... – specifically free safety Ryan Clark – were having some fun with one another.
After one of Todd Haley’s plays ended in frustration for his quarterback, Clark hollered across the field to coach Mike Tomlin that “if your quarterback’s going to hold the ball that long, you better draft more offensive linemen next year!”
To which Tomlin replied, “I’m going safety – free safety!”
Well, hello, there, Kenny Vaccaro.
The Steelers sat down with Vaccaro, the safety out of Texas, for a formal interview at the NFL Combine, which no doubt tested Vaccaro’s knowledge of whatever Dick LeBeau might throw at him in a South Side meeting room.
No word on how well Vaccaro fared in the battery of tests, but judging from the way he came off to the media – a poised and intelligent winner – Vaccaro did well with Tomlin, LeBeau and Co.
“Vaccaro, to me, is a really good football player on tape,” said draft analyst Mike Mayock during a Combine press conference. “I’ll be surprised if he gets past the top 15 or so.”
Perhaps the Steelers, who are scheduled to draft 17th, are hoping to be part of the “or so.”
Presently, their starting safeties either can’t play in Denver (33-year-old Clark) or are injury prone (soon-to-be 32-year-old Troy Polamalu).
Vaccaro can play both free and strong safety, and would fit right into the depth chart as a backup safety since both Will Allen and Ryan Mundy are unrestricted free agents. He was also Texas’s Special Teams MVP as a sophomore.
And Vaccaro can cover slot receivers. He’s been lauded by scouts for the job he did on WVU slot receiver Tavon Austin, who did have 108 yards of offense against Texas. But against Oklahoma and highly regarded free safety Tony Jefferson, Austin had 426 combined offensive yards.
“Me and Tavon were going at it all game,” said Vaccaro. “He’s a great player but I think I did pretty good. I mean, he’s one of the most explosive players in the country and I think I was right there with him.”
Vaccaro measured 6-0, 214 pounds at the Combine.
The nephew of former NFL cornerback A.J. Johnson opted against coming out for the draft last year after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Draft Advisory Committee, and Vaccaro came back and made 91 tackles (ESPN.com) with 2 interceptions as a senior.
He’s had only 5 interceptions in his four-year career (2½-year starter) but Vaccaro has the size, speed and blitzing ability to become the playmaking type of safety LeBeau and Carnell Lake can groom behind either Clark or Polamalu.
“I think people are starting to appreciate safeties more, now that tight ends are changing to freaks and controlling the middle of the field,” Vaccaro said. “You’ve got to have a safety who can cover and come up and hit.”
Got to. Even if it means taking one in the first round.