The Steelers took a big step toward addressing their problems on the offensive line when they selected Stanford guard David DeCastro with the No. 1 pick in tonight's NFL draft.
DeCastro (6-5, 315) is considered the best guard in the draft and was projected as a top-15 pick. But he slipped all the way to the Steelers with the 24th overall pick and they wasted little time, if any, selecting him.
"We didn't think David would be here, we valued him that high," said general manager Kevin Colbert. "We said earlier [this week] there are a few special players in this [draft] group. He was one of them."
The Steelers had DeCastro rated so highly that Colbert said they considered trading up to draft him.
It is the second time in the past three years Coach Mike Tomlin has drafted an offensive player with the No. 1 pick. He is the first guard to be selected on the first round by the Steelers since Kendall Simmons in 2002.
"He's a great player with excellent intangibles -- character, tough, leader, smart," Colbert said. "Everything you could ask for in a football player. We're truly, truly excited he was available to us at [number] 24."
"He has awesome intangibles," Coach Mike Tomlin said. "He was the unquestioned leader of a veteran group in college."
The Steelers had several needs on defense after they released inside linebacker James Farrior and defensive end Aaron Smith, two of their long-time stalwarts and leaders. Also, five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton is coming off major knee surgery and is likely in his final season with the Steelers.
The Steelers did not have a chance to bolster their nose tackle position with the player they liked -- Dontari Poe of Memphis, who was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs with the 11th overall pick. Poe was one of the players whom the Steelers interviewed at the NFL scouting combine and also at their South Side facility.
But quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who turns 30 this season, has been sacked an average of 43 times a season since 2007 and plagued with a number of nagging injuries because of the number of hits he has absorbed.
The Steelers are set at both tackle positions with Willie Colon returning to the right side and Marcus Gilbert moving to left tackle. But, after releasing former starter Chris Kemoeatu in the offseason, their starting guards are Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster -- a pair of undrafted players who have never gone to training camp as the incumbent starters.
DeCastro was the right guard on a Stanford offensive line that protected quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 pick in the draft. But Colbert said DeCastro usually led 80 percent of their running plays.
"I'm just thankful I'm on a great team with a great franchise," DeCastro said shortly after being drafted. "I grew up a Seahawks fan. I wasn't the biggest Steelers fan growing up. Now I'm the biggest Steelers fan there is."
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter: @gerrydulac First Published April 27, 2012 3:15 AM