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Marla Ridenour on Sports

As Eric Steinbach retires, a flashback

By Marla Ridenour Published: August 22, 2012

As former Browns left guard Eric Steinbach announced his retirement from the Miami Dolphins today, here's a flashback from the past -- my story on the former Iowa guard from April 20, 2003 that previewed that year's NFL Draft.

The story details Steinbach's road to the NFL. Here it is:

There was a simple reason Eric Steinbach didn't want to play offensive line at Iowa.

He was concerned about what it would do to the size of his posterior.

Call it vanity if you will, but that's what the former tight end told his high school coach while he was being recruited and later when the Hawkeyes asked him three times to make the switch to guard.

Steinbach fought the change because he considered himself an athlete. As a prep defensive end who recorded 26 sacks as a senior, he helped lead Providence Catholic High School in Lockport, Ill., to a 50-game winning streak and three consecutive state titles.

"He said, 'I don't want to be an inside lineman because I don't want to get big and fat like some of those guys,' " Providence Coach Matt Senffner said last week. "He's in great shape, and he said, 'I don't want to get a big butt.' I told him, 'You never want to burn any bridges when you're being recruited.' "

Steinbach 's eventual move should reap big benefits Saturday, when he is expected to be a first-round choice in the NFL Draft. Should the 6-foot-6, 297-pounder, who might also be able to play tackle, land in the laps of the Cleveland Browns with the 21st overall pick, they might not be able to pass him up.

Steinbach has "no regrets about the move I've made," but he wasn't so enthusiastic at first. He was a redshirt freshman when Coach Hayden Fry decided to retire after 20 years at Iowa and was replaced by Kirk Ferentz, the former Browns and Ravens offensive line coach.

During that first season, which would end with a 1-10 mark, Ferentz and position coach Joe Philbin were desperate to find players to beef up the offensive front. Steinbach was a fourth-string tight end at the time.

"Back in those days, we were trying to make a first down, trying to gain a couple yards," recalled Philbin, hired after last season by the Green Bay Packers. "We first tried to move Eric in the spring of '99, but he wanted to be a tight end. In training camp in the summer of '99, he rejected the move again. But after the third week, we had an open date, and he finally said OK."

Steinbach said the chance to play was his primary motivation. He saw Bruce Nelson, a former walk-on tight end, make the switch and crack the lineup for the 1999 opener, beginning a stretch of 48 consecutive starts. Ferentz later did the same thing with tight end-turned-tackle Robert Gallery, a junior last season who joined Steinbach and Nelson as first-team All-Big Ten choices for the league co-champions.

"I liked the whole idea of the stand-up tight end, and I thought it would be a good position for the NFL," Steinbach said in interviews at the league scouting combine. "But when our head coach got to Iowa, his whole thing was taking big tight ends and moving them to offensive line.

"In the fall of 1999, we had three senior tight ends in front of me. We had a lack of depth on the offensive line. He said, 'If you move, you're going right to the two-deep, and you have a chance to start.' "

That might not have been Steinbach 's last move. One of the most intriguing things about Steinbach is his potential to play tackle. The Big Ten offensive lineman of the year tried it at the Senior Bowl and showed scouts he has the feet and athleticism to handle the position.

"I think if I get a lot of practice and am coached the right way, that could be the position for me in the future," Steinbach said.

"I worked with him for about a half hour the day before he left for the Senior Bowl, and he looked good," Philbin said. "I've seen the Senior Bowl film, and he handled himself very well. He needs time to develop those techniques and skills. He has the capability to learn those skills and the physical ability to perform at tackle."

Senffner, his high school coach, was thrilled that Steinbach showcased his versatility at the Senior Bowl. "I think that was big for him, to see him at left tackle," Senffner said. "He's a natural left-hander, he can pick guys up off the edge. From what I heard, he was the quickest lineman at the combine."

Steinbach was impressive in Indianapolis, running the 40 in 4.93 seconds and showing a 36-inch vertical jump. One concern about Steinbach is injuries. A sprained knee in 2000 that required arthroscopic surgery cost him seven games, and he missed three in 2001 with a sprained ankle and a dislocated elbow.

But Philbin sees plenty of positives. "One thing most offensive-line people look for is a guy who can stay on his feet," Philbin said. "I've had people say, 'I watched him in three games, and I never saw him on the ground.' He's got some exceptional quickness. He can really move. And he's stronger than he looks. He looks kinda lanky and wiry."

Steinbach showed his quickness in his first college start. He was a 250-pound guard facing Ohio State defensive tackles Mike Collins and Ryan Pickett, a first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams in '01.

"I was a young pup getting thrown out there," Steinbach said. The coaches "expected to yank me out in the first quarter, but I played the whole game."

On Steinbach 's second snap, he pulled and flattened cornerback Nate Clements, now a starter for the Buffalo Bills. Philbin remembers telling Ferentz in his headset, "Coach, I think we've got ourselves a guard."

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