F. Dale Lolley's Sports Column
Steelers need immediate results
PITTSBURGH – No NFL team ever dislikes the players it selected in the draft.
They like all of their draft picks, otherwise they wouldn’t have chosen them.
The Steelers are no different. They practically sprinted to the podium to make their picks in every round, wasting little of their allotted time to turn them in. They were sure they were making the right selection in every round.
But this draft class might be different from ones in recent years. The Steelers are expecting – no, make that longing for – this group to make a difference immediately.
Only time will tell if this group can do that, but for a team in need of an infusion of talent, the Steelers addressed some of their glaring issues.
They wanted to acquire differencemakers – players capable of changing the outcome of a game in one play. In linebacker Ryan Shazier, their first-round selection, versatile running back/wide receiver Dri Archer and wide receiver Martavis Bryant, they might have done just that.
All three have something the Steelers were lacking – game-changing speed and playmaking ability.
“I think you covet speed, obviously, but it’s football, it’s not a track meet,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “If you get a capable football player who happens to be fast, it’s an asset. The speed players we were able to acquire in this draft fit the bill in that regard. They are football players who happen to be extremely fast.”
In the case of Shazier and Archer, they were the fastest players available in this draft at their respective positions.
Shazier, who will play inside linebacker for the Steelers, was timed at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which is lightning fast for a 237-pound man. Archer was timed at 4.26 seconds, which was not only the fastest time at this year’s NFL combine, but one of the fastest in combine history.
“When we took Ryan, we talked about how we coveted a defensive playmaker over anything else,” Tomlin said. “He fits the bill. I think you could say the same thing about Dri Archer. He’s a playmaker. He’s a guy who gets yards in chunks and rings up the scoreboard.”
The one thing that was noticeable about the Steelers last year was how slow the team had gotten. That was especially evident after they were beaten by New England, when the defense looked a step behind the Patriots on nearly every play.
Pittsburgh made one move to help solve that issue in free agency, replacing aging free safety Ryan Clark with speedy Mike Mitchell. Shazier, who defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau expects to start, will pair with Lawrence Timmons to give the Steelers perhaps the fastest set of inside linebackers in the NFL.
Add in the value pick of Stephon Tuitt, a defensive end from Notre Dame who fell to the Steelers in the second round after an injury-plagued 2013 season, and Pittsburgh might have gotten a nice influx of talent that could pay immediate dividends.
“I’m open to it,” said Tomlin in regard to some of this rookies starting. “It’s not something that’s going to be given to them. They’ll be given an opportunity to earn it. But I do believe that within this group there are some guys who are very capable of doing just that.”
If the Steelers are to get out of the cycle of 8-8 seasons that have plagued them the past two years, they’ll need for that to be the case.
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at email@example.com.