PITTSBURGH -- No one at Pittsburgh Steelers’ headquarters could have been happier than Dick LeBeau by the end of Friday night.
The first two rounds of the NFL draft provided the Steelers’ defensive coordinator with a speedy, instinctual linebacker who could be used all over the field -- think a certain iconic safety who is nearing the end of a spectacular career-- as well as a hulking defensive end who could be a steal if his motivation stays up and his weight stays down.
A delayed flight from New York made linebacker Ryan Shazier late for his own introductory news conference Friday afternoon but the first-round pick otherwise arrived just in time for a defense that badly needed an infusion of speed and youth.
The timing, meanwhile, couldn’t have been better for defensive end Stephon Tuitt to fall into the middle part of the second round after he had been widely projected as a late first-round pick. The Steelers gave up 4.3 yards per carry last season -- their highest since 1999, according to ESPN Stats & Info -- and had a gaping hole at defensive end.
Tuitt could help solve both problems, and sooner rather than later.
He may be starting this season along with Shazier on a defense that is in the midst of a pretty serious makeover.
Yes, that is right.
LeBeau said the Steelers will remove the training wheels from Shazier and Tuitt faster than they do with most first-year players.
And that is saying something considering how conservative the Steelers generally play it with their rookies.
“Both of these players, if all develops as anticipated, are going to get a lot of playing time.” LeBeau said. “Sometimes in the past we’ve been in a position where our draft choices didn’t necessarily have to play for a year or so. That is definitely not the case in this situation.”
The Steelers have already drafted two potential starters, and their third-round pick could also make an immediate impact though Kent State running back Dri Archer looks like a luxury pick for a team that can’t afford any of those.
Archer is faster than a rumor, if on the small side, and the Steelers will try to use his speed and versatility to create mismatches.
If offensive coordinator Todd Haley is excited about the possibilities Archer provides him when calling plays, LeBeau feels the same way about Shazier.
LeBeau, in fact, said Shazier could be used in ways similar to strong safety Troy Polamalu, who has long been hard for opposing offenses to track because he lines up in so many different places.
“From what I have been able to gain from watching him play, there is not a heck of a lot that you can ask him to do that he doesn’t have the athletic ability to do it,” LeBeau said of Shazier. “He’s going to be a problem. He’s going to get on people quicker than they know because he’s very fast.”
Fast could apply to several things when it comes to Shazier, including how long it takes him to crack the starting lineup.