged victims in a case scheduled to begin this week against a company from China charged with shipping drywall that made people sick and damaged other property in the home.

The trial will take place at U.S. District Court in New Orleans.

Heck of a choice for lead plaintiff. Sounds like kicking off in a football game with a 21-0 lead.

Arm length. Another one of the newfangled stats we can't seem to live without this time of year. The theory is that left tackles, because they have to get their hands on quick pass-rushers to the outside and push them off their path to the passer, need to have arms a couple of inches longer than interior linemen. Some scouts grade players down significantly, for instance, if they have 33-inch arms. Like, for instance, Iowa's Bryan Bulaga. His arms are 33� inches long. That's three-quarters of an inch shorter than the arms of Rutgers' Anthony Davis, one inch shorter than Oklahoma's Trent Williams, and 2� inches shorter than Russell Okung of Oklahoma State. Those are the top four tackles in the draft. The preferred arm length for left tackles: 34� or longer.

Let's see exactly how much it matters. The arm length of the first tackle picked in the past five drafts:

I wouldn't listen to the geniuses who say 34�- or 35-inch arms are vital to the success of a left tackle because the best two young ones in the game, Thomas and Long, are sub-33.

"Scutaro accidentally threw his bat in the crowd. Fans fighting for it to try and knock themselves unconscious.''-- @peteabe, Boston Globe Red Sox beat man Pete Abraham, on a rainy, 36-degree Saturday night at Fenway Park after the local nine, in the span of one hour, lost one game to Tampa Bay by blowing a bases-loaded, no-out chance in the bottom of the 11th, then got down 4-0 in the first inning of the second when center fielder Mike Cameron, imported for his defense, dropped a fly ball in the web of his glove. Scutaro led off the bottom of the first and the bat went flying into the stands, leading to Abraham's Tweet.

1. I think Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow aren't done being under the microscope of teams. They'll be checked out and interviewed and pulled apart in the next three days by teams trying to get some final answers on them. I think they'll be drafted between 22 and 45.

2. I think Jon Gruden should have a new reality show -- and I'm serious. "Developing Quarterbacks With an Acerbic Tongue,'' starring Gruden, Colt McCoy and Jimmy Clausen.

Gruden's show the other night on ESPN -- "SportsCenter Special: Gruden's QB Camp'' -- was beyond good, and informative. I've been around him when he's teaching and coaching (a couple of times, he's been teaching me), and the four top quarterbacks in the draft recently sat with him individually and watched tape. Jimmy Clausen, ultra-confident, also looked like a worker bee, writing down everything Gruden said. McCoy was so ticked at himself for hanging onto the ball too long on the pocket (and well he should be). Gruden was in his element, and I'd strongly recommend the network figure out some way to brand him and do these things again. Often.

3. I think there was a good reminder about contract data over the weekend from ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio, regarding the five-year, $47.3-million contract for Brandon Marshall with the Dolphins, which was widely reported as a $10-million-a-year deal. Wrote Florio: "The full contract is worth $47.3 million over five years. It contains a phony $2.7 million roster bonus payable in 2014 -- but only if Marshall participates in 95 percent or more of the Dolphins' special teams plays in 2010. Why would this be included? To allow Marshall and his agent to characterize the contract as a package worth $10 million per year. Truth be told, it's worth $9.46 million annually.''

4. I think the no-duh statement of the week comes from new Jet Santonio Holmes, on who is at fault for him testing positive for substance abuse and getting a four-game NFL suspension, which he'll serve in the first four weeks of the 2010 season. Said Holmes: "I can't fault anybody but myself for putting myself in that position.'' No kidding. No one else imbibed in whatever your substance of choice was.

5. I think the second-round pick that's going to be a home run, other than Colt McCoy, is Golden Tate, the Notre Dame wide receiver. I've heard the knocks on him -- not a quick-twitch guy, a little tight in the hips (his three-cone-drill time is just an eyelash better than Ndamukong Suh). What I say to that is: Watch the tape. I did a few days ago, re-watching on coaches' tape a game I'd seen last fall on TV, Notre Dame-USC. Tate was physical in catching and hanging onto a bomb from Jimmy Clausen despite getting clocked. He has good hands and catches well in traffic; I saw some Hines Ward in him. He's a legit 4.4 guy. He'd be a great get for Matt Cassel and the Chiefs at 36. He would also be reunited with his college coach, Charlie Weis, K.C.'s new offensive coordinator.

6. I think I'd like to give Houston tackle Eric Winston a hand. Join me in congratulating him on a magnanimous gesture. Winston saw we were $1,130 short of $200,000 for our "Five For Fighting'' campaign -- I asked readers to donate $5 to the USO for recreation equipment for far-flung military platoons and companies in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and he wrote a check to the USO for $1,130. Why'd he do it?

"To be honest,'' he said, "I'm not really sure. Well, that's not true. The troops are the bravest people I can think of. They get paid minimally to get sent into a land full of people that could possibly kill them. And most of them volunteer for it! I honestly can't imagine signing up for that. What would it be like to be over there? What is it like to know that each day you fall asleep was a good day, and each day you wake up has a chance to be your last? When I first heard about your idea I thought it was great. It was a chance to give the troops an escape. For however many hours or minutes in a week they might get to get away from it all and throw a football around, shoot some hoops, or play a video game ... I'd want to help people in that position.''

