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Steelers' rookie class producing

| Sunday, Nov. 4, 2007

So far, so deep.

Early returns indicate this Steelers draft class could be as well-stocked as any since director of football operations Kevin Colbert arrived in 2000.

There's no telling whether it will produce as many starters (five) or contributors (seven) as the Class of '02, but five players have made significant contributions to the team's 5-2 start.

The five:

• First-round pick Lawrence Timmons leads the club in solo special teams tackles (six), though he hasn't yet made an impact at linebacker.

• Second-round pick LaMarr Woodley has flashed star potential as a pass rusher, with three sacks and a forced fumble in limited playing time.

• Third-round pick Matt Spaeth has been a regular in the team's two- and three-tight-end formations and has three touchdown catches.

• Fourth-round pick Daniel Sepulveda is averaging 44.1 yards per punt and is tied for fourth in the NFL with 13 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

• Fifth-round pick William Gay has filled in ably for injured cornerback Bryant McFadden in the Steelers' pass-defense packages and has five special teams tackles. His performance allowed the team to feel comfortable cutting former second-round pick Ricardo Colclough this week.

Last season, only two rookies - wide receiver Santonio Holmes and safety Anthony Smith - were significant contributors, though offensive tackle Willie Colon has emerged as a starter this season.

An interesting twist on this year's class is that the top two picks - Timmons and Woodley - haven't seen many snaps. That is because the Steelers' veteran linebackers are playing well.

"It's still a long season," Woodley said. "Every day we're learning the defense a little better so we can get out there more."

Draft analysis
The Steelers' 2007 rookie class has produced one starter (punter Daniel Sepulveda) thus far and five players who are contributing to the team's success. Here is a look at the Steelers' previous seven drafts under director of football operations Kevin Colbert:
Year Starters Role players Pro Bowls
2000 Three Two None
2001 Two Two Three
2002 Five Two None
2003 Two None Three
2004 Two One None
2005 One Three None
2006 Two Two None

Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu remembers how he felt halfway through his quiet rookie year of 2003.

"Oh man, I wanted to go home," Polamalu said. "It's definitely a tough adjustment, but it's different for different people."

Timmons and Woodley bonded in training camp, when they were roommates in Latrobe.

"We helped one another out," Woodley said. "We both came in hurt during mini camp, so that's when we really became buddy-buddy."

The toughest part of the adjustment to professional football, many rookies say, is the length of the season.

"I feel like it's getting long," said Woodley, who starred at Michigan. "Usually in the Big Ten, you're done by the middle of November. Here, you look at the schedule, and it'll be the middle of December."

Spaeth agreed.

"Right away, the speed of the game was the biggest adjustment," Spaeth said. "But that fades rather quickly, because you adjust to it. I think it's going to be the length of the season, but at this point, it hasn't really hit yet, I don't think. Hopefully, it won't."

If Spaeth continues his early production, he'll make a name for himself - and it won't be "Tim." NBC announcers Al Michaels and John Madden mistakenly referred to Matt as "Tim" after Spaeth caught a touchdown pass against the Denver Broncos.

Michaels apologized on the air and said he and Madden would have to treat Spaeth to a dinner.

"I got about 45 text messages from people telling me what happened," Spaeth said. "(The announcers) said they were going to buy me dinner, so I'm going to have to take them up on that."

Rookie report

Five rookies have contributed to the Steelers' 5-2 start. A look at the team's draft class:

Lawrence Timmons, LBRound: 1 (15)Comment: Leads team in solo special teams tackles (six)

LaMarr Woodley, LBRound: 2 (46)Comment: Tied for third on team in sacks (three)

Matt Spaeth, TERound: 3 (77)Comment: Tied for third on team in TD catches (three)

Daniel Sepulveda, PRound: 4 (112)Comment: Tied for fourth in NFL with 13 punts inside 20

Ryan McBean, DERound: 4 (132)Comment: Practice squad

Cam Stephenson, GRound: 5 (156) Comment: Cut

William Gay, CBRound: 5 (170)Comment: Reserve in sub-packages, five special teams tackles

Dallas Baker, WRRound: 7 (227)Comment: Practice squad

**Gary Russell, RB, and Darnell Stapleton, G, made the team as rookie free agents but have yet to dress for a game.

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