This draft matters greatly for Steelers

PITTSBURGH – What makes this Pittsburgh Steelers draft unusual is that you’re likely to see some of the new players being introduced out of the tunnel as starters when the season opens on Sept. 8.

The Steelers haven’t had needs like this in a while, so they have much more opportunity than they’ve had in a long time. It appears that GM Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are counting on No. 1 pick Jarvis Jones to get significant playing time this season.

That hasn’t always been the case. The Steelers’ defense is complicated, and rookies usually need time to adjust. The policy has been to protect them by letting them observe for a while. Troy Polamalu didn’t start a game as a rookie in 2003, even though he was a superior talent from a big-time program at Southern California. His primary contributions were on special teams that season.

That luxury doesn’t exist now. The Steelers have significant holes on both sides of the ball, and they need people to fill them. There aren’t many apprenticeships available.

The concern about rookie mistakes is more than offset by the potential benefit new talent can bring to an 8-8 team that has sprung more leaks since its last game.

Waiting game

The glare of attention at the draft can be uncomfortable.

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith was at the draft, waiting for a call during the first round that never came. When Smith’s phone finally rang, it was the New York Jets taking him in the second round, the 39th player chosen.

Dropping like that cost him a significant amount of money and a lot of stress as he waited to find out where he might be headed.

Back before the draft got wall-to-wall TV coverage, Bob Jury was a defensive back of some note with successful Pitt teams. He was projected as a first rounder, and a wire service reporter decided to do a story from Jury’s home, where the family was throwing a draft-day party.

Jury’s call didn’t come until the third round, when the San Francisco 49ers took him 63rd overall. With every passing hour, the tension grew. By the time Jury was drafted, the ice was melted, the cake was stale and the party wasn’t much of a celebration at all.

Smith immediately called the Jets “one of the most storied organizations in the NFL.” The Jets have been in one Super Bowl, and that was 44 years ago. They’re 64 games under .500 since launching in the old American Football league back in 1960.

But at that point Smith was undoubtedly too relieved to get bogged down in details.

Mehno can be reached at