By JIM WEXELL
For The Tribune-Democrat
PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin called the decision to trade for extra third-round picks “critical” and believes Sunday’s third round was the watershed for a bountiful crop of Pittsburgh Steelers prospects.
The Steelers opened the day by drafting Wisconsin guard Kraig Urbik, a 6-5¼, 328- pounder who was a four-year starter at Wisconsin. He played right tackle as a redshirt freshman before moving to right guard. He made 45 consecutive starts and was going for the school record of 50 when he injured his knee last season against Penn State and missed two games.
He’s not considered a mobile, get-to-the-second-level player, but Urbik will add necessary muscle up front.
“I love him,” said Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. “Big, tough, nasty. If you watch him play one-on-one, you’re not going to pick him on your team. But it’s about playing together and this kid understands football.”
Arians said that Urbik will also learn the center position to give him the ability to play four positions, but Arians also said that Urbik will compete for the starting right guard position this season.
With the second pick of the round, the Steelers drafted a more exciting player in Ole Miss wide receiver/return specialist Mike Wallace, a 6-03/8, 199-pounder with 4.31 speed and a vertical jump of 40 inches.
“He’s a burner,” Arians said. “He’s not gone over the middle a lot, but he’s an outside-speed guy who’s an excellent return guy. We really, really like him.”
Wallace comes from a tough upbringing in New Orleans and landed at Ole Miss, where he spent the past two seasons as one of the top kickoff return men and deep threats in the SEC. He led the SEC with a yards-per-reception average of 18.8 in 2007, and improved to 20.1 last year. He caught 101 passes for 1,910 yards and 14 touchdowns in his career and averaged 23.2 yards per kickoff return and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
“He’ll work on his punt returning, but he’s primarily a kickoff returner,” Arians said. “We’re looking for someone to replace Nate (Washington) outside and he’s a candidate. Inside, that takes time.”
The Steelers drafted Wallace’s high school teammate and childhood friend, cornerback Keenan Lewis, with the third third-round pick. Lewis is a 6-1 ¼, 208-pounder from Oregon State. He intercepted a deflected pass against Pitt in the Sun Bowl. Lewis and Wallace attended O.P. Walker High School in New Orleans.
“It has always been my dream to play in the NFL,” said Lewis. “It’s also a dream to play with one of my best friends. Since the age of 6, when we played Pop Warner together, we have played together ever since.”
“You would probably – looking at him – compare him to Ike Taylor,” said Steelers defensive backs coach Ray Horton. “He’ll be able to run up the field with men just like Ike, and it will allow us to do a lot more with our safeties to free up some guys. We now have two big corners that people are always talking about when you go against the Arizonas and be able to match up and be physical with people.”
“I love Ike,” Lewis said. “I’ve worked with Ike when I was down with Tom Shaw, and he showed me what I need to work on. It’s a blessing to be working with him.”
Lewis made 117 tackles at Oregon State with seven interceptions (four last season).
Seventy-two picks and four hours later, late in the fifth round, the Steelers drafted another cornerback, 5-93/8, 192-pound Joe Burnett of Central Florida. The Steelers paid close attention to Burnett throughout the draft-season process. He was a four-year starter and four-time all-Conference USA punt returner. In his career, Burnett returned three punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns and intercepted 16 career passes. His 31 interceptions in high school rank second all-time in Florida. Small, fast and strong, Burnett benched 225 pounds 22 times at the combine and ran the 40 in 4.59.
“I am not going to compare him to Antwaan Randle El,” said Horton. “But hopefully, on the defensive side, that is what he can be – a guy who can do a multitude of things for us. … He will make his living at the start as a third-down type of corner and as a returner. After he grows into the position, if he can pick off the ball and return it for touchdowns like that, he will be on the field quite a bit.”
Frank ‘The Tank’
One of the more interesting players on a most interesting day was the second pick of the fifth round, UNLV’s bowling-ball of a running back, Frank “The Tank” Summers. He’s a player Arians agonized over for two rounds – and then lost a fight with the defensive coaches – before getting a guy he thinks can become the Steelers’ goal-line back.
“He has halfback qualities, but he has fullback size,” running backs coach Kirby Wilson said of the 5-9, 243-pound Summers. “When he was in the goal-line areas, he was a guy that could carry the ball when they knew he was going to get it, and score touchdowns. He’s also a very capable receiver coming out of the backfield. I think people will be surprised when they see him.”
Wilson said Summers will be a halfback with fullback capabilities. In two seasons at UNLV, Summers carried 385 times for 1,668 yards (4.3) and 14 touchdowns. He attended Skyline High School in Oakland, Calif., the same school that produced Marvel Smith.
“I love touchdowns – that’s my favorite part of the game,” said Summers. “It’s one of the reasons I played running back or fullback. Otherwise I probably would’ve been a linebacker.”
In the sixth round, the Steelers took Ra’Shon “Sonny” Harris (6-4, 298) as a nose tackle. Harris played defensive tackle at Oregon, where he played in 36 career games and recorded 65 tackles and four sacks.
“This guy can run,” said Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell. “And he’s still learning how to play football.”
Long on talent
Allan Quay “A.Q.” Shipley was the Steelers’ first pick of the seventh round. Out of nearby Moon Area High, Shipley is the reigning Rimington Trophy winner as college football’s best center. He lasted until the seventh round because he’s only 6-05/8, 298 pounds, and, scouts say, his arms are too short and he can only play one position. But Shipley played that one position so well in the Rose Bowl – which he called the best game of his career – that some feel he can make the roster of a Super Bowl champ that’s lacking in interior linemen.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Shipley. “As a Steeler fan growing up, especially being from Pittsburgh, it means the absolute world to me when I finally got the call and Coach Tomlin got on the phone. It was unbelievable and meant the world to me.”
“When we’d interview defensive linemen,” said director of operations Kevin Colbert, “we always ask them who was the toughest offensive lineman, and we got A.Q.’s name quite often. So I can’t answer why he lasted.”
The Steelers wrapped up their weekend by drafting tight end David Johnson (6-2, 260) out of Arkansas State. He caught 22 passes for 356 yards and five touchdowns as an H-back last season.
“We were looking for high-quality people, humble guys and guys who can fit,” said Tomlin. “All of these guys fit that bill. They have nice resumes, three and four-year bodies of work on almost all of these guys. Things that we evaluate like toughness, intelligence, these guys display that. This was a great day for us. I felt that we were able to get some things done.”