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Steelers hope to fill roster gaps in upcoming draft

| Monday, March 24, 2014, 10:00 p.m.
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The Steelers could target a tall receiver such as Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin with their first pick in this season's NFL Draft.

ORLANDO, Fla. — General manager Kelvin Colbert dropped a few hints before the free-agent signing period began that the Steelers might be more active than usual.

Still, given the Steelers' normal, sit-on-the-sideline policy and the $15 million salary-cap deficit they were running at the time, it didn't seem possible Colbert could do more than some minor tweaking.

But that roster reshuffling is fast becoming a roster makeover, led by the signing of new starting free safety Mike Mitchell. And coach Mike Tomlin is predicting the 2014 Steelers won't be in place until another nine or 10 players are added — and he wasn't referring just to the usual training camp bodies.

The Steelers picked up another experienced player Monday by bringing in former Bills linebacker Arthur Moats to back up outside linebackers Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones, provide position flexibility and play special teams. He joins wide receiver Lance Moore, who was signed Friday to replace Jerricho Cotchery as the slot receiver, and 330-pound defensive lineman Cam Thomas, who can play either end or nose tackle but seems likely to line up outside.

Tomlin said all of these pickups are “insulating us against the unknown.”

Already, the Steelers are experiencing one of their most active signing periods of the Colbert-Tomlin partnership.

What could be next?

• A starting wide receiver to replace Emmanuel Sanders. That player likely won't be signed but rather drafted. Colbert said a best-in-30-years draft class will offer value in every round. The GM and coach plan to attend Texas A&M's pro day, where certain first-round wide receiver Mike Evans will be on display. Last week, they dropped by Florida State, in part to scout another 6-foot-5 wide receiver with first-round potential, Kelvin Benjamin.

“The draft is very deep with all kinds of shapes and sizes of receivers,” Colbert said.

• An experienced running back to back up Le'Veon Bell. Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jaguars visited last week; LeGarrette Blount of the Patriots will be in town Friday. No one on the roster aside from Bell has NFL carries, and this isn't a position the Steelers are likely to entrust to a lower-round draft pick.

“It would be good to get a ‘been there, done that' type of guy in the room to maybe help him (Bell) with growth and development,” Tomlin said.

• A backup inside linebacker. There's so much uncertainty about the badly injured knee that has sidelined 2012 draft pick Sean Spence the last two seasons that the Steelers can't even pencil him into their plans.

• Another defensive lineman, although Colbert likes Thomas' ability to play end or inside. But if Thomas and Cam Heyward wind up starting at end, leaving Steve McLendon in the middle, the Steelers will have no NFL-experienced backups.

“We are still very much in the process of building for 2014,” Tomlin said.

And they're building in a different way than usual, too.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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