View Full Version : Steelers target draft for cornerback needs

02-26-2011, 11:27 PM
Steelers target draft for cornerback needs
Sunday, February 27, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS Kevin Colbert knows what to look for when scouting cornerback prospects.

"We always want size, we always want speed, we always want athleticism," the Steelers' director of football operations said. "We always want toughness, we always want ball skills and productivity."

The question the Steelers will try to answer over the next two months is how many cornerbacks in this year's NFL Draft come close to fitting the profile that sounds like a cross between Mel Blount and Rod Woodson.

To say cornerback is among the positions the Steelers need to address in the draft might qualify as an understatement along the lines of saying winter has been a touch harsh this year.

The Green Bay Packers beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV by spreading them out and letting quarterback Aaron Rodgers pick apart the secondary. The Packers pretty much followed the game plan New England used in November when it dealt the Steelers a humbling 39-26 loss at Heinz Field.

What makes drafting a cornerback or multiple ones even more of a priority is the fact that the Steelers only have three of them under contract for the 2011 season and Ike Taylor isn't among them.

Taylor, who has long been the Steelers' top cornerback, is an unrestricted free agent. It looks likely that he will test the open market at some point.

Colbert said last week that the Steelers and Taylor have had "preliminary" talks on a new deal, but time is running short. If the Steelers and Taylor don't agree on a contract before next Friday, any progress likely will be interrupted.

It looks inevitable that the owners will lock out the players after March 3, as the two sides are still seemingly far apart on a new collective bargaining agreement.

A lockout would shut down all league business except for the draft. And it would place added importance on the three-day selection extravaganza for a simple reason: Teams won't be able to rely on free agency to plug holes on their roster, because no one know how long that signing period will be or when it will even take place.

Options aplenty?

One positive for the Steelers? They like the cornerback crop in the 2011 draft.

"Corners, (offensive) tackles and wide receivers are particularly deep," Colbert said. "I think you can get quality at those positions in the first three rounds."

The Steelers have not taken a cornerback in the first round of the draft since Chad Scott in 1997. They have only selected three cornerbacks in the first round since stealing Woodson 10th overall in 1987 and have had mixed results with the players they have drafted at that position.

Patrick Peterson, the No. 1 consensus cornerback in this year's draft, shares some similarities with Woodson when the latter was coming out of Purdue. He has good size and ball skills, and he is an exceptional kick returner.

But Peterson will be gone he could be a top-five selection before the Steelers begin to start pondering who they will take with the penultimate pick of the first round.

The Steelers are not likely to reach for one with their first pick, but it will be a surprise if they don't draft a cornerback early.

When asked what he looks for while evaluating cornerbacks coming out of college, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said "God-given ability" and an abiding trust in that ability.

"Now how do you measure their belief in their ability?" Tomlin said. "Not by what they say, but by what you see on tape: how they play, how they respond to positive things, how they respond to negative things. All of that helps you build a profile."

The NFL's gradual shift from the run-first (and second) mentality that dominated the league for years has made it imperative for teams to build as many profiles as possible on college defensive backs.

Supply has generally kept pace with demand for defensive backs because of the changes that have taken place in college football.

"Now it's all spread out," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said of college offenses. "There are more people playing corner and in the secondary, and these guys have to understand space and ball flight and things like that."

Other means

The Packers had arguably the best and deepest secondary in the NFL last season.

Green Bay, like the Steelers, has a history of building its teams the right way, which is another way of saying it relies heavily on the draft and eschews the quick fixes of free agency.

But the Packers didn't draft either of their Pro Bowl cornerbacks.

They signed Charles Woodson as a free agent to 2006, and struck gold later that year when they brought in Tramon Williams to work out with a group of cornerbacks.

Williams, who had been cut by the Houston Texas after going undrafted, impressed the Packers with his speed, and they signed him to their practice squad.

He made the team the following season and in 2010, Williams, a former walk-on at Louisiana Tech, led the Packers with six interceptions.

What is instructive about his story for the Steelers is they might have cornerbacks on their roster who can make the kind of jump Williams did early in his career.

Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler should be given plenty of opportunities in 2011, particularly if Taylor signs elsewhere.

And Tomlin said last week that he still has high hopes for both players.

Lewis has been an enigma since the Steelers took him in the third round of the 2009 draft. He had a strong training camp last season and looked like he would push Bryant McFadden for the starting job opposite Taylor.

But Lewis never seemed to recover after struggling badly in the Steelers' third preseason game at Denver.

"He didn't get a bunch of opportunities," Tomlin said of Lewis. "He did some down the stretch and the playoffs and did OK with it. By contrast, a guy like (defensive end) Ziggy Hood had a good opportunity and got better with snaps.

"I expect all of these guys to improve when given an opportunity. When and how they get that opportunity is sometimes out of their control. I have no issues with how those two young men (Lewis and Butler) work and how they prepare themselves."

Improvement by young cornerbacks such as Lewis and Butler and the draft aren't the only ways the Steelers can bolster their pass defense.

They led the NFL in sacks last season (48) but struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback in all five of their losses.

And coverage, as Tomlin often points out, is only one component of playing good pass defense.

"You need some talented guys in the secondary," St Louis Rams general manager Billy Devaney said, "but I still go back to if you have four Pro Bowl guys back there and you let any quarterback have enough time in the NFL, they've eventually going to find open people. It's still about getting after (the quarterback)."

Read more: Steelers target draft for cornerback needs - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_724912.html#ixzz1F8N586ms

02-27-2011, 12:00 AM
Colbert's comments just about convinced me that if Aaron Williams is on the board, we're taking him...he pretty much word for word just described him in that comment.

03-05-2011, 10:27 PM
Would love to believe him...but his history with drafting corners..and need for that matter makes me very nervous...I wouldn't be surprised if he took a TE number 1