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April 21, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) It's not that the Pittsburgh Steelers have anything against drafting a cornerback in the first round of the draft.

It's just that for nearly two decades, there have been other needs. Four offensive linemen. Four linebackers. Three wide receivers. Three defensive linemen. A safety. A running back. A tight end. A quarterback (maybe you've heard of him).

''That's just how it broke over the years,'' general manager Kevin Colbert said. ''We never neglected drafting in the secondary intentionally. That's just how it broke.

The drought - if it can be termed that considering the bold-faced names the Steelers have taken with their top pick over the past 18 years - may finally end this time around. The team that may be the AFC's best chance to unseat the Denver Broncos needs help at the back end of a defense that finished 30th in the league in passing yards allowed in 2015.

While Colbert points to the do-over 2015 second-round pick Senquez Golson will get this fall after missing all of his rookie season with a shoulder injury as a free draft pick, there still remains plenty of opportunities for a group in need of size, speed and youth.

Pittsburgh re-signed veteran William Gay and has Ross Cockrell as well as 2015 fourth-round pick Doran Grant, who also had injury problems last year.

Yet the Steelers cut ties with Cortez Allen - deemed the heir apparent to Ike Taylor before the 2014 season when Pittsburgh gave him a five-year, $25 million contract - earlier this month and decided not to make a run at keeping Brandon Boykin, whom they acquired from Philadelphia during training camp last summer.

Though Colbert, like most of his brethren, declines to tip his hand, the front door to the team's complex has been pretty busy over the past six weeks. The 29 players who came in to interview and/or work out included 11 cornerbacks and seven safeties to go with the number of secondary prospects the team's brain trust met at the Senior Bowl and the combine.

''Obviously, we want to see more interceptions, but interceptions are tied to how the defensive front plays,'' Colbert said. ''How the secondary plays, if they're shutting people down, maybe the pass rush has taken that step. So, it all goes hand in hand.''

Some things to look for as the Steelers figure out which seven players will join a group coming off an 11-7 season and a second straight playoff berth.

MIDDLE MAN? Longtime nose tackle Steve McLendon headed to the New York Jets in free agency and Cam Thomas was not re-signed, leaving Daniel McCullers as the only defensive tackle-type with any experience to work in between Cam Heyward and rapidly improving Stephon Tuitt. If massive Alabama prospect A'Shawn Robinson is still there at No. 25, maybe the streak without taking a cornerback in the first round continues.

BEN'S BACKUP: Ben Roethlisberger turned 34 in March and is coming off a season in which he missed four games with various health concerns. While there are no immediate concerns to groom an eventual replacement, the only other quarterback on the roster with any experience is Landry Jones after they made no effort to keep Mike Vick and haven't hurried to bring back Bruce Gradkowski. Someone in the middle rounds to push Jones might not be out of the question.

WIDE OPEN? What appeared to be one of the league's top receiving groups took a massive hit when talented but troubled Martavis Bryant was suspended for the entire 2016 season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey figure to be given the first shot at joining Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton in the top three, but with Wheaton entering a contract year, another body to throw into the mix seems likely.

HOLD THE LINE(BACKER): The Steelers have spent each of their past three first-round picks on linebackers. Yet Jarvis Jones has underachieved and with James Harrison mulling retirement and Sean Spence gone via free agency, defensive coordinator Keith Butler may keep his eye out for someone in the later rounds that he can mold.

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