They may have needed a cornerback more, but the Steelers showed where it places its most importance when for the third straight year they drafted a lineman in the first round.
Ohio State's Cameron Heyward, born in Pittsburgh and son of a famous University of Pittsburgh running back, was the second defensive end taken by the Steelers on the first round in three years, following Ziggy Hood in 2009. The Steelers drafted center Maurkice Pouncey first last year.
Coach Mike Tomlin called it "fortifying the line of scrimmage" by drafting Heyward, who is 6-5, 288 and fits nicely into the Steelers' 3-4 defensive scheme.
"We feel this is one of those special players I talked about the other day," said Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations. "It's hard to find a hole with this guy. This is a special moment."
Many thought the Steelers might try to move up in the draft in order to take Pouncey's twin, Mike, but that was not much of a consideration and they never made an attempt to do so.
Heyward follows his father, the late Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, a Pitt running back who also was drafted in the first round, by the New Orleans Saints at No. 24 in 1988. His mother, Charlotte Heyward-Blackwell, is a Pittsburgh native. His uncle Nate Heyward followed his brother as a running back at Pitt.
"I know he's watching," Heyward said of his dad, who died in 2006 of a brain tumor after playing for the Saints, Bears, Falcons, Rams and Colts over an 11-year NFL career. "I'm going to try to do everything to make him proud of me and live his legacy on."
"I've always loved the team, I'm from there ... To be somewhere you want to be is an unbelievable feeling."
Steelers officials were thrilled to draft Heyward and never thought of drafting anyone else at No. 31 as he slipped to them.
What they still need is a cornerback, another offensive lineman, a wide receiver and a running back as they head into the second and third rounds of the draft Friday. They are thinnest at cornerback, where their only good one is Ike Taylor and he is an unrestricted free agent who could leave them soon if the end of the lockout continues. That should be their biggest priority of round two.
On round three, they could grab either an offensive lineman or a wide receiver.
But Tomlin loves big men who can rush the passer and he believes if you can rush the passer, it puts less pressure on those cornerbacks.
"Defensively, it generally starts with the men up front," Tomlin said. "I think you look at how players are drafted, it bears that out. Big people go first. If you're applying pressure to the quarterback, you don't have to cover. If you're stopping the run, you don't have to cover."
Pittsburgh had three glaring needs entering the draft and they used their first four choices to address them: Defensive end, offensive tackle and two cornerbacks. The one drawback is that cornerback is the Steelers' most pressing need and they waited until the third round to get one, then added another in the fourth.
If Curtis Brown of Texas does not come in and start, the Steelers' cornerback situation won't be improved in 2011 and if free agent Ike Taylor leaves, they would be in real trouble there. Fourth-round pick Cortez Allen comes from a small school and doesn't have much experience so he'll take time to develop at cornerback.
Kevin Colbert has hit on every first-round pick since he became the Steelers director of football operations in 2000 and there's no reason to believe that success won't continue with defensive end Cameron Heyward of Ohio State.
Somewhat surprisingly, Colbert and Mike Tomlin concentrated on defense in this draft with four of their first five picks on that side of the ball.
Defensive end Cameron Heyward: He fits their 3-4 scheme perfectly and has a chance to learn behind two veterans, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. A four-year starter at Ohio State with the kind of attitude that also fits right in with the organization.
Cornerback Curtis Brown: While many had the Steelers going for his Texas secondary mate, Aaron Williams, in the first round, Brown actually suits their needs more. They need a cover cornerback, desperately so, and Brown has those kinds of skills.
A closer look at the Steelers' picks:
Round 1/31 - Cameron Heyward, DE, 6-5, 194, Ohio State
Son of former Pitt great RB Ironhead Heyward, Cam is a Pittsburgh native who should find himself right at home in the Steelers' 3-4 defense. Strong and athletic, he looks like one of their typical ends who will push the pocket and engage the blockers.
Round 2/63 - Marcus Gilbert, OT, 6-6, 330, Florida
Gilbert has good movement, good feet and could be a left tackle for them in the future. Has versatility because he's played both guard and tackle, but he will settle in at tackle in the pros.
Round 3/95 - Curtis Brown, CB, 5-111/2, 185, Texas
Good cover cornerback who will stick his nose in on the run, but he needs to get stronger and that should not be a problem when he hits the Steelers' strength program.
Round 4/128 - Cortez Allen, CB, 6-1, 197, The Citadel
Unpolished but with all the tools, similar to Ike Taylor when he was drafted on the fourth round in 2003, although not as fast. Needs time and lockout will not help.
Round 5/162 - Chris Carter, OLB, 6-1, 247, Fresno State.
Typical Steelers pick, an undersized college end who will be converted to OLB. Good pass rusher but must learn position.
Round 6/196 - Keith Williams, G, 6-4, 318, Nebraska
Good run blocker who needs to improve pass protection, but Steelers like his nasty, aggressive disposition and play.
Round 7/232 - Baron Batch, RB, 5-10, 203, Texas Tech
Veteran Mewelde Moore is a UFA and team has been looking for a third-down back to replace him.
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