An off season that began with the Steelers missing the playoffs. Trading Super Bowl MVP receiver Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets and franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger getting suspended for six games by Commissioner Roger Goodell for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Many fans could understand why the Steelers were looking forward to pouncing on this year’s draft.
The Steelers entered the draft needing help on the offensive line. A line that had allowed nearly 150 quarterback sacks over the last three seasons.
Filling their most pressing need, the Steelers selected center/guard LaShawn Maurkice Pouncey, who is 6-5, 305 pounds, from Florida with the 18th pick overall. Pouncey earned All-American honors and also won the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation’s top center.
Top-quality centers are becoming more critical with the number of teams switching to 3-4 defenses because an offense will have trouble if it cannot control the nose tackle in the middle of the line of scrimmage. Could Pouncey be the next Mike Webster or Dermontti Dawson?
|TOP PICK—In this Feb. 27 photo, Florida’s Maurkice Pouncey runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. Pouncey was the Steelers’ top pick in the NFL draft April 22.
“We’re not going to anoint or hand anyone a job,” said coach Mike Tomlin. “They got to earn it. And to earn it you got to get an opportunity. He will begin his career as an offensive guard not center. He played right guard as a freshman.”
Jason “All” Worilds is 6-1, 255 pounds. He played defensive end at Virginia Tech, but will be converted to outside linebacker. “All” Worilds made would-be blockers look like turnstiles on his way to college ball carriers. At the league’s scouting combine in February, he had a 38.0 inch vertical jump and finished near the top of nearly every category.
The Steelers have the best two outside linebackers in football in James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Both are Pro Bowl players, so it was puzzling why General Manager Kevin Colbert would waste a second round pick on a player who will likely sit on the bench for the next three seasons. These are the type of decisions that kept Pittsburgh out of the playoff in 2009.
The Steelers, desperate for a replacement for Holmes, reached in the third round for undersized receiver Emmanuel Sanders of SMU. Sanders played in coach June Jones’ “Run and Shoot” offense.
Can Sanders replace Holmes at wide receiver?
“No! At SMU I played in the slot position,” said Sanders. “I played in the Shrine All-Star game and I struggled as an outside receiver. I have the athleticism but it will take me a long time to adjust to playing on the outside.”
Colbert and the Steelers again had a brain freeze in the fourth round by adding yet another outside linebacker. Thaddeus Gibson of Ohio State figures to be nothing more than Woodley’s, Harrison’s and Worilds’ cheerleader.
In the fifth round the Steelers added 325-pound Chris Scott of Tennessee who has a history of problems keeping his weight down.
There are several reasons why the Steelers didn’t make the playoffs. Perhaps the most glaring of their flaws was the lack of playmakers in the secondary. Starting cornerback William Gay, who was a bust last year in his first season as a starter, didn’t cover well, didn’t have any interceptions and lost his starting job.
Pittsburgh may have found a replacement for Gay when they selected 6 foot, 195 pound Crezdon Butler of Clemson. At the league’s scouting combine in February, he had a 40.0 inch vertical jump, ran the 40 in 4.41, bench pressed 225 pounds for 17 reps and finished near the top of nearly every category for a cornerback.
“Coach Tomlin called me and he asked me if I was healthy. And then he said ‘How would you like to become a Pittsburgh Steeler?’ I was really at a loss for words. But I said yes and it just went from there,” Butler said. “I talked to him, and I talked to the GM [Kevin Colbert], I talked to [defensive coordinator] Dick LeBeau and I talked to the defensive backs coach [Ray Horton]. I talked to everybody it seemed like.”
“Coach LeBeau told me that I will get to know him and the DB’s coach really well,” Butler said. “I know I will probably have to start out on special teams and get my feet wet, but that is how I started out at Clemson. I just have to work hard. I love his defensive style. It is to attack the offense and make plays on the ball.”
Colbert could resist drafting another linebacker when he took undersize Stevenson Sylvester of Utah to close out the fifth round.
The steal of the draft came in round six when the Steelers selected 235-pound Jonathan Dwyer of Georgia Tech. He’s perhaps the best power back in the draft and was predicted to go to the San Diego Chargers in the first round.
“I’m a physical player. I like contact and the Steelers fit my personality very well,” said Dwyer. “They’re a downhill team, they like to run the ball and be physical. I couldn’t be in a better situation. My style is like Walter Payton’s and Jerome Bettis and all those types of players.”
Pittsburgh hit another home run on their way to a 20-0 sixth round rout when they selected “Antonio” to replace “Santonio.” Antonio Brown, of Central Michigan, is a true playmaker. He ranks second in MAC history with 305 career receptions and was two-time MAC special teams player of the year. Brown’s goal is to start as a rookie and make the fans forget about Holmes.
“I’m ready to get on the field right away. As a receiver or special teams, wherever I’m needed,” said Brown. “I’ve been a fighter all my life. To be part of the Pittsburgh championship culture, I’m ready to start. Let’s get it in. let’s go.”
Doug Worthington, who is 6-5, 292 pounds, played defensive end at Ohio State. The fifth year senior was the Steelers seventh round draft choice.
Coach Tomlin said that he is looking for guys who are talented and have humility, because the guys who are humble and even-keeled are the guys who will come into this thing and fit in. They’ll continue to grow and get better, they’ll take criticisms of their game, and they’ll be accountable.
In spite of the construction of PNC Park, Heinz Field and the new Consol Energy Center, for now, it looks like the Steelers are ben
t on team destruction.