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May 22—Before Isaiahh Loudermilk reported to rookie minicamp with the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend, one of his college coaches made an apt observation.

“He’ll be blocking out the sun there,” Wisconsin defensive line coach Ross Kolodziej said.

Of the 34 players who attended rookie minicamp, Loudermilk was the second tallest, standing 6-foot-7. Only fellow defensive end Calvin Taylor, a former undrafted free agent, was taller, at 6-9.

Factor in the entire 90-man offseason roster, and Loudermilk is the fourth tallest player on the team, also trailing 6-8 Zach Banner and Zach Gentry. Among defensive linemen, he is one inch taller than Stephon Tuitt and two inches taller than Cameron Heyward.

Loudermilk’s size was one of the traits that enticed the Steelers to swing a trade on the third day of the NFL Draft, sending a fourth-round pick in 2022 to the Miami Dolphins so they could pick the redshirt senior defensive end in the fifth round.

Kolodziej, who spent the past six seasons as Wisconsin’s strength and conditioning coach, thinks the Steelers unearthed a gem by making the move to select Loudermilk.

“In terms of athleticism and length, that is what makes him an intriguing prospect,” said Kolodziej, who spent the 2013-14 seasons on Paul Chryst’s staff at Pitt. “He can play inside. He can play outside. One of our assistants in the weight room, who was an All-American here, thinks he could be one of the best offensive tackles, too.

“Isaiahh has got a lot of ability, and the main thing what you’re looking for in a guy is, ‘Does he love football, and does he work hard at it?’ That’s what you’re going to get with Isaiah. No matter where you put him, he’d get the job done.”

The Steelers plan to use Loudermilk at defensive end, the position where he started 26 of 40 games in four years at Wisconsin. Coaches also believe he is versatile enough to line up inside if needed.

Although the Steelers are deep along the defensive line — they have a dozen on the roster — they couldn’t resist bringing Loudermilk aboard. His height provides an ability to knock down passes, and if he can improve on the 7.5 career sacks he supplied at Wisconsin, he can be a force in collapsing the pocket.

“There’s definitely a lot I can still learn, but I think there’s a lot I can bring,” Loudermilk said after being drafted. “I feel like I have the tools to be a great pass rusher. The stats really didn’t show that, but I’m excited to learn from the guys. I know coming into this system, they will be able to teach me a lot.”

After weighing 293 as a senior, Loudermilk said he dropped about 20 pounds during his conditioning for the NFL Draft. He said the Steelers asked him to put the weight back on, and he is complying.

“There is a scarcity (of such players),” coach Mike Tomlin said. “When you talk about the size of Loudermilk, that was one of the things that was really intriguing to us. Also intriguing to us is that he’s got a lot of experience in a very similar scheme, defensively.”

The Steelers, remember, drafted outside linebacker T.J. Watt out of Wisconsin four years earlier based on his ability to excel in a 3-4 front.

“Much like when we were looking at Watt, when he came out of Wisconsin, it was an easy evaluation because of all the things he did,” Tomlin said of Loudermilk, “whether it was play anywhere from a five to the interior parts of their formation. We’ll be asking him to do similar things.”

Watt and Loudermilk crossed paths in 2016. Watt was a senior and Loudermilk was a redshirt freshman adjusting to life in the Big Ten after playing eight-man football in Howard, Kansas. He entered Wisconsin with raw skills.

“His weight room there was a converted janitorial closet,” Kolodziej said. “He never squatted until he got here.”

Loudermilk evolved into a four-year letterman for the Badgers, moving into the lineup for six starts as a sophomore. He started 14 more games as a junior when he set career highs with 24 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks.

Last year, Loudermilk started all six conference games in the pandemic-shortened season.

‘From where he came from to where he ended, he really grew in just about every area,” Kolodziej said. “It was great to see him get stronger, faster and become more powerful. His confidence grew and he became a vocal leader within his group and the team. To see that holistic development and improvement was awesome.”

Kolodziej, a former NFL defensive end, played for the Minnesota Vikings in 2006 when Tomlin was the team’s defensive coordinator. He renewed the relationship during his two seasons at Pitt while the Steelers and Panthers shared the fields at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

He was happy the Steelers were the team that drafted Loudermilk.

“In terms of fit and the blue-collar work ethic and approach,” he said, “I couldn’t think of a better fit for him in the league than Pittsburgh.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at or via Twitter .