By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell said he was spoiled, like the fans and media, with three players excelling up front for a decade or more.
And they're getting closer to finally replacing Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel. Cam Heyward is at Pro Bowl status and second-year players Dan McCullers and Stephon Tuitt have progressed to go with current sixth-round pick Leterrius (known as L.T.) Walton. Walton (6-foot-5, 319 pounds), who is from Central Michigan University, is a D-end.
"How often do you get (guys) who have played for you for 10 or more years?'' Mitchell said. "So, I was spoiled. Heck with the fans and the other people. That doesn't happen, for that long a period of time, and that made my job easier. But I think we're going to have it again. We're still a little young, but ... those guys should have their best football ahead of them.
"I'm really happy where we are. A lot of people would like more sacks, but I'm not a big sack guy (for D-linemen). If you don't stop the run in the National Football League, you won't have a chance to get sacks. Good football teams, they're physical. They play well at the point, and they stop the run. So, I tell my guys that if we can stop the run, we have enough in our arsenal to put pressure on the quarterback.''
Mitchell believed the Steelers were much better on the defensive line now than they were at this point last year.
"Cam Heyward is coming along,'' Mitchell said. "Steve McLendon is going to be a better football player. I like where Dan McCullers is right now. Cam Thomas should be better. I asked for Clifton Geathers to come back. So, I'm really happy right now, (because) I've got some guys with athletic ability and some who can do the things that we require them to do. And they're going to be better at it.
"(Tuitt) just turned 20 years old (last year) and would have been a senior at Notre Dame, so you expect the mistakes that he made would have been made as a senior in college. It took him a little while to pick up our scheme, and he was going against guys who were 5-10 year veterans. But he's working hard, and I'm looking forward to get back with him again this year.''
Mitchell noted that Walton can stay on his feel, has a good motor and can run to the ball. He still needs to learn how to use his hands to get off blocks and be a little more physical at the point of attack.
"But when you can get a guy (his size) who can run, that's a big plus,'' Mitchell said. "He goes by L.T., and I told him if he can play like L.T. he and I will both be happy. Talking with people at his school, he's laid back, but he's a hard worker and he'll do everything that we ask him to do. So, we're looking forward to getting him in here to learn.''
Walton believed his versatility would help since he played primarily on the inside in college. And if he's as successful as the last sixth-round pick the Steelers took from Eastern Michigan, he'll be just fine.
"I never was able to meet Antonio Brown until afterward, since I came in (to EMU) after him,'' Walton said. "But I know he's one of the hardest working players, and I'm very excited to get out there and work with him. ... I'm very excited about my opportunity, and I wanted to thank them for that. (And) I just want to get out there and work right now.''
The Steelers chose now third generation NFL player Anthony Chickillo, a pass-rushing outside linebacker miscast as a defensive end at Miami, Fla., with their compensatory pick in the sixth round. The 6-3, 267-pound former five-star athlete looked forward to being in the same meeting room with former NFL defensive player of the year James Harrison and Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter.
Chickillo's grandfather actually was with the Steelers for a season in the 1950s, and his father, Tony, was a defensive lineman for the San Diego Chargers from 1984-85 and with the New York Jets in 1987.
Porter said that since Harrison is just a few months younger than him, he had to tell the player that his snaps would be limited to around 25 per game this year. Harrison wasn't necessarily thrilled with that, but knowing it ahead of time should make him a better player for a longer period of time this season. Porter also said he has two more snaps in him, since he's been stuck on 98 career sacks for several years now.
In the seventh round, the Steelers took Louisville free safety Gerod Holliman (6-feet, 218). Holliman was a true ball hawk in college with an NCAA-best 14 interceptions last fall, but by all accounts was a poor tackler who some say was disinterested in improving that skill.