By BOB LABRIOLA
As the first day of the 2009 NFL Draft was coming to a close at the end of the second round, the Steelers had assessed the available players and where they had them ranked, and then they decided more would be better. As Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert explained it, "Rather just taking one of those guys I think we will have a good chance at getting three."
The Steelers got their three, and they believe the three they got addressed some areas on the team that needed reinforcements while accomplishing it without having to compromise.
Coming into the draft with nine picks, the Steelers ended up making nine selections, eight of which came during flurried patches of activity on Sunday.
Ziggy Hood was the team's No. 1 pick, and then on Sunday the Steelers added guard Kraig Urbik, wide receiver Mike Wallace and cornerback Keenan Lewis, all in the third round. After sitting out Round 4, the Steelers picked cornerback/kick returner Joe Burnett and fullback Frank Summers in the fifth round. They completed the day's work by picking run-stuffing defensive lineman Ra'Shon Harris in the sixth round, and then center A.Q. Shipley and tight end/H-back D.J. Johnson in the seventh.
"We entered this day with eight picks, and we felt we were going to get people who were going to be able to help us on all different levels," said Colbert. "We're real happy with the way this turned out. We got a lot of guys we think can compete, add some depth and maybe help us win some games."
It was assumed the Steelers would look to strengthen themselves on both lines of scrimmage, and after dealing with defense in the first round they turned to offense with their first pick of the third.
Urbik, 6-foot-5, 323 pounds, had 50 college starts at Wisconsin, with 34 of those at right guard and 16 at right tackle. He was the first freshman to start on the Wisconsin offensive line in a decade, he was a team captain, he was a guy who didn't make mental errors in critical situations.
"Big, tough, nasty type of guy who has position flexibility," said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians of Urbik. "If you just go out and play one-on-one, you aren't picking him on your team. When you put him in a football game, on the offensive line there a lot of guys that don't play good one-on-one. It's learning how to play together. This kid understands football. He's a big physical guy who we think can play guard or tackle."
Wallace was described by Tomlin as "a guy who can take the top off the coverage." That's coachspeak for a player who owns difference-making speed, and Wallace qualifies after running a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash. He set records at Mississippi as a kickoff returner, and as a receiver he also led the Southeastern Conference in average-per-catch in 2007 with an 18.8. At one point, Wallace was hearing that the Chicago Bears were going to pick him in the second round, but he was giddy the Steelers in fact chose him in the third.
"Why? Because they have a great coach and a great organization. They are the winningest team in the National Football League," said Wallace. "I'm just happy to be a part of that. I'm looking forward to coming in and playing my role and learning from two of the greatest receivers in the game."
The Steelers' final pick of the third round – Lewis – was a boyhood friend of Wallace's, and the two actually played on the same high school football team. In the NFL, kick returners usually are receivers or defensive backs, but once the Steelers added Wallace they were able to go for a cornerback who is more physical than nifty.
"Looking at him, you would probably compare him to Ike Taylor," said defensive backs coach Ray Horton. "He's 6-feet, 200-pounds and runs a 4.55, and we envision him enabling us to do some good things. Get up and bump-and-run some wide receivers and take away people at the line of scrimmage. He'll be able to run up the field with men just like Ike, and it will allow us to do a lot more with our safeties to free up some guys. It opens up a package where we have now two big corners that people are always talking about being able to match up and be physical with people."
After sitting out the fourth round, the Steelers were back in business with two picks in the fifth. With a physical cornerback added via the pick of Lewis, the team added the nifty, kick returner type with the selection of Burnett.
At 5-9, 192, Burnett was a four-year starter because he always found a way to do some special things with the ball in his hands. Burnett finished with 16 career interceptions and five returns for touchdowns – two kickoffs and three punts. And Burnett was not phased by being the second cornerback drafted by the Steelers on Sunday.
"I don't think it hurts my chances at all because now that the draft is over, from the first slots to the seventh round, every guy has to come in and compete and work for a position," said Burnett. "Now we are at the moment where we have to go in and work for a job. It doesn't end right here. That's how I feel about it. I went in the fifth round [at] such-and-such pick, but I feel like I'm in the same boat as the third-round pick at cornerback. Me and him are competing now for the job. And I want the job."
With the pick of Summers, the Steelers made an attempt to strengthen another area that was a problem throughout the 2008 season – short-yardage and goal-line rushing. On two separate occasions during Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers were unable to punch the ball into the end zone during goal-to-go situations, and the team sees Summers (5-10, 230) as a possible solution. After all, his nickname is Tank.
"He exhibited those things throughout his college carrier, the ability to move the piles," said running backs coach Kirby Wilson. "One of the other things we liked about him, is when he was in the goal line areas he was a guy who could carry the ball when they knew he was going to get it and score touchdowns. He is also a very capable receiver coming out of the backfield and detached running routes. I think people will be surprised when they see him."
Harris, known to his friends as Sonny, is a versatile defensive lineman whose forte was playing against the run. For the Steelers, he'll be tried at both nose tackle and defensive end, and as coaches are fond of saying, "his best football is ahead of him."
"The thing I like about this guy is that, in the defense we play, you get a guy like this who is versatile," said assistant head coach John Mitchell. "This guy can run. He is still learning how to play football, because he only started one year. This is a very mature guy who has a daughter. He's going to come in with the attitude that this is going to be a job with the chance to make some money and start a career."
Shipley started 39 games and was the first center voted a captain at Penn State in 12 years. A graduate with a degree in labor and industrial relations, Shipley was born and raised in Coraopolis, less than a 30-minute drive from Heinz Field.
"You're going to hear a ton about the fact he's short and his arms are only 29 inches long, but once we find a way to measure a heart, then maybe we'll be on to something," said Colbert. "He's a productive, tough player, and that's what we were looking for in these late rounds."
D.J. Johnson is more of a move tight end than a classic 6-4 in-line guy, and he also could play some H-back. A four-year starter, he is thick and is competitive when he is asked to block.
"I like the nicknames," cracked Tomlin about his third draft class as the Steelers coach. "We have Ziggy Hood and Sonny Harris and Tank Summers.
"But seriously, we talked about what we were looking for in this draft: high quality people, humble guys, guys who are going to fit in. Intelligence, toughness, things we value. All these guys fit that bill."