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Steelers rookies Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt could be rare Week 1 starters

The Pittsburgh Steelers rarely have rookies start in Week 1 in Dick LeBeau's complex system. Why Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt could buck that trend in 2014.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Its been a long time since the Steelers have had more than one rookie start an entire season. Since 1971, to be exact. That year it was Jack Ham, Dwight White and Mike Wagner that cracked the starting lineup as rookies and never relinquished their starting positions for over a decade.

Since then, the Steelers have never had more than one defensive rookie start a full season. Why? For the simple reason that they never really had to. Troy Polamalu was given the opportunity to learn before becoming an starter, as were other great players like Joey Porter and James Harrison when they came into the league.

The Steelers don't have that luxury any longer as many starters have jettisoned to other locations, or were told their services weren't needed in Pittsburgh any longer. All of that has lead to a genuine lack of depth on the defensive side of the football and a sense of urgency for production from rookies heading into town.

Its no secret that this year's top two draft choices are expected to vie for starting positions when they get to Latrobe this summer. Per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Alan Robinson, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau thinks these two players have high expectations on them from Day 1, "Both of these players, if all develops as anticipated, are going to get a lot of playing time."

Those words aren't said too often in a place that has the reputation for defense like Pittsburgh. Think back to other high draft picks that were told they have to learn the system, and that it will take time. Players like Ziggy Hood, Cam Heyward and even Jarvis Jones come to mind.

Shazier and Tuitt have high expectations stamped on their backs, and now its up to them if they can excel, or be just the latest draft picks to take time to develop. The Steelers need playmakers, and both of these players can be just that if they can digest the playbook and become starters as rookies.