Coming into the 2011 draft, most Steelers fans would agree that the team's needs were, in order, CB, OL, DL.
Turns out, Steelers Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert got all three of those needs checked off in Rounds 1-3, albeit in reverse order.
Welcome to Pittsburgh Cameron Heyward, Marcus Gilbert, and Curtis Brown.
Gilbert has the potential to become the third former Florida Gator to be starting on the Pittsburgh offensive line with LT Max Starks and C Maurkice Pouncey due back from injury this upcoming season. With a year of tutelage behind Flozell Adams, one can envision Gilbert is penciled in as the starting RT in 2012.
A mountain of a man at 6'6, 331 lbs, Gilbert has 33 inch arms, nearly 10 inch hands, and did 30 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds at the NFL Combine. He is one of the rare Earth specimens you'll find combining size and surprising agility for that frame. During Senior Bowl week, his ability was on display and he looked very much like a solid future NFL protector.
Steelers Offensive Line Coach Sean Kugler indicated the team will get Gilbert ready to play both left and right tackle in the NFL, and Gilbert played both in Gainesville. Marcus spent two years as a full-time starter, in 2010 manning LT for 13 games and in 2009 spending 14 games at RT with Tim Tebow as his QB. All told, his run blocking resulted in 142 knockdowns and 22 touchdown-resulting blocks. As a pass blocker, he allowed 7 sacks and 9 QB pressures in those 27 starts.
Kugler also confirmed that Gilbert and Pouncey are "best buds," and that Maurkice was a big advocate of drafting his former teammate. If not his twin brother Mike donning Black & Gold, I guess Marcus will have to do. And it should encourage Steelers fans that both Kugler and Pouncey are in position to keep the fire lit under Gilbert's behind, as his tenacity and ferocity were the most often traits questioned by skeptical scouts.
All in all, I think Marcus Gilbert was another solid value pick for the Steelers at #62 overall, and continues the mandate of Head Coach Mike Tomlin to put an emphasis on "big men" in the early rounds of the draft.
And finally, much to the relief of Steeler Nation, the cornerback position was addressed in the Third Round of the 2011 NFL Draft with the Texan Curtis Brown.
On conference call with the Pittsburgh media immediately after the selection, Brown admitted he was at a "crawfish boil" with family and friends, soaking in the moment. A country boy from two hours east of Dallas, Brown visited the Steelers facility in early April and indicated after the draft that the Steelers felt like home to him from the moment he visited.
New Defensive Backs Coach Carnell Lake praised Brown for his quickness and coverage ability, the latter of which Lake described as better than even Brown's teammate at UT Aaron Williams (Williams was drafted by Buffalo with pick #34, and thought by some to be the Steelers Round 1 target).
Browns stands 5'11 1/2 inches tall, with a 186 pound frame. He ran a 4.50 40-yd dash time at the Combine, but was a track star in high school and said he's run as fast as the 4.3s on various times. As Lake described his playing ability, he plays quicker than fast.
Production-wise at Texas, Brown's two interceptions don't make one's eyebrows jump with amazement, but Curtis described his job as a man-coverage assignment where ball-hawking wasn't his #1 focus. Lake also noted that opposing teams shied away from throwing in Brown's directions because his coverage skills were so good.
Brown was named 2nd-team All-Big 12 Conference, and helped the Longhorns to a nation's 6th-best pass defense while starting 11 games as a senior. Brown played in all 52 games in his four-year Texas career, and was a valuable special teams contributor as well. Lake indicated that Brown will be asked to contribute to the Steelers as a gunner and outside coverage man on the specialty units in Pittsburgh, although he will likely not return punts. Most importantly, Lake declared he thinks Brown can help the team in 2011 at least on 3rd downs, likely as a nickel- or dime-back.
All in all, Brown isn't the can't miss Darelle Revis-like CB who could replace Ike Taylor as a rookie, but Brown will provide instant depth as a coverage man who comes in with four years of big-school experience under his belt. In a few years, with work on his backpedal and footwork, Brown could develop into the next Deshea Townsend in typical Steelers climb-the-ladder fashion.