Draft notebook: Fifth-round CB Richardson provides depth in secondary
The Steelers finally addressed a need for depth at cornerback by picking Arizona's Shaquille Richardson with the 157th pick in the fifth round.
The former Wildcat isn't among the highest-rated corners in the draft, but he has the size to cover a growing number of big receivers in the NFL.
Carnell Lake, who helped recruit Richardson to UCLA before the Steelers hired him as defensive backs coach, expects Richardson to compete for a roster spot. The Steelers' starters are set with Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen, but Richardson will duel with free agent signees Antoine Blake and Brice McCain.
“He's a smart, young corner who can come in and contribute,” Lake said. “He gives us good size out there and somebody that has the ability to put a lot of pressure on tall receivers that have been drafted in the last few years.”
Lake also likes Richardson's willingness to mix it up. He played some safety at Arizona where he was solid against the run. Unlike last year's fifth-round pick, cornerback Terry Hawthorne, Richardson will be healthy when training camp begins July 25.
“I'm coming in to learn from Ike Taylor,” Richardson said. “I'm ready to work, and I have a lot to learn.”
And he will finally get a chance to learn from Lake. He had a brief stay at UCLA before transferring to Arizona where he started 37 of 49 games and recorded 142 solo tackles and 10 interceptions.
“I remember Coach Lake being someone I can look up to,” said Richardson, who reunites with his former Arizona teammate Robert Golden. “I'm happy to be learning from him and being a Pittsburgh Steeler. It's crazy.”
Vandy lineman is versatile
In Vanderbilt offensive lineman Wesley Johnson, the Steelers essentially discovered another Kelvin Beachum. The fifth-rounder is a versatile offensive lineman who can play every position on the offensive line.
“We like his athletic ability,” said first-year offensive coordinator Mike Munchak. “The game isn't too fast for him. He's comfortable at all three positions. Now, we have to find a position for him.”
Johnson said he's most comfortable at tackle. He started seven games at center during his sophomore year at Vanderbilt for Penn State coach James Franklin.
Johnson will likely compete for playing time at tackle along with former No. 2 pick Mike Adams and Beachum. The Steelers came away from his pro day impressed, and coach Mike Tomlin watched him closely during the Senior Bowl.
Bruin knows Steelers set
UCLA's Jordan Zumwalt has the size and strength of a traditional middle linebacker. The sixth-round pick isn't as fast or talented as first-round pick Ryan Shazier, but the upside is he has a realistic chance of competing for a job because the Bruins' defense somewhat mirrors the Steelers' 3-4 set.
“It'll probably be an easy transition for him in terms of trying to learn our defense,” linebacker coach Keith Butler said. “I see him as an inside guy, but I see him helping us on special teams.
“He is a long, tall kid but I would see him as an inside guy, too, at this point. He's a kid that can provide some backup for us, and he should be able to play some special teams.”
The addition of Zumwalt strengthens the competition at inside linebacker. Still, the Steelers are hoping Vince Williams improves and that former No. 3 pick Sean Spence can recover from a knee injury that has sidelined him since the 2012 preseason.
Volunteer slims down
At 6-7, 352 pounds, Tennessee's Daniel McCullers will be a load at nose tackle. Defensive line coach John Mitchell figures he will be more productive if he drops about 30 pounds. Already, the former Volunteer is nearly 70 pounds lighter than he was as a high school senior.
“I think I'm going to start him inside because the bigger you get those guys inside you make it tough to run inside,” Mitchell said. “It's going to help us quite a bit.”
McCullers was an attractive pick, in part, because the Steelers were 21st against the run in 2013 with Steve McLendon replacing Casey Hampton (No. 1 pick in 2001) at the nose. The addition of McCullers and second-round pick Stephon Tuitt is a clear indicator that no job is safe in the trenches — except former No. 1 pick, defensive end Cam Heyward.
When asked what his nickname would be compared to Hampton's the Big Snack, McCullers quipped, “I'm the biggest snack.” But he needs to prove he has the hunger to play every down — a sharp criticism of him by some NFL scouts.
“I feel I can be a dominate player,” he said. “(Hampton) was one of the best run-stoppers. I'm going to go out there and grind to be the best.”
UMass product gives TE depth
The Steelers didn't find the heir apparent to former No. 1 pick Heath Miller when they selected UMass tight end Rob Blanchflower in the seventh round. But they found someone who will put the heat on third-year tight end David Paulson, who slumped badly during the second half last season.
Blanchflower, who had hernia surgery after last season, will have a good shot to make the roster if the Steelers again keep four tight ends. He is versatile, having the ability to block and catch, but special teams will be his avenue to success.