View Full Version : Steelers stay on plan, attack needs in NFL draft

04-27-2009, 06:59 AM
Steelers stay on plan, attack needs in NFL draft
Even though team excited about picks, rookies of '08 had a minimal impact

Monday, April 27, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

After two days, nine draft picks and plenty of verbal high-fives around the Steelers for the prospects they acquired, it took their assistant head coach to put it in perspective.

John Mitchell, who has coached the Steelers' defensive line since 1994, was presented with only his second first-round draft pick in his 16 seasons. And defensive end Ziggy Hood of Missouri was the player he coveted.

But Mitchell also had some words of caution yesterday as the second day of the draft concluded, including a few for head coach Mike Tomlin.

"I have said this to Coach Tomlin -- it is good to have a first-round draft choice, but Ziggy is light years from playing right now," Mitchell said. "Right now, I have some good football players, so it is going to be tough for anybody to come in and uproot them. He is not going to come in here and get thrown out there because he's a first-round draft choice."

The excitement of a team's draft can dissipate once they hit training camp. The draft class from a year ago -- for all of the enthusiasm a running back and wide receiver generated on the day they were selected -- produced little as rookies. In fact, the Steelers' rookie of the year in 2008, Patrick Bailey, was not even drafted.

Nevertheless, the Steelers felt good about what they accomplished over the past two days and they followed the chalk the whole way through. Good or bad, the Steelers will not second-guess themselves because they attacked their needs again yesterday with their three picks in the third round, not veering from their plan.

After grabbing their defensive lineman Saturday, they used their early picks yesterday to stock their next-thinnest positions of guard, wide receiver and cornerback. In the process, they also might have found a kick returner they've sought for years.

"We thought we got players in the first three rounds in areas we wanted to get players," Tomlin said.

The Steelers tried to trade higher in the second round Saturday to draft either center Max Unger or guard Andy Levitre. When that failed, their trade with Denver brought them two earlier picks in the third round and they used them on massive guard Kraig Urbik (6 feet 5 1/2, 330 pounds) and speedy receiver/kick returner Mike Wallace of Mississippi. Then in the third, they drafted Ike Taylor-like cornerback Keenan Lewis of Oregon State, who happened to be Wallace's friend and high school teammate in New Orleans.

They went for another cornerback/return man in the fifth round, drafting Joe Burnett of Central Florida. They've lacked a good short-yardage runner since Jerome "The Bus" Bettis retired so they went after Frank "The Tank" Summers, a 5-9 1/2, 242-pound runner from UNLV with a nose for the end zone.

The Steelers were thin at guard and Urbik will compete to start on the right side against Darnell Stapleton and also can play tackle, and the Steelers might even have him take some snaps at center. Wallace should become their kick returner and, with 4.3 speed, will compete with Limas Sweed as the No. 3 receiver to replace departed Nate Washington.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians plans to put both of his third-round picks to good use.

"I wrote these two names down three weeks ago as guys I would love to have on our ballclub," Arians said.

He said Wallace is an "outside guy that can take the top off the coverage."

Wallace has 4.3 speed and nice size at 6 feet, 195. He averaged 20.1 yards per catch last season.

"We'll just throw him in the mix and the best ones will come out," Arians said. "We're looking for that guy that is going to take Nate's spot in the three-wides. He's a very capable player for that."

The Steelers have searched with little success for a kick returner since Antwaan Randle El was retired from that job after the 2004 season. Wallace could be that man, finally. He finished third in the SEC last season with a 24.6-yard kickoff return average.

Urbik started 50 games at Wisconsin, 34 at guard and 16 at tackle.

Arians said "I love him" and called Urbik a "big, tough, nasty type of guy that has position flexibility."

Lewis stands 6-1 and weighs 205, bigger than the average NFL cornerback although not as fast with 4.55 speed, which the Steelers do not believe will be a problem.

"We envision him enabling us to do some good things," said Ray Horton, who coaches the team's secondary. "Get up and bump and run some wide receivers and take away people at the line of scrimmage. He'll be able to run up the field with men just like Ike and it will allow us to do a lot more with our safeties to free up some guys."

The Steelers drafted another defensive lineman in the sixth round, Sonny Harris of Oregon, and then took local favorite A.Q. Shipley with their first of two seventh-round picks. Shipley, who grew up in Moon and played at Penn State, will get a chance to stick with the Steelers even though he was drafted so late because they have no true backup center.

"It's probably the best feeling I ever had," Shipley said about getting the call yesterday from the Steelers.

Their draft concluded when, with the 241st pick, they selected h-back David Johnson of Arkansas State.