Steelers draft strategy taking shape

Armed with 10 draft picks and sitting at the bottom of the rounds, the Steelers likely will make a trade to move up on Saturday but it may not be in the first round.

Pittsburgh's talent scouts have a handful of players they believe will be there when their turn comes around with the 32nd pick. This is a draft in which players ranked 22 through about 42 are bunched so tightly together that scouts believe it does not really matter whether you're closer to 22 or 42.

Thus, the Steelers think there is little reason to use, say, a third-round draft pick to move up 10 slots from 32 to 22.

There should be a safety, a linebacker or an offensive lineman they have targeted readily available to them in the first round.

The second round is another matter.

The Steelers have the 64th pick, well outside the area where the talent falls off around pick 42 or so. However, they were given two fourth-round compensatory picks and while teams cannot use those in trades, the Steelers could use their own fourth-rounder or even their third-rounder to move high enough in the second round to perhaps jump into that second-round area where the talent equals that of a lower first-round pick.

The Steelers love Bobby Carpenter, the "other" linebacker at Ohio State, and could take him with the 32nd choice and groom him behind Joey Porter and Clark Haggans on the outside. He's best suited as a 3-4 linebacker and some have compared him to Mike Vrabel, the Patriots' versatile linebacker whom the Steelers drafted and lost in free agency.

There's been a lot written about the Steelers drafting Carpenter's teammate, center Nick Mangold, but that won't happen. This may be Pro Bowl center Jeff Hartings' final season in Pittsburgh; if it is, they've been readying Chukky Okobi as heir to the job, and have been paying him that way too.

Safety is also a position the Steelers want to fill on the first day of the draft. Three of them paid visits: Donte Whitner of Ohio State, Darnell Bing of USC and Daniel Bullocks of Nebraska.

Pittsburgh signed free safety Ryan Clark from the Redskins to fill a hole created when Chris Hope fled to the Titans as a free agent. But they want a bigger safety to compete with him, and they also need depth at the position.

On the surface, the retirement of Jerome Bettis should not be a big loss because he only gained 368 yards last season and Willie Parker is back for his second season as the starting halfback.

Duce Staley will try to fill the Bus role as a short-yardage back, but Staley has had injury problems in his two seasons with the Steelers and despite his 1,202 yards rushing, there remains skepticism that Parker will last long through increased pounding. Bettis also scored nine touchdowns last season and 13 in 2004.

They will find another back and have taken a closer look at plenty of them.

LenDale White of USC paid them a visit the past week and made a favorable impression. Their MRI exam confirmed he has a slight tear in his hamstring but that would not scare them off if he's available at No. 32. They have the luxury of bringing him along slowly, although they think he'll be fully healed by the end of May.

Other backs who came to Pittsburgh for visits were Minnesota's Laurence Maroney, LSU's Joseph Addai, UCLA's Maurice Drew and Leon Washington of Florida State. The Steelers really like Drew and Washington, who at 5-7 1/2, 205 runs much the way Barry Foster did for them in the early '90s -- low and hard. He also has good return ability.

The Steelers want a wide receiver after the loss of Antwaan Randle El to the Redskins in free agency. Ideally, they want a taller receiver with speed to play flanker. The top ones, Chad Jackson and Santonio Holmes, probably will be gone by pick 32. Sinorice Moss, although tempting, is only 5-8. They are more likely to look for a receiver in the second or third rounds, perhaps a Maurice Stovall from Notre Dame or Demetrius Williams of Oregon.

Williams, Willie Reid of Florida State, Jeff Webb of San Diego State, Jeremy Bloom of Colorado and Domenik Hixon of Akron all visited Pittsburgh for closer inspection.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Cornerback Ike Taylor will return to the Steelers one more season after he failed to sign anywhere as a restricted free agent. But getting a long-term deal with him probably won't happen and he could leave next year as a UFA.

The Steelers placed the first-round, $1.57 million tender on him but they don't think as much of him as he and his agent apparently do. They were looking for a double-figure signing bonus and that's just not going to happen.

Taylor made no visits in free agency and will return from three months of training in Orlando to Pittsburgh to join his teammates at workouts this week.

"He's excited to get back into Pittsburgh and work with his teammates," agent Scott Smith said.

--If the Steelers draft safety Darnell Bing, he would join fellow USC Trojan Troy Polamalu in their defensive backfield. Bing stayed with Polamalu and worked out with him at USC after he signed with the Trojans.

"I think it would be wonderful," Bing said. "We both have the same experience. With both of us coming from SC and being in Pittsburgh, that would be a great deal. We could both go on the field at the same time. We'd give a show for the fans."

--QB Ben Roethlisberger will attend the White House Correspondents Dinner the first day of the draft at the Washington Hilton as a guest. Tennis player Anna Kournikova also was invited to attend.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think you have to have a good back. You have to have more than one. A good back can take four-yard runs and turn them into six- or seven- yard runs and explosive guys can turn them into bigger than that." -- Coach Bill Cowher.


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