Middle rounds will tell the tale

The Steelers drafted for need and they need some of the players they selected in the middle rounds to work out.

The Pittsburgh Steelers ignored need in the 2008 draft, selecting players they felt were the best available athlete in each round.

Need was a determining factor in this year's draft.

Running back Rashard Mendenhall, wide receiver Limas Sweed and linebacker Bruce Davis were considered luxury picks in 2008, not expected to play right away. Mendenhall and Sweed will be expected to contribute more in 2009 after not playing much as rookies.

The same could be said of the 2007 draft class, which saw only punter Daniel Sepulveda get significant playing time.

This year, the Steelers entered the draft on a mission.

Needing to add depth on the defensive and offensive lines, cornerback and wide receiver, director of football operations Kevin Colbert said before the draft this was a critical weekend for the team.

Because Pittsburgh hasn't been very active in free agency, it was important to bring in quality young players to add to a talented, but aging, roster.

The Steelers felt they were able to do that, especially after dealing their second- and fourth-round picks to Denver for a pair of third-round selections.

"I thought it was critical last night, when we decided to go with three (third-round picks) and have four picks in the top 96 players," said head coach Mike Tomlin.

"We were excited to be able to do that and get some quality. We feel like we did that with four players in the first three rounds in areas that we wanted to get players."

The first round brought defensive end Ziggy Hood, and the Steelers added another defensive lineman, Oregon's Ra'Shon "Sonny" Harris in the sixth round.

Those two will be added to a roster that includes five defensive linemen who are 30 or older. Neither will be expected to play a lot right away.

"Casey (Hampton) is the only guy that has come here and played consistently for us his first year," said defensive line-assistant head coach John Mitchell. "There's a learning curve for a guy to come here and play in our scheme."

While much of the focus will be on Hood because he's the top pick, it will be the three third-round selections who make, or break, this draft.

The three third-round selections – guard Kraig Urbik, wide receiver-kick returner Mike Wallace and cornerback Keenan Lewis – are expected to push for playing time right away.

The Steelers expect Urbik to battle Darnell Stapleton for the starting right guard spot, and Wallace will be in the mix for the third receiver – helping offset the loss of Nate Washington – and return man. Lewis could push for playing time in the nickel and dime packages, as could Joe Burnett, another corner who was selected in the fifth round.

This could be a different situation from Tomlin's first two years as coach, when rookies didn't see a lot of playing time, regardless of when they were drafted.

"We're not going to anoint anyone or hand jobs to anyone; they've got to earn it," said Tomlin. "Part of them doing that is having an opportunity. There haven't been many opportunities for some of our young people (in previous years) because our veterans have been so solid. … In order for somebody to appreciate what this league is about, they've got to earn it.

"What's happened here in recent years is not an indication of what's going to happen with these young men. Maybe some men in this group are not enamored by the transition and maybe they'll be on the field for us because of it."

But necessity can make you do things you wouldn't normally do.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.


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