The next wave; Steelers rookie defensive backs have big shoes to fill

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PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers are relying on a youth movement to improve a secondary that saw significant offseason turnover after ranking among the worst in the NFL last season.

Senquez Golson, Doran Grant and Gerod Holliman — the team's second-, fourth- and seventh-round picks — worked out this weekend alongside other rookies for a brief minicamp before the team begins organized team activities. They were added to bolster a secondary that finished 25th in the league in interceptions and lost long-time veterans Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor to retirement in addition to Brice McCain as a free agent to Miami.

No pressure or anything.

"They brought me in for a reason, to do a job" Grant said. "That tells us to hurry up and get ready and that's what we're trying to do."

It was the first time in 20 years the Steelers drafted three defensive backs. They'll slide in with a group highlighted by veterans William Gay, Mike Mitchell and Will Allen in addition to former draft picks who need to make an impact. Cortez Allen, the Steelers' 2011 fourth-round pick, struggled at cornerback last year after a breakout 2013, while Shamarko Thomas, a 2013 fourth-rounder, has struggled staying healthy.

Golson, Grant and Holliman combined for 29 interceptions during their final college seasons, an area the Steelers hope to improve after picking off no more than 11 passes the previous four seasons.

Holliman, who won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back, led the nation with 14 interceptions and was a first-team All-America selection at Louisville. Golson, also a first-team All-American at Ole Miss, led the SEC and ranked second nationally with 10 interceptions, while Grant picked off five passes at Ohio State, earning All-Big Ten honors.

"We wanted to get better in the back end and we added 29 interceptions to our defensive backfield," general manager Kevin Colbert said. "We're excited about what that can bring."

The group has its question marks.

Golson, the Steelers' second-round pick, is listed at 5-foot-9, while fourth-rounder Grant is only an inch taller. Holliman ran a sluggish 4.62 40-yard dash and there are concerns regarding his willingness to tackle.

"I don't pay attention to it," Holliman said.

Golson doesn't either. He isn't intimidated at the prospect of facing receivers five or six inches taller than him. It's just something he's had to deal with throughout his career.

"Everybody has been talking about my height since college," said Golson, who was picked in the eighth round of the 2011 major league draft as an 18-year-old by the Boston Red Sox, but turned down a $1.35 million signing bonus to play football. "It's nothing new to me. You just have to go up and make a play. I've played against a lot of 6-4 and 6-5 receivers. I have a lot of experience, but I'm just trying to perfect it."

Grant takes a similar, heads-up approach against taller receivers. It's an approach that has brought him this far and one he plans to use to help the Steelers find success in the secondary.

"I like to study film to see what they like to do," he said. "You just have to play hard and use your technique. There's nothing else you can do. You can't put your hands on them after five yards, so you just have to cover them."

NOTES: First-round pick OLB Bud Dupree missed the first two days of rookie camp because he graduated from Kentucky. He is expected to participate in Sunday's final day of practices. ... OLB Anthony Chickillo, one of two sixth-round picks, missed Friday's first day of workouts because he graduated from Miami but returned on Saturday.

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