Pittsburgh — The draft is over and so is contact with football players for the Steelers and the NFL's other 31 teams.
The NFL owners' lockout of their players was reinstated over the weekend and the draft was the last contact any team could have with players or prospective players.
The Steelers came out of the weekend with seven draft picks, but instead of scouring the country for free agent rookies to sign, Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert and his scouting staff went back to work, kind of.
“It's unusual because you don't know who, what, where or when,” Colbert said when asked about the annual task of signing undrafted players. “Actually, it should help us. We never really have the time to study these undrafted guys because we're too busy preparing for the draft. Now, we'll have time to devote to evaluating both veteran and rookie free agents.”
Coach Mike Tomlin noted that the Steelers are not alone in this black hole created by the lack of a collective bargaining agreement between NFL players and the owners.
“We have some uncertainty at various positions on our team, just like all other teams do,” Tomlin said. “I feel comfortable with it from that standpoint because every team is in the same situation.”
As for the draft, Colbert said what he says every year at this time and admitted as much.
“As usual, we feel good about the players we drafted,” Colbert said. “Hopefully, they are what we think they are.”
Tomlin applauded the effort put forth by his coaching staff and Colbert's personnel staff in preparing for the draft, which Colbert said went almost exactly as expected.
“Going through this draft, we never felt we missed out on somebody by picking who we picked,” Colbert said.
“This,” Tomlin said, referring to a list of the team's 2011 draft class, “is the fruit of our labor and we are pleased with it.”
You never have enough depth at outside linebacker when you play a 3-4 defense, so the Steelers used a fifth-round pick to add depth to a position that already includes James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, perhaps the best starting tandem in the league.
The Steelers selected 6-1, 250-pound linebacker Chris Carter, who by linebackers coach Keith Butler's own admission is “a couple years” away from contributing as a pass rusher. That makes him the latest in a long line of special teams players who become outside linebackers.
“He's used to being in a three-point stance,” Butler said of Carter, who played defensive end at Fresno State. “The two-point stance is awkward for him right now. The techniques we ask him to use will be Chinese to him. It will take him a couple of years.”
It took Harrison time and it took Woodley time to learn all the Steelers want their outside linebackers to do. Butler said Jason Worilds, last year's No. 2 pick, is still learning.
“He has a good motor and a lot of speed off the edge,” Butler added when asked what made Carter attractive to the Steelers. Carter lasted into the fifth round, according to Butler, because “he's a hard fit. Most teams see him as a 4-3 end.”
In the sixth round, the Steelers added depth to the offensive line by picking Nebraska guard Keith Williams (6-4, 318). He has the size and mentality the Steelers love in interior linemen.
“He's very physical,” line coach Sean Kugler said. “He's got some nasty in him. He has some pulling skills that I think will help us. He's a smart kid and I think he'll be a quality guard for us.”
Williams needs work on pass protection technique, but that wasn't surprising to Kugler.
“Sometimes with guys who are overly aggressive, that happens,” Kugler said when asked about pass protection.”
“In the run game, I like to get after it,” Williams said. “In the pass game, I need some work.”
Speaking of the run game, the Steelers used their last pick on running back Baron Batch (5-10, 210) from Texas Tech. He was the 232nd pick of the draft.
Batch worked in Texas Tech's spread offense until last season and Batch learned how to be a pro in that offense.
“Byron was an excellent running back in an offense that is like a third-down offense in this league,” Colbert said.
“I think the Steelers were impressed with how I picked up the blitz,” Batch said. “Our offense really prepared me for the NFL because there was a lot of blitz pick-up involved. I consider myself a physical player.”
Batch was the player who caught fellow Steelers draft pick Curtis Brown from behind on Brown's interception return last season and noted that they watched the clip of the play when both visited the Steelers together prior to the draft.