Pittsburgh Steelers - TeamReport

NFL Team Report - Pittsburgh Steelers - INSIDE SLANT

Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said before the draft that he did not expect any rookie to have an impact on the Steelers' 2013 season.

That has changed, and not necessarily with their first-round pick, Jarvis Jones. While Jones certainly could develop quickly enough to start at right outside linebacker to replace James Harrison, there is little doubt that Pittsburgh's second-round pick will start.

The Steelers want to re-emphasize their ground game and they will do that behind Le'Veon Bell, the second back drafted this year.

"He had 1,700 yards last year and close to 900 of those yards were yards after contact," Colbert said, adding that it "indicates the ability to make NFL-type runs because the holes in the NFL aren't going to be the same as they are in college.

"So you saw him make a lot of what we thought were NFL type runs."

Bell played at 244 pounds but he weighed 230 when the Steelers drafted him. He can run inside and out, catch the ball and he seems to be a perfect fit for what the Steelers want to do and what offensive coordinator Todd Haley plans to do.

"I think it puts us back in a place where we can have a chance to run the ball and throw the ball out of the backfield successfully," Haley said.

The Steelers changed coordinators last year at the behest of Art Rooney II because the team president did not like the philosophy of Bruce Arians. Rooney wanted the offense to put more emphasis on the running game than it had been doing.

But with injuries to lead back Rashard Mendenhall and then to his backups and offensive line, the Steelers slipped further down the pole to No. 26 on the ground in the NFL and they averaged only 3.7 yards per carry.

They made no pitch to keep Mendenhall as a free agent and they believe Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are more complimentary backs than ones who can carry the load. Bell is that kind of back.

"Even if he had a one yard hole that was blocked, once he made contact, he always seemed to fall forward for four more," Colbert said of the rookie's days at Michigan State. "That was intriguing. His ability to catch and his ability to block were also intriguing."

"In Le'Veon we thought we had a complete package. There were several other backs that we liked as well, but not as well as Le'Veon."

--The Steelers hit their biggest needs with their top four picks, but the buzz around town since Saturday is whether the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger's replacement.

On the surface, it seems absurd they would use a fourth-round draft choice to succeed a franchise quarterback who just turned 31 years old, has won two Super Bowls and led them to three.

But then, Charlie Batch chimed in. His days as the longtime backup in his hometown ended when the Steelers signed another Pittsburgh native, Bruce Gradkowski, 30, in March to take over that job. Then, after they drafted Landry Jones of Oklahoma in the fourth round, Batch said that pick goes "much deeper than what's on the surface.

"Maybe they weren't happy with what they had behind Ben and Bruce. That could be," Batch said. "But ultimately, I think this isn't about replacing me. Big picture, maybe they're thinking, 'Can we develop Landry Jones to be the starter? Maybe two years from now, he could be our guy for the next 10 years.'

"We don't know. But with the contracts for quarterbacks these days, he'd certainly be a heck of a lot cheaper than Ben at age 34 or 35 or 36."

Drafting quarterbacks in the fourth round or later rarely produces a regular starter. Tom Brady is one of those who were still in the league last season. Matt Hasselbeck is another, although he was drafted by Green Bay and did not become a starter until he went to Seattle.

It just doesn't happen. If the Steelers want to find Roethlisberger's replacement, they will have ample opportunity over the next five years to do so and use a pick a lot higher than their second choice in the fourth round.

Pittsburgh, in 2007, traded a sixth-round pick to move higher in the fourth round so it could draft a punter with a torn ACL within the previous year, Daniel Sepulveda. So it does not regard fourth-round draft picks as an area where it will find its future franchise quarterback.

"When you have a franchise quarterback like we do, you really don't get a lot of opportunities to add another young quarterback into the mix," general manager Kevin Colbert said. "Hopefully, we're never in a position where we're picking a top quarterback high ... He was available to us in this fourth round and we just thought it was a great opportunity to add a good, young quarterback. It's a critical position and you better keep adding young folks to that spot."

