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Steelers 2011 NFL Draft Recap

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For the third straight year, the Steelers targeted the trenches in the first round of the draft. After picking defensive end Ziggy Hood in 2009 and center Maurkice Pouncey last April, the Steelers took DE Cameron Heyward out of Ohio State with the 31st overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. Pittsburgh addressed urgent needs after that, beefing up the offensive line and bolstering an often-scorched secondary.

First Round: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State (31st overall)
Heyward’s Steel City ties run deep.  He was born in the ‘Burgh and is the son of the late, great Ironhead Heyward, a star running back at Pitt in the 1980s who pummeled defenses with his lineman-sized frame. But the younger Heyward is far more than a feel-good pick -- he’s a perfect fit for the Steelers’ 3-4 defensive scheme.

Standing 6-5 and weighing nearly 300 pounds, Heyward never quits on a play, has the power to control blockers and can stuff the run. The four-year starter did have Tommy John surgery on his left elbow in January, missing the NFL combine and Ohio State’s pro day, but he held an impressive workout in late March and the injury isn’t considered a long-term issue. Heyward will have time to learn the Steelers’ defense behind Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith and Hood.

With Heyward joining Hood, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau thinks the Steelers have two long-term pillars on the D-line. “I told [defensive line] coach John Mitchell, get us a nice tackle for next year and we will be set for about ten more years if John and I can make it,” LeBeau said.

Second Round: Marcus Gilbert, T/G, Florida (63rd overall)
Protecting high-profile people is a family affair for the Gilberts – Marcus’ father, Jeff, was a Secret Service agent for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and worked security duty during Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Marcus, meanwhile, looked after Gators god Tim Tebow at Florida. Now, the 6-6, 330 pound Gilbert will try to keep Ben Roethlisberger safe.

Possessing quick feet as well as pulling and trapping skills, Gilbert could line up at tackle or guard for the Steelers. “Just like all our players, we’re going to train them on both sides, and we’re going to train them at two positions so they’re prepared to do that on game day,” offensive line coach Sean Kugler said. “At some point, his [Gilbert’s] best position will come out.”

Gilbert could play an important role right away, given that Max Starks (neck) and Willie Colon (Achilles) are coming off serious injuries, Flozell Adams is 36 and Jonathan Scott and Trai Essex are free agents. Gilbert becomes the third former Gator on the Steelers’ offensive line, joining Starks and Pouncey.

Third Round: Curtis Brown, CB, Texas (95th overall)
With unrestricted free agent Ike Taylor’s status still unclear due to the lockout, the Steelers bolstered the depth chart at corner by grabbing Brown, a quality cover man at Texas who made better use of his athleticism as his career progressed.

At 6-0, 180 pounds, Gilbert isn’t especially physical. The former wide out has the speed to go step-for-step with most receivers, though, and the Steelers think that Brown is a better NFL prospect than college teammate Aaron Williams, who went 34th overall to the Buffalo Bills.

Given Pittsburgh’s weakness at cornerback, Brown could get on the field more than most third-round rookies. “He’s probably able to contribute faster because he’s more developed than his teammates,” defensive backs coach Carnell Lake said. “Overall, he’ll help us, especially on third down.”

Fourth Round: Cortez Allen, CB, The Citadel (128th overall)
With the cornerback depth chart perilously thin—Bryant McFadden and Keenan Lewis are the top players under contract—the Steelers selected back-to-back corners, betting that Allen’s raw talent and size will compensate for his lack of football experience. The 6-1, 197 pound Allen suited up for only one year of high school football. And The Citadel, a Division I-AA military college in Charleston, S.C., isn’t exactly known for churning out NFL stars.

Pittsburgh has struck it rich before with a small-school corner with big-time size and athleticism – Ike Taylor was a fourth-rounder out of Louisiana-Lafayette back in 2003. “If [Allen] can spend a lot of time working on his craft I see a lot of upside for him,” Lake said.

Of course, Tusculum’s Ricardo Colclough was taken in the second round of 2004 draft, and he’s now lining up in the United Football League.

Fifth Round: Chris Carter, LB, Fresno State (162nd overall)
It just wouldn’t be a Steelers draft without the club taking a college defensive end and converting him to outside linebacker, would it? Carter, the 2010 Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, started 32 games at defensive end and six at outside linebacker during his college career. As a senior, he racked up 11 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. He’s somewhat undersized (6-1, 248 pounds) and has problems shedding bigger blockers, but Carter has the burst and pass-rushing skills to carve out a role in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 alignment.

“Learning where to line up and the different pass coverage techniques” will be Carter’s biggest challenge, linebackers coach Keith Butler said. “It’ll be Chinese to him. I think he’ll be OK, but it’s going to take a couple of years for him.”

Sixth Round: Keith Williams, G, Nebraska (196th overall)
Williams tries to bury opposing lineman in the turf on every down, giving the 6-4, 318 pounder a well-earned reputation as a nasty player. His pass protection skills and technique, however, aren’t as laudable. Williams is a little slow off the snap against elite lineman, and he has a tendency to block upright instead of using his frame to get under his opponent’s pads. He’s a project, but he could become a quality run-blocker.

Seventh Round: Baron Batch, RB, Texas Tech (232nd overall)
Profiling as a future third-down back, Batch lacks great straight-line speed but his soft hands were on display in the Red Raiders’ pass-happy offense. The best-case scenario for Batch would be a Mewelde Moore-like career. Not so coincidentally, Moore is a pending free agent whose Steelers career may well be over.

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