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Steelers begin offseason move assessments

| Monday, May 26, 2014, 9:45 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton beats the Chiefs for a third-quarter touchdown Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, at Heinz Field.

The first round of the NFL Draft went by, then the second and the third. Still, the Steelers didn't address the obvious need for a tall wide receiver for the Todd Haley/Ben Roethlisberger offense.

Finally, just after the draft's third and final day began, the Steelers chose 6-foot-4 Martavis Bryant, the fast downfield complement to Sammy Watkins who helped make Clemson's offense one of college football's most dangerous.

“I don't necessarily bow to the fact that a tall wide receiver was necessary — he is a capable receiver,” coach Mike Tomlin said of Bryant, who averaged nearly 20 yards per catch. “One that is capable of some big plays and has proven that.”

But was it enough?

The Steelers' offense, with all of the key offensive linemen returning and LeGarrette Blount in place to improve the running game, looks deeper — and better — than it did a year ago.

But after foregoing wide receivers such as Kelvin Benjamin, Marqise Lee and Donte Moncrief, did the Steelers accomplish what general manager Kevin Colbert promised five months ago by giving Roethlisberger the supporting cast he needs?

The Steelers will begin to find out Tuesday, when they stage the first of 10 practice-like workouts that will be spread over the next three weeks. After that, it's the June 17-19 minicamp.

These sessions are as close as it gets to regular season-type practices during the offseason, and they will allow the Steelers to begin assessing all the moves they have made since January.

Two of the most intriguing were drafting Bryant, who was projected to go as high as the second round but slipped into the fourth, and running back-wide receiver Dri Archer, the fastest player in the draft.

Archer is a multidimensional threat with 4.26 speed in the 40 who ran the ball, caught passes out of the backfield and returned kickoffs at Kent State. The Steelers wanted him badly enough to pass up several traditional receivers and select him in the third round.

“Is he a running back? Is he a wide out? He's a splash playmaker,” Tomlin said.

But, again, was it enough?

The Steelers still have a lineup opening at the wide receiver position manned last season by Emmanuel Sanders, who signed with the Broncos.

Second-year receiver Markus Wheaton, whose rookie season was all but wiped out by multiple finger injuries, and Bryant apparently will compete to line up opposite Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown.

Between them, they've caught all of six NFL passes. And if neither emerges as an every down-capable receiver, the Steelers won't have fulfilled their promise to keep Roethlisberger stocked with the kind of talent a franchise quarterback expects to have.

Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey also was added, but he caught only 29 passes with Indianapolis last season.

These next four weeks will begin to give the Steelers a clue about Wheaton's health, Bryant's ability to compete and Archer's role in the offense. And there are other questions still unanswered with the start of training camp two months away:

• Can first-round pick Ryan Shazier step in immediately at inside linebacker? Is second-round pick Stephon Tuitt ready to start at defensive end, where there's little depth or experience?

“It's not something that's going to be given to them,” Tomlin said. “They'll be given an opportunity to earn it.”

• Will there be additional roster moves after Monday, when the Steelers gain $8.5 million of cap space for releasing LaMarr Woodley?

• Do the Steelers still consider cornerback Ike Taylor a starter, or will he move into a different role at age 34 as Cortez Allen and William Gay start?

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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