The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

May 7, 2014

Steelers looking at lots of talent in deep draft

PITTSBURGH — Four decades ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers put the finishing touches on the foundation of a dynasty.

Already an emerging power in 1974, the Steelers selected wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, linebacker Jack Lambert and center Mike Webster in the first five rounds of the 1974 draft.

All four retired with a fistful of Super Bowl rings. All four have their busts in the Hall of Fame.

“It is, by far, the greatest draft in NFL history,” current Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said. “Our hats are off to Art Rooney Jr., Dick Haley and Bill Nunn. Coach Chuck Noll and his staff have to be applauded, and we will certainly be thinking about that group as we get into this draft.”

No pressure or anything.

The Steelers aren’t quite the budding dynasty they were 40 years ago, not after consecutive 8-8 seasons. Still, after a 6-2 finish and with nine selections in what Colbert called the deepest draft he’s seen in 30 years, there is cause for optimism.

Pittsburgh is stuck in the middle of the first round at No. 15. Colbert doesn’t see that as a hindrance to getting the  impact player that can lift the Steelers back into contention after spending the last two Januarys watching the playoffs from home.

“The player that is going to be available to us at 15 in years past, you may have had to been picking at seven or maybe eight to get the same quality of a player,” Colbert said. “There are easily 15 players available that we will be very happy with if we are able to pick them.”

Five things to look for as the Steelers try to recapture a little bit of the magic the franchise found two generations ago:

Staying put: Colbert isn’t big on moving up in the draft, instead preferring to stick to the script and see what’s available when the Steelers are on the clock. Considering the depth of this draft, he has already ruled out Pittsburgh trying to get into the top 10. That doesn’t mean the Steelers won’t listen if the phone rings with a team offering an extra pick or two to move up to No. 15.

“The more picks the merrier,” he said.

Pittsburgh last traded its first-round pick in 2001, when it flipped positions with the New York Jets and ended up taking five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton, adding two more draft picks in the process.

Wide open: While the team signed free agent wide receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Lance Moore to offset the departures of Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders, the one thing they lack is a red zone target capable of using his size to get position.

Enter Allen Robinson? The 6-foot-3 former Penn State star is projected as a second-round pick, and the Steelers have never hesitated to mine the Nittany Lions for talent.

Monitoring the corner: A changing of the guard is underway at cornerback. Veteran Ike Taylor signed a new – and deeply discounted – deal in the offseason after ceding his spot as the team’s top defensive back last fall to Cortez Allen. The Steelers need size and speed in the secondary after finishing outside the top 10 in yards allowed for the first time this millennium.

Pittsburgh hasn’t taken a cornerback in the first round since Chad Scott in 1997. With Taylor in the final stages of his career and nickel back William Gay better suited for the slot, it might be time to find Taylor’s heir apparent, perhaps as high as the first round.

Help wanted line: Free agency hit Pittsburgh’s defensive line the hardest. Ziggy Hood – a former first-round pick who never quite lived up to expectations – left. So did Al Woods, while longtime end Brett Keisel remains unsigned after his contract expired.

While Colbert said the door isn’t closed on a possible return by Keisel, the Steelers need to get younger and more athletic along the line.

“We’ve lost more than we have added,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “Hopefully, with this weekend and beyond, we will rectify that.”

Lengthy process: Consider the Steelers fans of the NFL’s decision to push the draft back from April to May.

“We got an opportunity to probably lay more eyes on more guys throughout the process, and get out,” Tomlin said. “I know I probably got to more pro days this year than I have in the past. I think the additional time created more of an opportunity for that as well.”

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