Steelers address needs with lineman-heavy draft
Kevin Colbert spent the days leading up to the NFL Draft stressing the Pittsburgh Steelers would focus on ''want'' and not ''need.''
Maybe, but it's no coincidence the general manager wanted - and got - everything his team needed.
The Steelers stockpiled prospects for its beleaguered offensive line and addressed depth issues at linebacker, nose tackle and wide receiver with their nine picks.
''It was no grand design,'' Colbert said. ''That's just how these drafts break.''
Pittsburgh wrapped up the draft with a flurry of activity on Saturday, moving up in the fourth round to take nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu out of Washington then grabbing speedy Florida running back Chris Rainey in the fifth.
The Steelers selected Colorado wide receiver Toney Clemons, a Pittsburgh native, in the seventh round before choosing Texas A&M cornerback Terrence Frederick, Oregon tight end David Paulson and SMU lineman Kelvin Beachum with compensatory picks.
''The last three days unfolded very well for us,'' Colbert said. ''We got a lot of players we had targeted. We didn't think we reached for everybody and we got everybody where we felt very comfortable.''
Pittsburgh addressed its line issues in the first and second round by taking Stanford's David DeCastro and Ohio State's Mike Adams then adding Miami (Fla.) linebacker Sean Spence in the third.
The only time the Steelers moved aggressively in the draft came in the fourth, when they traded picks with Washington and gave up a sixth-rounder to take the 348-pound Ta'amu, who gives Pittsburgh insurance at the position that anchors its 3-4 defense.
Longtime starter Casey Hampton is recovering from offseason knee surgery and longtime backup Chris Hoke retired in January leaving third-year man Steve McLendon as the most experienced nose tackle on the roster.
Ta'amu had 30 tackles and four sacks during his senior year with the Huskies and was an honorable mention All Pac-12 selection. He played extensively against DeCastro. Ta'amu had high praise for his former rival turned teammate.
''When you go against DeCastro, you can feel his presence,'' Ta'amu said. ''There's not a lot of guards that can block down on a nose tackle and you can feel him. The thing about DeCastro is he's explosive, from play one all the way to the last play. There's not a lot of guards that can stay the same like that.''
The Steelers are in no hurry to bring Ta'amu along, though he believes he can be a three-down player. When asked about his pass rush skills, Ta'amu just laughed.
''My pass rush is amazing,'' he said.
So is Rainey's speed. The former All-American track star with the Gators is be used in a variety of ways.
''I think he's a very versatile player that is very fast and explosive,'' offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. ''He can run it, he can return it. That's a commodity.''
Rainey, whose older brother Rod Smart played five seasons in the NFL with the Eagles and Panthers, understands he'll need to be open to anything. He's certainly confident in his ability, calling himself the fastest player on a team that includes Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Though he lined up at slot receiver at Florida, Rainey considers himself a running back but will likely need to make the 53-man roster as a special teams ace. Though he will get a look at returning kicks, Rainey set a Southeastern Conference record by blocking six punts during his career.
Rainey called Pittsburgh the ''perfect'' spot for him, noting the team's status as a Super Bowl contender and his close relationship with Steelers offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey.
That relationship made Rainey more attractive to the Steelers after character concerns stemming from his arrest in 2010 on an aggravated stalking charge for allegedly sending a threatening text to a former girlfriend. He spent a night in jail and was kicked off the team the next day before being reinstated. Rainey leaned heavily on Pouncey's family for support after the arrest, and the Steelers reached out to the Pounceys before making the pick to gauge Rainey's commitment to staying out of trouble.
Looking back, Rainey called the incident a turning point.
''I became a man. I matured,'' Rainey said. ''I learned a lesson not to do that ever again ... this stuff happens for a reason.''
It's a message Clemons echoed after being chosen by his boyhood team. Clemons starred at Valley High in New Kensington, Pa., just north of Pittsburgh before signing to play at Michigan. He transferred to Colorado after his sophomore year and developed into a pleasant surprise last fall, catching 44 passes for 680 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns for the Buffaloes.
The 6-foot-2 Clemons gives the Steelers size at wide receiver and the team was impressed by Clemons' resiliency and the way he battled for the ball in the air against multiple defenders.
''He's a competitor and it jumps off the screen at you,'' coach Mike Tomlin said.
Clemons wasn't sure he'd get a look after a bumpy career that included a transfer and a series of coaching changes.
''It took me awhile to find myself,'' Clemons said. ''When I finally found myself in a system that had faith in me, I was able to go out there and perform.''
Most of the new players - including undrafted rookie free agents - will participate in a rookie minicamp next weekend, though Adams and DeCastro will not be there due to academic commitments.