ShareThis Page

Starkey: The real key for Steelers

| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 11:36 p.m.
Steelers first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones stands with Art Rooney II as he is introducted to the media Friday, April 26, 2013, at Steelers headquarters on the South Side.
Jones, a Georgia linebacker, was taken with the 17th pick in 2013.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones stands with Art Rooney II as he is introducted to the media Friday, April 26, 2013, at Steelers headquarters on the South Side. Jones, a Georgia linebacker, was taken with the 17th pick in 2013.

It's a wonderful day across the NFL — and not just because Mel Kiper Jr. can finally take a nap.

This is the only Sunday of the year when every team feels like a winner.

All 32 of them, Steelers included, are positively giddy over their draft classes. Delirious fans and sleep-deprived analysts are talking about Manti Te'o being the next Junior Seau and Markus Wheaton being the next Mike Wallace.

We'll see.

The only safe prediction is that harsh reality will set in soon enough on several fronts. Flash back to the first round in 2011 and consider that people still are waiting on the likes of Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Jonathan Baldwin, Mark Ingram, Gabe Carimi, Nick Fairley and, yes, Cam Heyward.

The truth, as ESPN's Bill Polian put it, is this: “Nobody knows how any of these players will turn out.”

It sure looks like the Steelers had a solid draft. I like the concept of it, anyway, except for taking a backup quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger needs weapons, not backups.

The Steelers appeared to address some serious needs. But who didn't?

I mean, I like new safety Shamarko Thomas as much as the next guy, but I also remember calling then-Syracuse coach Greg Robinson the last time the Steelers took a Syracuse safety, and he compared Anthony Smith to Ronnie Lott.

Somebody asked coach Mike Tomlin if his rookie defenders will get this defense back to its turnover-causing ways.

“It's more than just those guys,” he said.

More than just those guys? I sure hope so. There are players making tens of millions of dollars on that defense, and besides, how many rookies step in as impact players in Dick LeBeau's system?

For this team, the upcoming season — on offense and defense — will be more about big-money stars returning to form and the previous three drafts producing ripened fruit than about this year's class.

If first-round pick Jarvis Jones is going to attack quarterbacks like Von Miller, these are among the developments that could help his cause:

• Coverage in the secondary must improve. Ike Taylor and his $9.5 million cap hit must rebound from injury, and Cortez Allen — a fourth-round pick from 2011 — must emerge as a legit cover man (and run supporter) on the other side. See, whether it's Jarvis Jones or Lawrence Taylor in his prime, nobody's going to tackle the quarterback if the quarterback — a la Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer against the Steelers last season — takes three-step drops and continually beats soft coverage with quick throws.

• Heyward and Hood need to show their first-round pedigree up front and help put teams in obvious passing situations.

• The $98 million duo of LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu needs to be on the field making plays.

Meanwhile, it would help to have the offense staking the club to a decent lead now and then. That is when LeBeau can break out his exotic blitzes.

About that offense: If you see second-round pick Le'Veon Bell becoming the next Jerome Bettis, you better hope the recent focus on linemen pays off.

If David DeCastro, Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert pan out, a lot of people could pile up yards behind them — including Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer.

If they don't, then no running back would succeed.

You want Wheaton to flash that 4.3 speed and run under deep passes the way Wallace did? OK, then Gilbert or Adams better hold the edge — one of them at left tackle (“Hello, Max? This is Kevin Colbert.”).

The team's $42 million receiver, Antonio Brown, needs to prove himself as a legit No. 1. Emmanuel Sanders must establish himself as a No. 2. And the $102 million quarterback needs to throw to his team, not the other one, late in big games.

So we could sit here and dissect this draft until Lennay Kekua comes to life, but how about we save ourselves the time? The coming season depends way more on stars rebounding and recent picks ripening.

If that happens, the Steelers should be fine.

If not, a bunch of rookies aren't going to save them.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.