Pittsburgh Steelers: Rookies Guaranteed to See Early Playing Time

Joshua Hayes@@JayPHayes1982Correspondent IIJuly 5, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 04:  Fifth round draft pick Chris Rainey #22 of the Pittsburgh Steelers works out during their rookie minicamp at the Pittsburgh Steelers South Side training facility on May 4, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

While the final outcome of the 2012 NFL Draft won't be known until the list of lucky selections get into the regular season, few debate that the Pittsburgh Steelers draft class is comprised of surreal rookie steals.

So often, first-year NFL players need to experience a full season of tutelage in order to become fully capable starters. Many of these players may get on the field sparingly later in the season or become the beneficiaries of an injured depth chart.

However, in the case of the Black and Gold, who have collected an apparent bounty of riches in terms of value (or potential), the quality of the class along with the clear addressing of team needs seems to correlate to some significant early playing time. 

Arguably, four of their first five selections, if not all, will see on-field action right away—and that will not be the result of necessity, like injuries.

It will be born from their inherent talent.

If the always subjective and often exaggerated reports of team activities holds even a fleeting ring of truth, potential could very well match credentials early on for these young athletes.

How many teams can make such a solid argument toward fully utilizing each of their first five selections so early in the season, perhaps even abundantly? 

Or, moreover, how many good teams can make that argument?

First, let's travel all the way to the fifth round of the 2012 draft and put the focus on former Gators stud Chris Rainey.

He's small. Some would even describe him as mini. But, sometimes, mini and mighty go hand-in-hand. Or, more particularly in the case of Rainey, "small as a locket, but fast as a rocket!"

Between Chris Rainey and former rookie and current redemption-seeker Baron Batch, the Men of Steel boast a pair of backs who can help turn them into being even more so the "Men of Thrill" as early as September. 

Reports of Rainey, a true rookie, are promising. He has fine hands, dynamic playmaking ability and all the skills to potentially be a Steelers sort of answer to Ray Rice.  That's overstating it quite a bit so early, but promise rests on the shoulder of the former Florida standout. 

While their style of play may not be completely synonymous, it ought as well be the same if Rainey can frustrate the Ravens with a few of the patented fourth down grabs that Rice has killed the Steelers with recently.

With notice to Steelers Country that Antonio Brown is shifting his focus exclusively to the receiver position, many are gearing up for what the electrifying young stud can do in the return game on special teams as early as game one, kick one.

Moreover, having a fast back with great hands, something that the team lacked with blazing Willie Parker—for example, his 2008-09 AFC Championship Game drop—adds an entirely new dimension and threat to an offense already considered among the more dangerous (weapons-wise) in the NFL.

Fast backs with great hands are also great weapons to have for a fan base practically salivating at the mouth for more traditional style screen passes. For years, the Bay and the 'Burgh (Pittsburgh and Green Bay) were the two best teams in football at running timely screen plays. 

The ability to set up the screen pass to either of the two fast backs exemplifies the phrase "giving an inch and taking a mile."

Going all the way back to the first two rounds, the Steelers selected guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams.  The other names mentioned in this article are partly conjecture. These two ought to be considered as entrenched starters.

With the publicized decision to get Willie Colon going at left guard, the Steelers helped further solidify Ben Roethlisberger's blind side. They also effectively closed the open-ended nature of the question of when Mike Adams will start. 

The initial first-round prospect turned second-round steal will be at the end of the offensive line on opening day.

And, as for steals, we should just call them the Pittsburgh "Stealers." After all, their second-round pick of Adams was a mere light version of the unexpected selection waiting for them at the 24th slot of the first round.

After eight first-round trades and a slew of unexpected picks—which is always the case in the NFL's late April event—it was Pittsburgh's turn to choose another face for the franchise.

It didn't take long for the selection to reach the grand stage, and everybody heard, "With the 24th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select: David DeCastro, guard, Stanford."

So many things fell perfectly into place, and the Steelers drafted an immediate starter late in the first round. He's called the second coming of Alan Faneca.

Um, 'nuf said?  From the moment he was selected, he was a starter in the Steel City. 

Alameda Ta'amu, the Steelers' fourth-round selection, is a case study in mixed opinions.

Many believe he needs to further develop to break free from the role of backup—or snap-seeker—and into the role of entrenched nose tackle. To which, I must say, have some faith in defensive line coach John Mitchell.

What if Casey Hampton, who struggled in spades last season compared to his traditionally big time "Big Snack" self, is still injured at the start of the season?

And, frankly, do we really believe that Steve McLendon is fully prepared to be a dominant (a requirement of the 3-4 defensive tackle, or nose tackle) force at the middle of a defensive line featuring the stalwart, but capable, likes of Hood, Keisel, and Heyward at the ends?

The performance of the nose tackle—as well as the rest of the defensive front—determines the ability of the defense as a whole, particularly linebackers, to be disruptive along the line of scrimmage and offensive backfield.

If Hampton is unable to perform, I question the decision to put in McLendon—an occasional starter who didn't quite play as well as Chris Hoke during his steads in the middle. In the case of "Big Snack" being injured, I believe the future is now and that the development of the 6'3", 348 pounds of promise (Ta'amu) should begin.

Lastly, while he may not be a significant starter in the early going, the acquisition of Sean Spence from Miami will begin paying dividends for the Black and Gold immediately in 2012.

I think I speak for all of Steelers Country when I say, "Welcome to Linebacker Central, Mr. Spence. May you have a lucrative stay!"

Obviously, this transition will not happen overnight, though Spence will see playing time early due to the team's regular rotations and assignments. The linebacker position typically requires grooming, as has been seen in recent years with Lawrence Timmons and Stevenson Sylvester.

While he was slowing down in later years, the loss of the leader James Farrior hurts.  Nevertheless, the introduction of Larry Foote as a full-time starter and the use of Sean Spence on select downs will equate to better pass coverage at the linebacker position, which will also translate to more flexibility in the formations and blitz packages the team is able to effectively utilize.

Matriculating Spence's on-field impact even further, Lawrence Timmons will see a better balance of coverage and rush duties. A return to 2010 form for the potential Pro Bowl linebacker is expected by the higher percentage of Steelers fans.

So, there you have it. Five rounds of selections complete with five cases for those rookies making immediate contributions. 

No one will know the end result of the 2012 Steelers draft class until reflecting back on the upcoming season. However, as projecting the future is concerned, few, if any, other NFL squads picked players with so much upside.


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