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Old 04-26-2007, 06:02 AM   #1
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Default This time, Steelers looking for starters, not depth

This time, Steelers looking for starters, not depth

By The Associated Press
Thursday, April 26, 2007


For a team that professes the NFL draft should be about acquiring talent rather than filling needs, the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly have been predictable lately in the early rounds.

A receiver, or a defensive back. A defensive back, or a receiver.

Of their top 15 picks in the last eight drafts ? they dealt away their second-round pick last year ? the Steelers chose five receivers and four defensive backs. During this time, five of their first-rounders were receivers, cornerbacks or safeties.

Despite all this stockpiling at only a couple of positions, the Steelers go into this weekend's draft under new coach Mike Tomlin with a familiar but longer-than-usual list of needs. Yes, wide receiver and cornerback are among them, as are a pass-rushing defensive lineman or linebacker and an offensive lineman.

"We could use help at any level of our defense," director of football operations Kevin Colbert said.

It's much different from a year ago when, with coach Bill Cowher still in control only 2 1/2 months after winning a Super Bowl, the Steelers had few visible needs going into the draft. They chose wide receiver Santonio Holmes on the first round and, at least so far, didn't get much else.

By contrast, the Steelers now are a fast-aging team coming off an 8-8 season that exposed a lack of depth in some areas once perceived as strengths. They've also had more significant departures (linebacker Joey Porter was released, center Jeff Hartings retired) than additions (offensive lineman Sean Mahan) during the offseason.

As a result, this might be the most unpredictable Steelers draft in years, especially with them scheduled to pick higher in the first round (No. 15) than they have in all but one year since 2001.

Players who may be available when the Steelers choose on the first round, unless they elect to deal down, are Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis and Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny ? both of whom are from nearby Aliquippa. Pa. ? Florida State linebacker Lawrence Timmons, Nebraska defensive end Adam Carriker, and Arkansas defensive end Jamaal Anderson.

With starters such as safety Troy Polamalu, left guard Alan Faneca and right guard Kendall Simmons entering the final year of their contracts and nine picks available unless they trade, the Steelers need to find usable players throughout the draft. Certainly more than they did last year, when only one of their final five picks stayed around.

Colbert says this is the strongest draft he can remember for receivers,unlike last year, when Holmes was the only wide receiver to go on the first round. But it's only average for offensive linemen and running backs. Defensively, he considers it strong across the board.

"I think that's something that's interesting to us," said Colbert, who has drafted a defensive player on the first round only twice (Polamalu in 2003 and nose tackle Casey Hampton in 2001) since being hired in 2000.

Some in the NFL are viewing this draft as a sign of how quickly the Steelers will shift from the 3-4 defense they've played since 1983 to the 4-3 Tomlin has long preferred. To Colbert and Tomlin, that's not necessarily so.

"In a given system that we've had here for so many years, you knew a certain type of player fit better than another," Colbert said. "But you don't want to lock into a specific need. Coach (Tomlin) says talent defies scheme and, if you lock yourself in and say he can't help us, then maybe we've made a mistake."

Tomlin agrees, saying, "Really, in today's NFL, the lines are getting blurry, specifically if you're talking about the 3-4 opposed to the 4-3."

One pick the Steelers seem certain to make is a big running back to complement Willie Parker, much like Jerome Bettis did two years ago.

The Steelers re-signed running back Najeh Davenport, but he had only 221 yards rushing last season, and they told Parker last week they will add another runner. Louisville's Michael Bush is a possibility on the second round.

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pitt.../s_504599.html
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