Steelers address the two biggest needs on Day 2
PITTSBURGH – The defending AFC-champion Pittsburgh Steelers spent Day 2 of the NFL Draft addressing their two biggest needs.
Pittsburgh took Florida offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert with the second-to-last pick in the second round and made Texas cornerback Curtis Brown the penultimate selection of the third round.
Those positions were considered somewhat of a weakness for Pittsburgh last season, and they have a degree of uncertainty associated with it this offseason due to injury or pending free agency.
"There is uncertainty," offensive line coach Sean Kugler said about his position. "There are a couple coming back from injuries, (starting tackles) Max Starks and Willie Colon. (Tackle) Flozell Adams spent a good amount of the year injured. We just think we got a good football player that adds to the room."
Gilbert joins Starks and center Maurkice Pouncey as former Florida players on the offensive line, causing Kugler to joke, "I just like taking trips down to Florida each spring to work these guys out."
Pouncey was the team's first-round pick last year and became a Pro Bowler as a rookie. There was speculation that Pittsburgh was interested in his twin brother, Mike, but the Miami Dolphins took him with the 15th pick and the price to move up from No. 31, apparently, was too high.
So the Steelers took the next-best Gators offensive lineman instead. In the 6-foot-6, 330-pound Gilbert, they have a player who has started at four different positions along the line — everything but center — over a four-year college career.
Gilbert started a full season at both right tackle and left tackle for Florida.
"He's a high-energy player, he's athletic, he plays the game physical — that's the way we like it here," Kugler said. "And we feel like he can play different positions for us. It's also an added bonus that he and Maurkice are best buds. There is chemistry there and that chemistry is a big thing on an offensive line."
Kugler said that Pouncey openly campaigned on behalf of both his twin brother and Gilbert to the Steelers' braintrust to draft both.
"Just to go to a team with a former Gator and a former offensive lineman that I played next to is a blessing," Gilbert said. "I can learn a lot from him. He can teach me a lot and I can follow his lead because he came in right away and did a heck of a job."
Gilbert did not start but played some at both the guard and tackle positions as a sophomore in the January 2009 BCS championship game that Florida won. He started the entire season at right tackle the following season and was the regular left tackle as a senior.
He joins a team that had both of its starting tackles go on season-ending injured reserve before the campaign was half over last year. Colon is not currently under contract, and the team also has question mark at right guard.
Gilbert's size projects him as a tackle, but Kugler said the team likes his pulling skills and is not ruling out the possibility he could ultimately end up at guard.
Brown was the second Texas cornerback taken. Aaron Williams went No. 34 overall to the Buffalo Bills, and he was believed to be under consideration by the Steelers when they picked at No. 31 in the first round Thursday.
Despite Brown's so-so speed (4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash), Steelers secondary coach Carnell Lake said he believed Brown was the better cover corner of the two.
"He's very quick — he's more quick than he is fast," Lake said. "His quickness allows him to cover, and I think that's what we were looking for. He's a solid cover corner.
"To get Curtis in the bottom of the third round, I think, is a good pick for us."
Brown had only two interceptions in 52 games — 28 starts — at Texas. But Lake maintained that was because teams did not throw his direction, an ode to his pure coverage skills.
"I didn't get a ball thrown my way until my sixth game in the season," Brown said. "I just really didn't get thrown at. I didn't have too many opportunities."
The Steelers had the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense last season but are coming off a Super Bowl loss to the Green Bays Packers in which Aaron Rodgers threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns while picking on corners William Gay and Bryant McFadden. During a November regular season game, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots also picked apart the Steelers' secondary in scoring 39 points.
Brown also did some punt returning at Texas, but Lake said he didn't think that would be a role for him with Pittsburgh. As a rookie, Brown could see time on other special teams and as a nickel back.
"I feel like I can cover real well and I have good speed," Brown said. "With the coaching staff up there, I will just keep learning different techniques and going and getting the ball and just learn to be a complete player."