Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake was the first college coach to offer Shaquille Richardson a scholarship. Five years later, Lake is giving Richardson an opportunity to draw an NFL paycheck.
The Steelers selected Richardson, a 6-foot, 194-pound cornerback, with the first of their two fifth-round picks.
Before being hired by the Steelers, Lake coached defensive backs at UCLA, his alma mater, for one season. Lake discovered Richardson at Los Alamitos High School, where he played in relative anonymity.
"He was overlooked in high school," Lake said. "He didn't have any offers. We looked at him on tape. He was at one of the camps, and he was playing man-to-man coverage. I said, 'Wow, this kid can cover man-to-man. I think we should bring him into camp and see if he can cover the receivers we have in camp, and if he can, we should offer him a scholarship.' He came in and was the best cover guy we had. We offered him a scholarship that day."
Richardson never played at UCLA. In June, before his freshman season, he and three other incoming recruits were arrested for suspicion of felony theft. Former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel dismissed them from the program. The three were arrested by police June 23, 2010 on suspicion of stealing a purse. The charges were later dropped.
One of the others involved was Paul Richardson, Shaquille's cousin who transferred to Colorado and was taken by Seattle Friday in the second round of the draft.
Richardson transferred to Arizona, where he started 37 games over four seasons. With his size, the Steelers envision Richardson being matched against some of the bigger and taller receivers that have been entering the league and posing matchup problems for defenses.
"These days with the kind of receivers we are seeing, big, fast receivers, speed is a good thing," Lake said. "Shaq is probably 4.5-ish. I think that is fast enough especially if he is a good technician."
The Steelers needed to add some depth to the cornerback position because there is much uncertainty at the position beyond the 2014 season. Veteran Ike Taylor is 34 and likely in his final season. Cortez Allen is in the final year of his rookie contract and William Gay is entering his eighth season in the league.
The Steelers are looking to develop another corner that can be a future contributor.
"I'm definitely aware [of the age in the secondary], but I'm definitely coming to learn from Ike Taylor and other veteran defensive backs they have on the team," Richardson said. "I'm just ready to work. I got a lot to prove and I'm ready to work."
The Steelers are not in a hurry to rush Richardson into a role on defense. As it turned out, cornerback was not as big of a need for the Steelers as many analysts had believed.
Lake agreed with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who said Friday that he liked many of the free-agent cornerbacks on the roster. Lake singled out Antwon Blake, who joined the team in 2013, and Brice McCain, who was signed as a free agent earlier this spring.
"Antwon Blake is one, very fast, quick aggressive corner that I liked coming out last year," Lake said. "We were fortunate to grab him in free agency, and he's turned out to be very productive for us, especially on special teams. We got Brice McCain in the offseason, who I have been working with on the field the last couple of weeks. I'm really impressed with the way he moves.
"I think these guys are just getting started. They have the ability to cover and stay close to receivers. For guys who have been picked up in free agency that may have been overlooked in the past, I'm pretty excited about them. I think we have the ability to plug in and play some of the players we've picked up."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.