By BOB LABRIOLA
It's no simple thing for a rookie to win a starting job in the NFL, and it's almost impossible to do if said rookie doesn't report to training camp on time. By signing a three-year contract with the Steelers on Monday, Kraig Urbik took care of the easy part.
Urbik, 6-foot-5, 328 pounds, was the first of three third-round picks made by the Steelers in the 2009 draft, and he became the eighth of their nine selections to sign a contract. Only No. 1 pick Ziggy Hood remains unsigned, with players due to report to training camp on July 31.
A veteran of 50 college starts at Wisconsin – 34 at right guard and 16 at right tackle – Urbik will arrive at his first NFL camp thrown into the mix at right guard, where the depth chart figures to list Darnell Stapleton and Trai Essex above him.
Stapleton made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2007, and his ability to play all three interior line positions is valuable to an NFL coach. When starting right guard Kendall Simmons injured an Achilles last Sept. 29 in a game against the Baltimore Ravens, Stapleton stepped in and filled the spot through the rest of the regular season and the march to the Super Bowl.
Essex, a third-round draft pick in 2005 as a left tackle in college, came close to being waived at the end of training camp in 2007, but since then has developed into a guy who has filled in capably when called upon. The Steelers thought enough of him to re-sign him this offseason after he had become an unrestricted free agent.
Urbik has an advantage over the 305-pound Stapleton in size and one in experience as a right guard over Essex, but rookies have a lot to overcome in terms of learning the offense and understanding how to be a professional.
Then again, the Steelers have something of a recent history of starting rookie offensive linemen. Simmons – a No.1 pick in 2002 – was the most recent example, and he was preceded by both Marvel Smith in 2000 and Alan Faneca in 1998.
"I love him," said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians of Urbik during the draft. "Big, tough, nasty type of guy who has position flexibility. This kid understands football."