Steelers Fever – Steelers Draft Prospect Interview: OG Branden Albert

Steelers Draft Prospect Interview: OG Branden Albert

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Friday, March 21, 2008
By Paul Eide
Steelers Fever Columnist

Branden AlbertAs evidenced by the signing of free agent center Justin Hartwig and the re-signings of guard Chris Kemoeatu and tackle Trai Essex the Steelers are doing what they can to add some stability to what appears to be a shaky offensive line situation. The prevailing thought is that Hartwig’s signing means that starting center Sean Mahan will move to offensive guard in 2008 and though it appears to be a solid enough move for the short term, even before the departure of Alan Faneca adding another guard for the long haul was an area of significant need if for no other reason than the current backups have proved nothing.

Enter University of Virginia’s All-ACC guard Branden Albert. Currently forecasted as the #1 guard in the upcoming NFL Draft, Albert played left tackle in high school and was transitioned to the guard slot because of the presence of #4 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Because of this many NFL scouts envision the 6’6″, 315 pound as a left tackle at the next level, with the versatility to play guard as well. Depending on the mock draft, Albert is forecasted to go anywhere from the latter half of the first round to the beginning of the second, which means the Steelers could have possibly two shots at selecting him.

Steelers Fever – You started every game over your three year career at Virginia. Was there a key to staying healthy?

Branden Albert – I was fortunate to avoid significant injuries more than any kind of preparation or anything like that. It just worked out.

SF – As a high school basketball player, what made you change your focus to football?

BA – The fact that I had the potential to make it to the pro level, even if just by numbers alone. the roster size is so much bigger in the NFL compared to the NBA its more realistic.

SF – As a basketball player were you a lean 6’6″, or were you always a big guy?

BA – I was actually always big. My junior year I was 340 and senior year I dropped down to 310. I never head to work to put on the mass like some guys.

SF – Considering you have perfect size for left tackle, is there a reason why you played guard rather than playing tackle from the beginning?

BA – We had two good senior tackles and they were looking for a way to get me in the lineup so guard was a natural progression. I did well my first year and they just kept me there.

SF – Is the fact that you aren’t a tackle working to your advantage at this point in the Draft?

BA – Yes that is working to my advantage a lot. There are a lot of pro teams considering me at tackle right now, but at the same time I am the consensus #1 guard in the draft so I’m in my own class in a sense.

SF – How does it feel to see your name listed as the #1 guard when you watch the NFL Network or ESPN?

BA – It makes me feel good and makes me feel like I made the right decision. People are recognizing my talent and I’m just happy to be in the situation I am.

SF – Last year you started two games at LT. Was it difficult to make the transition?

BA – I made the transition pretty easily. I felt real good out there because I played tackle in high school so it wasn’t totally new. So it felt really easy to me.

SF – Have the NFL scouts taken notice of your ability to play tackle or guard? Have any of them mentioned playing tackle exclusively?

BA – Yes because if you have versatility you double your chances of playing at the next level. I feel like a lot of teams that’s the main thing they are trying to see right away;
if I can play tackle right away. And I feel like I can because I’m an athletic guy. Its probably different from playing tackle in college, but I feel I can do it over time in the NFL.

SF – Were there any players or coaches or GM’s you talked to at the Combine that made you say to yourself, Wow that’s _____.?

BA – Everybody man! Jack Del Rio, Herm Edwards, Ozzie Newsome, Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh, Marvin Lewis, all the head coaches really. All the GMs I’d seen on TV were talking to me and I was like, damn all these guys are showing interest in me! It was a reality check to see the interest I was getting. It made me feel like I was playing with the big boys now.

SF – Is there a current or former NFL player that you are similar to?

BA – I would definitely say Walter Jones.

SF – How did going up against Chris Long everyday help you develop your quickness and versatility?

BA – Me and him wanted to constantly beat each other in practice. He always told me, Man, you’re a tackle. When I moved to tackle for those first two games I was somewhat tentative and he really reassured me a lot.
Working against him was great for me because I could see where I was at against the best defender in college and I knew if I could hang with him, I could do it for real.

SF – How big of an advantage is that for you?

BA – I think its a huge advantage. I mean that is what really helped me develop as much as anything and no one else has that in their back pocket.

SF – You didn’t play football until your junior year of HS. Do the scouts touch on that as a strength?

BA – Yes because they know I have no serious injuries and have a lot of room to improve. No matter how good they say I am, I can always improve

SF – What was your defining moment in college?

BA – Against NC State in my second year. I made a big block on the goalline after I pulled and I was just kind of associated with that style from then on.

SF – Can you describe the feeling you get when you pull and you see a DB in your way?

BA – It’s a great feeling. You know those guys are going to either try and cut you, or take you head on. And you know which one I’m gonna win. when I come around the corner and a guy isn’t going to cut me, and I got you on the ropes, than I’m gonna get you. A lot of guys think they can duck and dodge me because I’m so much bigger, but that’s when I show them my athletic ability.

SF – Is there an NFL team that runs an offensive system that you would like to play in?

BA – It depends on how they see me, at what position. If I’m a guard, the Pittsburgh Steelers or the San Francisco 49ers or a place like that where they pull their guards a lot. But if I’m seen as a tackle, Ill play for anyone in the league.

SF – With Alan Faneca leaving, did the Steelers pay any special interest to you at the combine?

BA – I met with them and spent a whole night with them at the Combine, met coach Tomlin, so yeah I would say their was some. I don’t know if it was any special interest but it was a good group of guys and you just never know. I want to play for anyone who wants to draft me.

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