The Steelers last drafted a quarterback in 2008, when they chose Dennis Dixon in the fifth round. Other than Roethlisberger in the first round in 2004, they last drafted one this high in 1995, when they chose Kordell Stewart in the second round.


NFL Team Report - Pittsburgh Steelers - NOTES, QUOTES

Mike Tomlin disagrees with linebackers coach Keith Butler, who said last week that it would be "miraculous" if injured linebacker Sean Spence could return to play even by the 2014 season. Spence blew out his left knee in the final 2012 preseason game of his rookie season. A nerve injury seems to be the major hangup.

"All the rehab is going according to plan," Tomlin said. "No news there. My opinion differs. I think he'll have a full recovery. But now you have two opinions, neither of which are expert medical opinions, so do with it what you will."

--LaMarr Woodley, stung by an anonymous teammates' comments this year that his injuries were caused by his lack of workout ethic, says he's working hard now to prevent a repeat of his injury-pocked past 1 1/2 seasons.

"My offseason is going great. I'm looking forward to getting back with the team in a few weeks," Woodley said. "I've been training since the middle of February."

--The Steelers could not address all their needs in the draft -- although they had a chance with their second pick in the fourth round instead of taking a quarterback -- and waited until the sixth round to draft inside linebacker Vince Williams of Florida State.

"The thing that attracts us to him is that he will hit you," linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "There are two things you can't teach linebackers in this league. One of them is how fast are you going to be and the other one is will you hit somebody."

--Some have questioned the Steelers drafting of running back Le'Veon Bell of Michigan State on the second round and bypassing most every other back on the board to do so. The Steelers had him rated as their top back.

"If it was a one-yard run, if he didn't have any room, he always seemed to fall forward for four," general manager Kevin Colbert said. "You look at his career average, it's right at 5.0. He's a big guy. He can go from being very patient to knowing when to hit a crease. He knows when to insert on those zone-run schemes. And he can. He's a big kid that can block and he's got nice, soft hands."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We will certainly have to look at veterans that flush out and see if we can make them fit. Right now we are in a good spot." - GM Kevin Colbert on the possibility of signing any more free agents.


NFL Team Report - Pittsburgh Steelers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

A closer look at the Steelers' picks:

Round 1/17 - Jarvis Jones, OLB, 6-2, 245, Georgia

Fills an immediate need in a vital position in their 3-4 defense. He will compete with Jason Worilds to replace James Harrison on the right side and should quickly overtake him. His 14.5 sacks led the nation last season and he had 28 in the past two seasons. He was the first outside linebackerr drafted by the Steelers since 1991.

Round 2/48 - Le'Veon Bell, RB, 6-1, 230, Michigan State

Should step right in and start in a backfield that regressed last season and ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing. His 1,793 yards rushing in 2012 was fifth in the country, second-most in MSU history. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley compared him to Eddie George.

Round 3/79 - Markus Wheaton, WR, 5-11, 182, Oregon State

Another big need filled by the Steelers with a speed receiver to take the roster spot of departed Mike Wallace. Ran 4.5 at the combine but the Steelers consider him much faster, quicker. Holds the Beavers record with 227 receptions. Emmanuel Sanders will likely leave as a free agent in 2014.

Round 4/111 - Shamarko Thomas, S, 5-9, 217, Syracuse

Desperate for safeties after losing backups Will Allen and Ryan Mundy as free agents and with aging Troy Polamalu, 32, and Ryan Clark, 34. Only thing holding him back is his height and history of concussions. The Steelers traded their 2014 third-round pick to the Browns to take him.

Round 4/115 - Landry Jones, QB, 6-3, 221, Oklahoma

Started all four years (50 games) and set Big 12 and Oklahoma records with 16,646 yards and 123 touchdowns. Steelers not looking for Ben Roethlisberger's replacement but to get younger at the position after years of Charlie Batch/Byron Leftwich.

