Steelers: after the draft: Roethlisberger says he had no influence on draft picks

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It's not that Ben Roethlisberger doesn't like that the Steelers' top picks in the NFL draft are a running back who compared himself to LaDainian Tomlinson and a wide receiver who is the type of big target he said he coveted.

Nor is he displeased that Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed -- two strong, fast and productive players from big-time college programs -- were drafted specifically to give Roethlisberger even more options in the offense.

But, probably not wanting to offend or disrespect any of his existing teammates, Roethlisberger wasn't exactly doing backflips or rubbing his hands in anticipation of training camp yesterday when asked his reaction to the two talented rookies who have been added to the roster.

Roethlisberger will get his first chance to work with Mendenhall, a running back from Illinois, and Sweed, a wide receiver from Texas, starting tomorrow when the three-day minicamp begins on the South Side.

"It wasn't pressing for us because we already have [players at those positions]," Roethlisberger said. "It's to add depth, to add versatility.

"You never know. Look at our starting running back now," he said, referring to Willie Parker, a two-time Pro Bowl selection. "He wasn't drafted in the first round. We'll see. It's interesting to see how it shakes out."

Then he added: "We have guys. It's not like we don't have a running back. We have a couple great ones. Same with wide receiver. We got guys. There's no real rush to push anybody into a starting spot.

"If they develop into it, I guess they develop into it. We've seen it too many times on any team with any player in the league -- anybody can be good, anybody can be bad."

After the 2007 season, Roethlisberger said he would like to have a tall wide receiver in the offense, a comment from which he has since backtracked because it offended, among others, four-time Pro Bowl receiver Hines Ward.

Coincidence or not, Sweed is 6 feet 4, 219 pounds with great strength and leaping ability. But it wasn't as if the Steelers had specifically targeted Sweed: He was one of three receivers they were considering in the second round. One of the others was DeSean Jackson of California, who is 5-9, 169.

When asked if the Steelers were listening to his request, Roethlisberger said, "I don't think so."

Roethlisberger said he knows very little about Sweed, other than he missed half of his final season with ligament damage in his wrist that required surgery. Sweed, who had 20 career touchdown catches at Texas, will begin as the fourth receiver behind Ward, Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington.

"I've got my guys out there," Roethlisberger said. "I've got my receivers who I've been working with, Limas will have to work his way in. For the first day or so [of minicamp] I won't be throwing too many passes to him unless they work him with the first group."

Not many people expected the Steelers to draft a running back and wide receiver in the first two rounds, not after coach Mike Tomlin declared after the season his team needed to get bigger and stronger on the offensive and defensive lines.

The Steelers didn't draft an offensive lineman until the fourth round -- Texas tackle Tony Hills -- and never drafted a defensive lineman. Roethlisberger, who was sacked a combined 93 times the past two seasons, said he isn't worried.

"The offensive line is going to be a lot better than people think," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in those guys. I've seen them at [the offseason workouts] and they're doing a great job. Guys are going to step in and fill shoes. Chris [Kemoeatu] is never going to be an Alan Faneca, [but] he doesn't have to be. He has to be the best he can be. I have a lot of confidence he and the rest of the guys are going to get it done."

NOTES -- The Steelers signed another rookie free agent who is a defensive end -- Kyle Clement of Northwood University, a Division II school in Midland, Mich. Clement (6-4, 286) had 50.5 tackles for losses and 20.5 sacks in 45 career games at Northwood. He is the third defensive lineman signed as an undrafted free agent by the Steelers.

Gerry Dulac can be reached at . First Published May 1, 2008 4:00 AM


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