By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — It certainly looks like the Pittsburgh Steelers are getting the band back together.
After signing former players Antwaan Randle El and Larry Foote in free agency, the Steelers made a trade Saturday for cornerback Bryant McFadden, who was originally was drafted by the club in 2000 and played on both Super Bowl teams before signing with the Arizona Cardinals the previous offseason.
The Steelers originally had four fifth-round picks, used the first one on offensive tackle Chris Scott from Tennessee and then traded the next one to Arizona for McFadden and a sixth-round pick today. They traded the pick they received in a trade with the New York Jets for Santonio Holmes. The Steelers also have two compensatory picks late in the fifth round.
“This adds instant depth to our team (and) experience,” Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton said. “So, we feel like that was a huge pickup … and something that we had worked on for a while. Value-wise, we basically picked up an instant starting cornerback in the league for a fifth-round pick.”
McFadden was the Steelers’ second-round pick from Florida State in 2005, and he was a heavy contributor to the club’s secondary until his departure after the 2008 season. He was a starter during the club’s second Super Bowl run during his tenure, but left for the Cardinals in free agency.
“I don’t concern myself with what Bryant did in Arizona, because I know what he did for us here,” Horton said. “Maybe he played better in certain schemes, but we’re glad to have him back. Maybe they asked him to do things that he couldn’t do, but … he played well for us. (And) we’re glad to have him back.
“(And) I hope that the competition will lend itself to one guy stepping up and saying that this is me (the starter). We’ll see how that plays out. (But) we worked on this trade the past couple days, (so) this was on our radar, and we were excited about that from the defensive side of the ball.”
Horton would not admit that the Steelers counted on the trade for McFadden, which allowed them to pass on cornerbacks early in the draft. Right after securing McFadden in the trade, the Steelers selected Crezdon Butler (6-0, 191) from Clemson in the fifth round.
“He’s big; he’s strong, and he’s fast,” Horton said. “And that’s what we need right now. We need somebody to come in and pick off the ball, add competition and depth and also help our special teams. And we can do that with Bryant and Crezdon.”
Along with veteran starter Ike Taylor, the Steelers have fourth-year pro William Gay and second-year players Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett ready to battle for playing time. Gay struggled and eventually was replaced in the starting lineup last season, while the latter two made little to no impact as rookies last fall.
“I think if you ask Williams Gay, he’ll tell you directly that he probably became a little to full of himself,” Horton said. “He split time with Bryant and helped us win the Super Bowl. So, I’m sure that he felt like he had arrived, but I would say that he’s more humble this year. And he’s working hard.”
Horton answered affirmatively when asked if the Steelers addressed the cornerback position enough now to help the secondary.
“If we pick off the ball like we’re capable of,” Horton said. “We have some young kids who can run and play. The oldest corner is Ike, I think, so we’ve upgraded the youth and speed. But we need to, no question about it, be more productive. No question about it.
“(And) we’re going to give a bunch of young guys every opportunity to be productive. Keenan has made tremendous strides because he has learned the system and understands it. He’s more natural and ethletic. (And) Joe Burnett, he’s a second-year player who we expect to get better as well.”
In the fifth round, the Steelers also selected offensive tackle Chris Scott (6-4, 319) from Tennessee and inside linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (6-2, 231) from Utah. Sylvester was the third linebacker taken in this draft by the Steelers.
“All of us, just like you all, know we needed help in the secondary,” Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. “But the guys we had rated high on the board were not corners. So, the guys we took, we felt that they were the best guys available. And three of them happened to be linebackers. Glory Hallelujah.”
In the sixth round, the Steelers chose running back Jonathan Dwyer (5-11, 229) from Georgia Tech and wideout Antonio Brown (5-10, 186) from Central Michigan. The Steelers have just one seventh-round pick remaining.