The Steelers' defense surrendered the second-fewest yards in the NFL in 2010, and it has annually been one of the league's stoutest groups.
So why did Pittsburgh primarily focus on its defense early in the draft? Because it had a chance to bolster one of the defense's few weaknesses while working to ensure a seamless transition when some of the unit's stalwarts eventually leave the scene.
It's no secret that the Steelers' pass defense, while solid, has had its problems against potent spread passing games, and Ike Taylor — their best cover corner — is slated to be an unrestricted free agent. Even if Taylor re-signs, Texas CB Curtis Brown, the Steelers' third-round pick, could contribute immediately in "sub" packages.
"He's very quick; he's more quick than he is fast," Steelers DB coach Carnell Lake said, according to the team. " ... He's just a solid cover corner."
In Round Four, the Steelers added CB Cortez Allen of The Citadel; he is raw, but he possesses the combination of size and speed Pittsburgh likes in its corners. If he develops into a contributor, it could be in 2012 and beyond.
The same could be said for Fresno State DE-OLB Chris Carter, the Steelers' fifth-round pick. He'll be an outside linebacker in Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme. The Steelers are set with LaMarr Woodley at left outside linebacker and James Harrison at right outside linebacker, but the Steelers will likely have to give Woodley a contract extension to keep him beyond 2011 if there's a salary cap, and Harrison will be 33 in May. Carter has some pass-rush ability, having notched 11 sacks as a senior, and the Steelers are wise to keep adding to this important position.
The Steelers began their draft with the selection of Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward, a stout run-stuffer who figures as a reserve in Year One, but fits the mold of what Pittsburgh wants in a defensive end, a position where the Steelers need young reinforcements. In Heyward and Ziggy Hood, their 2009 first-round pick, the Steelers may have their starting DE tandem of the future.
It is clear the Steelers, while in fine shape in the short term, are preparing for the long haul, too.