Round 5/150 - Terry Hawthorne, CB, 6-0, 190, Illinois

Oft-injured, including concussion issue, and that likely dropped him. A playmaker joins a defense that had trouble making them the past two years. Has good size, speed and Steelers think also could play safety.

Round 6/186 - Justin Brown, WR, 6-3, 209, Oklahoma

After Plaxico Burress, he becomes the tallest receiver on the team. One of the transfers from Penn State permitted to play immediately because of the sanctions levied on the Nittany Lions. He said he left because of the opportunity to catch passes from Landry Jones, drafted by the Steelers on the fourth round.

Round 6/206 - Vince Williams, ILB, 6-0, 247, Florida State

Steelers will put him at inside linebacker but not sure whether he'll play mack or buck. They have little depth at inside linebacker. He started 26 games the past two seasons and missed all of 2009 with a back injury.

Round 7/223 - Nick Williams, DE, 6-3 1/2, 320, Samford

He's a project, a former basketball player who played one year of football in high school. Has great size and speed but is a really unpolished player. Practice squad candidate to develop.




--QB Charlie Batch likely will be offered a one-year minimum to again return as No. 2.

--NT Casey Hampton will not be back because it's time for them to move on and they have his replacement even though he had a decent 2012.

--LB Brandon Johnson will not return after playing little in 2012.

--QB Byron Leftwich opened the season again as No. 2 and was hurt again. They will no longer try to keep him.

--C/G Doug Legursky is a versatile backup who will return if he cannot find a deal elsewhere.

--TE Leonard Pope played little at the position and is not likely to return even though they are thin with the injury to Heath Miller.

--T Max Starks finally will leave as a free agent after pulling good starting duty at left tackle again last season.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)

--P Jeremy Kapinos (not tendered as RFA) had back surgery last August and was waived injured and put back on their roster. No plans for him.



--CB DeMarcus Van Dyke was claimed off waivers from Oakland before the season began and they believe he has enough talent to keep.


--RB Baron Batch: ERFA; terms unknown.

--WR Plaxico Burress: Potential UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--RB Jonathan Dwyer: Potential RFA; $1.323M/1 yr.

--LB Larry Foote: Potential UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.

--G Ramon Foster: Potential UFA; $6M/3 yrs.

--TE David Johnson: UFA Steelers; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--CB Justin King: Potential UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--NT Steve McLendon: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation); $7.25M/3 yrs, $1.67M SB.

--RB Isaac Redman: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation); $1.323M/1 yr.

--WR Emmanuel Sanders: RFA tendered at 1.323M with third-round pick as compensation); matched Patriots offer $2.5M/1 yr.

--LB Stevenson Sylvester: Not tendered as RFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--LS Greg Warren: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.


--CB William Gay: FA Cardinals; $4.5M/3 yrs, $500,000 SB.

--QB Bruce Gradkowski: UFA Bengals; 3 yrs, terms unknown.

--P Brian Moorman: UFA Cowboys; terms unknown.

--QB John Parker Wilson (waivers Jaguars).

--TE Matt Spaeth: FA Bears; $2M/2 yrs, $250,000 SB.

--RB LaRod Stephens-Howling: UFA Cardinals; terms unknown.

--OT Guy Whimper: released by Jaguars; terms unknown.


--S Will Allen: UFA Cowboys; $905,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.

--G Willie Colon (released/post-June 1 designation).

--LB James Harrison (released).

--CB Keenan Lewis: UFA Saints; $26M/5 yrs, $6M SB/$11M guaranteed.

--RB Rashard Mendenhall: UFA Cardinals; $2.5M/1 yr.

--S Ryan Mundy: UFA Giants; terms unknown.

--RB Chris Rainey (released).

--WR Mike Wallace: UFA Dolphins; $60M/5 yrs, $11M SB/$30M guaranteed/$27M fully guaranteed.