Steelers re-stock defense, offensive line
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The Steelers concentrated on replenishing a dominant but aging defense and an uncertain offensive line as the three-day NFL draft came to an end Saturday at Radio City Music Hall in New York. And now there is nothing but silence from them and around the league as pro football re-enters a lockout that has brought all activity to a halt everywhere but the courtrooms.
The excitement generated by the seven-round draft quickly settled into a dead period where team employees and their new prospects are not permitted to even talk to each other, never mind work out or share play books. The conclusion of the draft was the final official act of the league's collective bargaining agreement that has expired.
A federal appeals court, which temporarily reinstated the owners' lockout of the players Friday, will rule possibly this week on whether to allow the lockout to continue while the sides either negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement or another court ruling determines what happens next.
Until then, the draft choices cannot sign contracts and undrafted rookies who usually would sign in droves after the draft remain in limbo, unable to sign with anyone.
"It's unusual," said Kevin Colbert, Steelers director of football operations. "We really don't know what, when or if that will start. ... We'll have to wait and see what the courts decide and act accordingly.''
Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin fed one of the most dominant defenses in the NFL more talent, starting with their first pick Thursday night, defensive end Cameron Heyward of Ohio State. Four of their first five draft picks were defenders before they finally threw some bones to the offense with their final two picks, a guard and a running back.
Colbert said they did not set out to benefit one side or the other through the draft.
"We didn't figure we reached for anything, which is important," Colbert said. "We feel confident taking each of those guys where we took them."
Their first two picks Saturday, cornerback Cortez Allen of The Citadel and outside linebacker Chris Carter of Fresno State, will need time to develop.
Allen might be compared to Ike Taylor when he was drafted in the fourth round from a small school in 2003, except that Taylor had more speed. Allen, though, has good speed and size at 6 feet 1, 197 pounds.
"He doesn't have a lot of experience, but he's productive and I think he has a lot of upside," new secondary coach Carnell Lake said.
Carter is typical of how the Steelers go about finding outside linebackers for their 3-4 defense -- an undersized college defensive end (6-1, 247) who will have to learn the position.
"His biggest asset is as a speed rusher off the edge," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "We think he can stand up and be as effective in a two-point stance. We'll see when we get him to training camp."
Their sixth-round pick became their second lineman drafted, guard Keith Williams of Nebraska, who will join Florida tackle Marcus Gilbert, taken in the second round.
"He has nasty to him," Steelers line coach Sean Kugler said of Williams. "He's an aggressive player."
The Steelers waited until their final pick in the seventh round to draft a player who touches the ball frequently when they took Texas Tech running back Baron Batch, who they think could become a third-down specialist.
Although neither Tomlin nor anyone from his staff can now speak to their new players (or their old ones, for that matter), the coach had some advice for what they can do between now and whenever pro football returns to life.
Colbert said beforehand that there were 100 prospects in the draft who could improve his team. Saturday, he said they drafted seven of those.
"They need to focus on things they can control," Tomlin said. "If they come in in great conditions, that's a good place to start."
Until they receive word otherwise, it's the only thing they can do.