Steelers Complete Defensive-Minded Draft

Six of the eight draft picks were on the defensive side of the ball, and that's how the Steelers planned it.

PITTSBURGH -- You lose Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Brice McCain, you begin looking around for replacements.

That's what the Pittsburgh Steelers did on Day 3 of the NFL draft when they opened by taking another cornerback, Doran Grant of Ohio State, in the fourth round.

He'll report to rookie minicamp next week with the previous day's second-round pick, Senquez Golson, and the Thorpe Award winner, free safety Gerod Holliman, who was drafted in the seventh round.

"We wanted to get better in the back end," said Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. "Between Senquez, who had 10 interceptions, Doran, who had five, and Gerod Holliman, who had 14, we're adding 29 interceptions to our defensive backfield and we're excited about what that can bring."

Grant is 5-10 1/4, 200-pound cornerback who played the run and was a gunner on special teams in addition to excelling as a zone corner the last four seasons. In 30 starts, Grant intercepted nine passes, including five as a co-captain on last season's championship team.

Holliman is a 5-11 3/4, 218-pound free safety out of Louisville who led the nation with 14 interceptions last season.

It was clearly a defensive minded draft, but in the fifth round the Steelers did select a second offensive player, Penn State tight end Jesse James (6-7, 261, 4.81) who hails from nearby Glassport, Pa.

James, who came out as a true junior, caught 78 passes for 1,005 yards (12.9 ypc.) and 11 touchdowns in three seasons at PSU.

"He has natural strength and will be able to handle the line of scrimmage," said Steelers tight ends coach James Daniel. "He wasn't used a lot as a receiver."

"I agree with that," said James. "In the system we ran, I didn't have a chance to show how athletic I am. I'll have a shot to do that in the future, being able to show exactly what I can do in the receiving aspect of the game."

How about catching the ball in the red zone?

"The guy is 6-7," said Daniel. "He should be a red-zone threat."

In the sixth round the Steelers turned their attention to their defensive front by picking Leterrius "L.T." Walton and Anthony Chickillo, whose grandfather, Nick Chickillo, tried out for the Steelers back in the 1950s.

Walton is a 6-5, 319-pounder from Central Michigan who played "shade" nose tackle in his college's 4-man front, but will work as a tackle in the Steelers' nickel and end in their 3-4 base.

"He's a guy that stays on his feet and that's the most important thing for a defensive lineman," said Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell. "He has a good motor and runs to the ball. The things he is going to have to learn how to do a little bit better are use his hands, get off blocks and be a little more physical at the point of a tackle."

Last year, Walton recorded 33 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in earning First Team All-MAC honors. He becomes the first Chippewa to be drafted by the Steelers since 2010, when they took Antonio Brown in the sixth round as well.

Walton has yet to meet Brown but said, "He's one of the hardest-working players and one of the greatest receivers in the game right now." Walton added that "We're all about tradition at CMU. That's all we know."

Chickillo (6-3, 267) is a pass-rusher who was miscast at Miami as a defensive end in a two-gapping 3-4 scheme. He'll move outside to end in the Steelers' nickel and outside linebacker in their base as Joey Porter finds a way to get his guys to the quarterback.

"What we're trying to do right now is solve a problem that we didn't do last year," Porter said. "We didn't put enough pressure on the quarterback. We're addressing situations that we need to fix."

As with the coverage and interception issues that were addressed this weekend, the Steelers -- in first-rounder Bud Dupree and Chickillo -- are addressing a pass rush that produced its lowest number of sacks (33) since 1988.

"I know if the outside linebackers don't go out there and get sacks, you all are going to give me the blame, and I love that," said Porter, the new outside linebackers coach. "The room is going to be intense. We just took another first-rounder. We have two first-round outside linebackers and a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year in that room. The competition is going to be set at a high level and I'm going to expect everybody every day to come to work with their hard hat on. ... They're going to be scratching and clawing for some playing time."

Porter said he will keep James Harrison's snap count at around 25 snaps. "I'll get the best James Harrison I can out of him instead of trying to make him play like he was 25 (with) 60 snaps a game."

Holliman was chosen in the seventh round and will join the secondary along with the man-to-man ballhawk, second-round pick Senquez Golson, and the bigger, more rugged zone corner, fourth-round pick Grant.

"I really want to take my time with these guys," said Lake. "I want to see them move. I want to see them interact with the other guys. I want to see them pick up the defense. I just want to take my time and make sure that however we use them, we use them correctly."

Lake even allowed that safety could be in Grant's future.

"That's interesting you said that. I have that in my notes," Lake said when asked about a potential move. "I think he's that strong of a tackler that he can easily transition from corner to safety."

The two rookie cornerbacks will join Cortez Allen in helping re-shape the Steelers' secondary. Allen started the first seven games last season before losing his job to McCain. Allen was inactive in Game 12 with a thumb injury and was placed on injured reserve the following week. Lake said there was more to Allen's problems than the thumb injury.

"He had some issues with the lower extremities," Lake said. "He was injured most of the year and was fighting through that. That really affected his game."

At the end of the draft, Colbert summed up the picks this way:

* Dupree -- "I'm still excited about that pick."

* Golson -- "Senquez was targeted to be picked in the second round, without a doubt. We were going to come out of that round with a corner and that was never a discussion. In fact we tried to trade up to secure Senquez Golson. Just to set the record straight."

* Coates -- "It was always going to be a defensive priority draft but we were going to interject the offensive players at a point where they were too good to pass up. Sammie Coates is big, strong, fast. He has good hands. He's dropped some balls. Of course he has. Who hasn't as a receiver? Trust me, he has good hands. He has big-play ability."

* Grant -- "He has a corner mentality. He has a tough mentality. He has a special-teams mentality."

* James -- "Big, potentially gifted athlete. He's probably not where he needs to be. As a junior coming out early he still has growth potential. ... He was one of the few guys in this draft that we viewed as a Y, an attached tight end that could block a defensive end."

* Walton -- "He's long enough to be an end. He's stout enough to be a tackle. His best pass rush is on the inside."

* Chickillo -- "Certainly has the skill, especially when we get him to a weight that's more manageable, more suited for the linebacker position. ... One word to describe him is motor. This kid will go. He just really goes 110 percent all the time."

* Holliman -- "This kid has great instincts. He has great awareness. He's a film studier. You see him making breaks on the ball before the quarterback throws it and he's got the great hands to finish it."

The rookies will report to the South Side next weekend for a three-day rookie minicamp.

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