Heck of a gesture. For the record, SI also threw $1,000 into the pot (thanks, bosses), and we finished just over $200,000, with enough money to send 10 platoons/companies the USO-in-a-box kits that help the troops in their down time.

7. I think, 12 years after he was taken number two overall by San Diego, Ryan Leaf might finally be turning his life around ... and this comes courtesy of a sentence for 10 years' probation and a $20,000 fine for smuggling prescription drugs across the border from Canada. He spoke to KJR in Seattle (sent my way by sportsradiointerviews.com) about being off pain meds for the past 17 months, and he sounded like a different guy from the one lots of people in the NFL remember.

Leaf said after his career ended, "I continued to take them, and then I all of a sudden realized I was just taking them to take them, and at night to get to sleep. And I wasn't in pain anymore, or at least I didn't know if I was in pain anymore. It was just a way for me to ... I completely recoiled, I became anti-social, isolated, and it just takes away all the bad feelings. You know, all the criticisms of why you weren't a great quarterback, or how you let down your university, or how you let down so and so, or your family. It was a way to cope, a coping mechanism just like any other addict has.''

Leaf blamed much of his failure in the NFL on losing begetting more losing. "I had never lost and I didn't know how to handle it,'' he said. "I didn't handle it well. I had never lost at anything, and when we started to fail, I proceeded to act like I always had and that was to be defensive and protect myself the only way I knew how. And that was to be as defensive and as strong as possible and do everything myself. And that just doesn't work at that level.

"You just can't. You need help, you need people around you, and I totally failed at that part. I just wasn't ready to fail and I didn't know how to do it. It makes you grow up in a hurry. My wrist was done [severely injured] in four years and I couldn't compete at the level that I could anymore. But I was just so beat up. I was tired of being beat up by everybody that I just wanted to run and hide from it, because I wasn't going to be able to compete at the level I needed to compete at, and I was just tired of being beat up.''

Interesting confession.

8. I think we're picking up some momentum on our New England Locker Room Luncheon to benefit the Matt Light Foundation (he specializes in helping at-risk teens) and the Greater Boston Food Bank, two causes Light and I have a deep interesting in helping. Matt and I will be joined by emerging-star teammate Julian Edelman and star scribe Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston, to take you inside the Patriots and hopefully inside the lives of pro football players. We'll cover the rest of the league too.

The luncheon is at Davio's at Patriot Place in Foxboro, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on May 11. We're selling 30 seats for $1,000 apiece, and for that grand you'll get your picture taken with Light and Edelman, autographs galore, and some quality football talk. (Promise.) For ticket information, or to place your reservation, contact Margrette Mondillo at margrette@goodwinpr.com. Pass along the info to Pats' fans or fans of the game if you know someone who might be interested.

9. I think it is not news -- or shouldn't be -- when Jerry Jones, apparently tipsy, talks to a cellphone-toter who doesn't say he's going to publicize the Jones video. It wouldn't be for me. Now, many of you have Tweeted me or e-mailed to say, "What about the reporting of Jerry at the league meetings years ago when he was into the wine and talked about 500 coaches being able to do the job Jimmy Johnson did?''

Here's the difference between this week's story and the 16-year-old story that led to the Jones-Johnson divorce: Rick Gosselin and Ed Werder, two of the reporters who heard Jones through the firewater that night at the league meetings in Orlando in 1994, didn't report anything immediately. Rather, they went to see Jones the next morning at 9 to quiz him on the record about what he'd said, and Jones said it was all fair game. Sorry. I wasn't taught in journalism school to ambush-quote newsmakers after midnight, and after four glasses of wine. And if that's the way the business is going, I'll find something else to do, thanks.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Someone explain to me why, if there's an ash cloud over northern Europe from the Iceland volcano, airplanes can't fly south and get to central Europe that way, thereby avoiding the ash particles than can ruin jet engines.

b. I expect I'll get a few answers to that. I'm not trying to be a wise guy -- I truly don't know.

c. How sad, the dozens of runners stranded in Europe who can't get to the starting line of the Boston Marathon this morning.

d. Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro were supposed to be Paul Blair and Mark Belanger. They look like aging has-beens for the Red Sox in the first two weeks.

e. Coffeenerdness: I've been slow in recommending a really good cup of coffee that's right up my alley -- dark and full of flavor, no acidity: Blind Bean Blend, a French roast-Colombian mix. My buddy Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel forwarded it to me graciously right after the season. I would recommend you do it if only to see one of the coolest coffee logos on the planet. Interesting story of an Iowa man who went blind and still followed his dream of becoming a coffee-roaster. I wouldn't put him in this space if the coffee were swill, and it's really good.

f. I know what I'll do first thing Thursday morning. Click on dallasnews.com and check my mock draft against Rick Gosselin's. He's fantastic. Always has been. Later check mine and Gosselin's against that of SI.com's Don Banks, who, in addition to filing his final mock late Thursday morning, will also havea mock draft of the second round on Friday morning.