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Steelers

Steelers leave their options open heading into draft day

| Saturday, April 23, 2005

At approximately 5:30 p.m. today, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue will walk to a podium, review the information in his hand, then say those magical words:

With the 30th pick in the first round, the Pittsburgh Steelers take ...

This is where things start to get tricky, because nobody knows for sure -- outside of the scouts and coaches who've been huddling like Cardinals in the Vatican -- what Tagliabue will say next.

Will he introduce a wide receiver• Maybe, because Reggie Brown of Georgia, Roddy White of UAB, Terrence Murphy of Texas A&M and Mark Clayton of Oklahoma might be available, and the Steelers are looking to upgrade after losing Plaxico Burress to free agency.

What about a tight end• Perhaps, because the Steelers like Virginia's Heath Miller (his sports hernia notwithstanding), and he would be a big and dependable target for Ben Roethlisberger.

Cornerback• A distinct possibility, because Marlin Jackson of Michigan and Justin Miller of Clemson might be available, and the Steelers need to replace the jettisoned Chad Scott and add depth to a unit that could use some more youth.

Offensive lineman• For sure, because Marcus Johnson of Mississippi or Jammal Brown of Oklahoma might be around, and the Steelers need depth at the position after losing starters Keydrick Vincent and Oliver Ross to free agency.

The Steelers might also consider linebackers and defensive linemen with the first pick.

Anybody for running backs?

The only thing that seems almost certain is this: The commissioner will not introduce a quarterback, kicker or punter.

"You can pretty much pick out the top 20 guys pretty easily," said Steelers director of operations Kevin Colbert, who's been known to wheel and deal on draft day. "But where those 20 go and all those different things, we are guessing. We don't know because one trade can trigger 10 different scenarios, so you just don't know.

"Sitting at 30, there is no less, I don't want to say pressure, because we enjoy it and it's fun," he said. "I mean, you just wait and see where it goes. You never know -- there might be a situation where someone is tempting us to trade up and get him, as we have done, from the 26th position before. And then, we might get down there, and the guys that we were kind of hoping for, they might get taken. Then, you have to think about going down and getting some extra picks. So, to me, it's a lot fun to see it all come together, and hopefully, be ready."

It might be fun for Colbert, but it's not always a day at the beach for the players, sitting around with friends and family -- watching, waiting, hoping.

Take Steelers veteran tackle Marvel Smith, for example. He went on a world-class roller-coaster ride five years ago when the first round came and went, and his name was never called.

Smith hung onto Tagliabue's every word from noon until well after 5 p.m. Still, no takers.

It can be an agonizing experience.

"The hardest part for me was that I was hoping to go in the first round, and once it passed, that was really tough," Smith said. "I knew I was going to get picked, so it was just a matter of when, really."

Smith conceded that he was glad to see one particular team bypass him.

"Five years ago, Cincinnati wasn't one of the greatest teams," he said of the Steelers' AFC North division rival. "Nobody wanted to go there, really, so it was like I really didn't want to go there. ... I didn't really follow the NFL back then, but you always heard that everybody in the NFL didn't want to go there. For the most part, free agents weren't trying to go there."

Most players probably wouldn't mind joining a Steelers organization that is sturdier than the USX building and coming off a 15-1 regular season and an AFC Championship game appearance.

The Steelers enter the two-day draft with a number of needs, mostly in terms of depth. They're not likely to find another Roethlisberger-type player, as was the case last year with the 11th overall pick.

"At our spot, we're looking for the best athlete available," Colbert said.

Colbert is high on the wide receivers and cornerbacks in this year's class -- he called them the fastest he's seen -- so it wouldn't be surprising if the Steelers try to grab Clayton (though he could be gone), UAB's White or Georgia's Brown if one is still available. Remember, the Steelers have had success with Georgia kids in recent years, including Hines Ward in '98 Kendrell Bell in '01 and Verron Haynes in '02.

Some experts predict the Steelers will use their pick on an offensive lineman, such as guard/tackle Johnson of Mississippi or Brown of Oklahoma, while others believe tight end Miller is the best choice.

There had been speculation that the Jets wanted Miller at the 26th spot, but they traded out of the pick to the Raiders for tight end Doug Jolley.

Is that a harbinger of things to come for the Steelers?

Tagliabue will tell the world later today.

With the 30th pick overall ...


Some predictions on how the Steelers will use their first-round pick today:

Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN: Heath Miller, TE Virginia

Peter King, Sports Illustrated: Marcus Johnson, T, Mississippi

ESPN.com: Heath Miller, TE, Virginia

Paul Zimmerman, Sports Illustrated: Marcus Johnson, T, Mississippi

Sporting News: Elton Brown, G, Virginia

USA Today: Marcus Johnson, T, Mississippi

Don Banks, Sports Illustrated: Khalif Barnes, T, Washington

NFL.com: Matt Jones, WR-TE, Arkansas

NFL Draftscout.com: Heath Miller, TE, Virginia

Vic Carucci, NFL.com: Matt Jones, WR-TE, Arkansas

Pat Kirwan, NFL.com: Marlin Jackson, CB, Michigan

Great Blue-North Draft Report: Jammal Brown, T, Oklahoma

Draftboardinsider.com: Matt Jones, WR-TE, Arkansas

Steelers drafts the past three years


2002

1. Kendall Simmons, G

2. Antwaan Randle El, WR

3. Chris Hope, FS

4. Larry Foote, LB

5. Verron Haynes, RB

6. Lee Mays, WR

7. Lavar Glover, DB

7. Brett Keisel, DE

2003

1. Troy Polamalu, SS

2. Alonzo Jackson, LB

4. Ike Taylor, CB

5. Brian St. Pierre, QB

7. J.T. Wall, RB

2004

1. Ben Roethlisberger, QB

2. Ricardo Colclough, CB

3. Max Starks, T,

5. Nathaniel Adibi, LB

6. Bo Lacy, T

6. Matt Kranchik, TE

6. Drew Caylor, C

7. Eric Taylor, DT

Additional Information:

2005 NFL draft

Time : noon-10 p.m. (or later)

TV : ESPN (noon-5:30 p.m.); ESPN2 (5:30-10 p.m.)

Format : Three rounds today, four rounds Sunday (11 a.m.-6 p.m.)

Steelers' first day : Pick 30th (first round), 62nd (second round), 93rd (third round)

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