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Steelers' Mike Tomlin enamored with MSU

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Mike Tomlin already has won one Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and as he pursues a second title, the coach has taken a keen interest in evaluating players at Michigan State.

Tomlin has attended the Spartans' pro day each of the past three years and said this week he goes to East Lansing because of the immense talent at Mark Dantonio's program.

"I go where the players are, and obviously, you look at what coach Dantonio has done over there over that time period, it's obvious that there are players there," Tomlin said this week at the NFL annual meetings. "I go to LSU every year; I go to Florida State just about every year. I've gone probably to eight of the last 10 Ohio State pro days. I'm a pro day guy, so don't read too much into that."

So, no, Michigan State isn't the only team Tomlin visits each year, but the other programs he listed have been among the best in the nation in recent years.

The NFL has taken notice of Michigan State's impressive play the past few years, and all 32 teams had a representative at pro day last week. Tomlin, Minnesota's Mike Zimmer and Philadelphia's Chip Kelly were among the head coaches in attendance, and Detroit's Martin Mayhew, Pittsburgh's Kevin Colbert, Minnesota's Rick Spielman and Buffalo's Doug Whaley were general managers who made the trip.

"I think you get what you don't see on tape," Tomlin said of why he attends pro days. "You get to smell it and feel it and be around it. You get to see them in their environment. You get to gather formal and informal information about who and what they are."

In 2013, Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell was the star of the pro day, and Tomlin's Steelers drafted him with the 48th overall pick in the second round.

"I think the tape pretty much told his story. We were just eating and chatting," Tomlin said.

In two years in Pittsburgh, Bell has already established himself as a top NFL back, and in 2014, he had 1,361 rushing yards, 854 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns.

"I think he's capable of being the very best," Tomlin said. "I think that that is his desire. I've got a great deal of respect for what that phrase means, and I know that he does so his pursuit of that is going to be steeped in work and preparation and growth. He still is very much a young man, and the thing that I like about him is that he's committed to getting better and working on his craft on a daily basis."

In 2014, cornerback Darqueze Dennard took center stage, and the Bengals selected him 24th overall in the first round.

This year, cornerback Trae Waynes is the top product, and he could be a top 15 pick, which is why there were even more talent evaluators in East Lansing for pro day.

"He seemed like a good kid," Zimmer said. "I like to see these corners with my own eyes anyway just to kind of compare them to what I've seen in the past, compare them to what I've had and things like that."

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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