Pittsburgh makes deft moves to snare defensive staples
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- They got a defensive lineman, and a defensive star from Georgia. The Pittsburgh Steelers got what they wanted in the NFL Draft -- even if it wasn't who they were supposed to get.
The Steelers moved down on the first round Saturday for the first time since 1990 and took nose tackle Casey Hampton of Texas, then traded up in the second round for inside linebacker Kendrell Bell of Georgia.
By drafting Hampton, Bell and signing former St. Louis inside linebacker Mike Jones as Levon Kirkland's replacement, the Steelers reshaped their interior defense in less than 24 hours.
The Steelers targeted a defensive lineman for the first round and liked Marcus Stroud of Georgia, but he went 13th overall to Jacksonville.
So, convinced they could get the next best available lineman even by moving down, the Steelers traded the 16th pick to the Jets for the 19th pick, plus fourth and sixth round picks.
The Jets used the pick on wide receiver Santana Moss, who didn't interest the Steelers because they drafted receivers Plaxico Burress and Troy Edwards the last two years.
"You don't want to trade yourself away from a good player, but we think it was worth the risk because we got a player we're comfortable with," director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "We didn't draft him out of need. He's a deserving pick."
The Steelers may have missed out on Stroud, but they got his Bulldogs teammate, Bell, by dealing one of their fourth round picks to New England to move up 11 places in the second round.
Hampton, at 6-foot-1 and 320 pounds, isn't as tall as most NFL star defensive linemen but had an excellent college career, making 101 tackles as a junior.
He was the Big 12 defensive player of the year last season, when his production didn't drop even after star lineman Shaun Rogers was injured.
"There's three things I like about him," defensive line coach John Mitchell said. "He's a no-nonsense guy, and football is important to him. He's been well coached. And he stays on his feet, and you can't make plays in the NFL without staying on your feet."
Mitchell said the Steelers won't rush Hampton, yet they will move Kimo von Oelhoffen back to defensive end from nose tackle to make room for him.
"Coach [Bill] Cowher said I'm his type of player," Hampton said. "I like to compete every play, I like to win every individual battle. That's how I play every snap."
The Steelers signed Jones to a $3 million, three-year contract Friday after it became clear that Miami linebacker Dan Morgan, whom they coveted on the first round, would go to Carolina with the 11th pick.
"If you don't get Dan Morgan, you've got the next best player down the middle," Cowher said. "I think he [Hampton] can be that kind of disruptive player."
Hampton was the seventh defensive lineman drafted and might have gone higher if he had been a couple of inches smaller.
"He was the best player there by far, and there was no hesitation to take him," Colbert said.
Colbert, of course, wasn't around for the succession of Steelers first-round defensive linemen busts in the last 20 years - a group that includes Keith Gary (1981), Daryl Sims (1985), Aaron Jones (1988) and Huey Richardson (1991).
Some scouts had Bell (6-1, 236) rated as the second best inside linebacker available in the draft. For now, he will back up Jones.
"But we wouldn't have taken him or traded up for him if didn't think contribute this year," linebackers coach Mike Archer said. "Georgia had three defensive players in the top 40 of the draft [Stroud, Bell and Richard Seymour], and they all complemented each other very well."
Bell visited the Steelers several days ago and sensed they might draft him.
"They said they liked me and the way I played," said Bell, who had 92 tackles as a middle linebacker last season.
The Steelers didn't have a third round pick after losing it in punishment for a salary cap violation involving former offensive lineman Will Wolford.
It was the first time the Steelers traded down in the first round since 1990, when they targeted tight end Eric Green and got him despite moving down eight spots.
Of course, the Dallas Cowboys liked the trade even more -- they used the upgraded pick on running back Emmitt Smith, a likely Hall of Famer.