The Steelers entered the second day of the NFL draft with needs in the offensive line and at running back, yet when they made their first selection yesterday, they made history for the second time in two days.
While the New England Patriots were using a fourth-round draft choice to trade for receiver Randy Moss, the Steelers used theirs on a punter.
Not only did they make a punter their first pick of the day, they traded away their sixth-round draft choice to Green Bay to move up seven spots in the fourth round to do so. There, with the 112th overall pick, they drafted left-footed Baylor punter Daniel Sepulveda.
He becomes the first punter drafted by the Steelers since they chose Harry Newsome in the eighth round of the 1985 draft.
Kevin Colbert, the team's director of football operations, called the choice "very intriguing to us." Coach Mike Tomlin said the pick underscores his determination to have good special teams play.
"That's a legitimate phase of football," Tomlin said. "We're going to put our money where our mouth is in regards to that. It's a position that's very important. We're talking about field position, special teams. ... I supported that all the way."
The surprising Sepulveda pick kicked off a second day that culminated one of the Steelers blandest drafts in modern times. It does not mean they weren't successful because it will take a few years before they'll truly know, but the Steelers won't receive high grades for their weekend picks anytime soon.
"You never know if it's right or wrong until you see how many games you win or lose," Colbert said. "You're judged on wins and losses."
As veteran offensive line coach Larry Zierlein noted after the Steelers finally drafted a guard in the fifth round, "Nothing ever surprises you on draft day."
Besides Sepulveda, the Steelers drafted Oklahoma State defensive lineman Ryan McBean with their second pick in the fourth round, selected Rutgers guard Cameron Stephenson and Louisville cornerback William Gay with their two picks in the fifth round, and ended by drafting a big, productive receiver from Florida in the seventh round, Dallas Baker.
The thinnest position on the team after outside linebacker is halfback and the Steelers did nothing to address that over the weekend. Tomlin said they were busy after the draft trying to line up running backs, perhaps with the knowledge that three years ago they landed Willie Parker as an undrafted free agent.
Even though they have placed the run as the highest of priorities on offense, the Steelers have not drafted a running back in the first three rounds of the draft since Amos Zereoue in 1999. Tomlin said they considered some backs in this draft but the value just was not there.
"There were guys we looked at, but we stayed true to our board and looked at the value and picks we had on our board," Tomlin said.
Tomlin seemed legitimately happy with his first draft as a head coach, although as even Colbert noted, teams are always happy with their draft -- at least until the prospects start playing.
"We feel like we really have taken a step forward," Tomlin said.
While the pick of a punter so high might have been surprising, Sepulveda was regarded as one of the two best punters in this draft, a two-time Ray Guy Award winner. The Steelers decided to make the trade and grab him after Jacksonville drafted punter Adam Podlesh with the second pick of the fourth round -- the only other punter worth drafting, Colbert said.
Sepulveda's selection means the Steelers ultimately will release veteran Chris Gardocki, but it may not come right away. They also have Mike Barr on the roster and Tomlin said he won't bring more than two punters to camp.
Regarding any competition at punter, Sepulveda said, "I think the fourth round sends a pretty strong message."
NOTES -- The Steelers have 79 players on the roster and would like to sign about 10 rookie free agents by today. ... First-round pick Lawrence Timmons is scheduled to visit the Steelers facility today. ... Minicamp is May 11-13, when all rookies join veterans for required practices. ... Two picks are imports -- Stephenson is a native of Australia and McBean from Jamaica.Duane Laverty, Waco Tribune Herald
Baylor University's Daniel Sepulveda was the first punter drafted by the Steelers since 1985.
Click photo for larger image.
Steelers coaches and the team's draft picks talk with the media.
Day two wrapup
Head coach Mike Tomlin: on the day two draftees
• on addressing the same position in the first two rounds of the draft
• on being a 3-tight end guy; he and Kevin Colbert grade themselves
• on how he will get up to speed between now and camp
Kevin Colbert, director of football operations: on the overall draft
• on the decision to trade up for a punter
• on addressing the team's needs
Bob Ligashesky, Special Teams Coach: on what's so attractive about Daniel Sepulveda.
• if Aussie kicking is the next wave of punting
• on taking a punter so early.
• on how many blocked punts Sepulveda has
Fourth round pick Daniel Sepulveda: on being taken so high in the draft
• on walking on as a linebacker and ending up a punter
• if his ego took a hit when another punter went ahead of him
John Mitchell, Defensive Line Coach: on how Ryan McBean can play both as a nose and an end
• on successful late-round picks
• Fourth round pick Ryan McBean: on the value of being a football player
First pick fifth round, Cameron Stephenson: on when he started playing football
Second pick fifth round William Gay: on what he know about the Steelers
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .