Steelers opt for cornerbacks in later rounds

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The Steelers hadn’t taken a cornerback in the first round of the NFL draft since 1997 and if ever there was a time to take one with their first pick this seemingly was the year.

Longtime and dependable starter Ike Taylor just turned 34. He is fresh off a subpar season and a steep salary cut and is likely in his final season with the team. William Gay and Cortez Allen split the starting duties at the other corner spot. Allen is entering the final year of his rookie contract and Gay is 29.

But the Steelers likely are to follow a similar course by filling their cornerback need in the middle and later rounds when the draft concludes today.

The Steelers set out to rebuild their defense, but they decided to do it by taking linebacker Ryan Shazier in the first round and defensive end Stephon Tuitt in the second round. They chose a running back, Dri Archer in the third.

This is a familiar pattern for the Steelers, who have invested their higher picks in the front seven rather than their back end for years.

In the 17 years since they selected cornerback Chad Scott in 1997, the Steelers have taken three linebackers and three defensive linemen in the first round. Only one first-round pick in that 17-year span was a defensive back — Troy Polamalu in 2003.

The Steelers subscribe to the theory that pressure on the quarterback is most important in their defense. They have found their cornerbacks and to a lesser degree their safeties lower in the draft.

Taylor was taken in the fourth round of the 2003 draft. Allen came in the fourth round in 2011 and Gay was a fifth-rounder in 2007. Others who are no longer with the team include: Curtis Brown (2011 first round), Crezdon Butler (2010 fifth round) and Keenan Lewis (2009 third round) and Joe Burnett (2009 fifth round).

The other cornerbacks currently on the roster were signed as free agents: Devin Smith, Isaiah Greene, Antwon Blake and Brice McCain.

“I think there are still some good ones in the draft,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said before the team selected in the third round. “I feel good about the cornerbacks we have and we have more numbers than people realize. At these other positions we have people that I at least know about, let’s put it that way. We may have great players in the building already; they just haven’t had a chance to show us that they are great.”

Rounds four through seven will take place today and the Steelers will be looking to fill several positions of need other than cornerback.

• Defensive end. Former first-round pick Cam Heyward came into his own a year ago and Tuitt could start right away, but the Steelers still could use more depth at the position.

• Receiver. Antonio Brown is coming off a Pro Bowl season and Lance Moore was signed as a free agent to take over in the slot for Jerricho Cotchery. The Steelers used a third-round pick a year ago on Markus Wheaton, who had an injury-plagued rookie season. Right now, he would be designated the starter opposite Brown. Derek Moye only dressed for a few games in 2013 and Justin Brown, a sixth-round pick a year ago, was on the practice squad.

• Outside linebacker. The Steelers have starters Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds and Worilds is playing the upcoming season on the transition tag unless he signs a long-term contract before the season. If he does not sign a long-term deal he will become a free agent after the 2014 season. Arthur Moats, signed in March as a free agent from Buffalo, and Chris Carter are the reserves.

Ray Fittipaldo: and Twitter @rayfitt1.

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