Pre-Combine Q&A: Kevin Colbert

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert met with a small group of combine-bound reporters to answer a wide-ranging series of questions on the state of his team.

Kevin Colbert, GM, Pittsburgh Steelers

Q: How bad is your cap?

KC: As always we have some work to do to be in compliance by March 11. In looking at it we think everything will be manageable within that time frame but again you have to discuss terminations, restructurings and extensions in trying to accomplish that.

Q: You really haven't done much extending before past March deadlines.

KC: It varies from year to year because of the players that you're dealing with.

Q: Are the tags in play this year?

KC: Doubtful. They're always available to us but at this stage I would say it's doubtful.

Q: Are the transition and franchise tags still available?

KC: Either or.

Q: You can only do one?

KC: Correct.

Q: Will you have enough cap room to do something in free agency?

KC: Are we a dollar under the cap or are we $3 million under the cap? We won't know that until we get to March 11. You hope to have maneuverability at that stage.

Q: Can you start talking to your own free agents now?

KC: Yes.

Q: Are you?

KC: It's safe to say we're exploring different ideas with different players. That's the truth of it at this stage. Is it negotiations? I think discussions are more the appropriate term.

Q: Does that heat up with the combine?

KC: The combine's a nice collective group of people where parties involved are within a five-block area, so communication is easy. It can be personal if you want it to be. And by then we have a lot more questions answered than we have at this point. This thing changes daily with players getting terminated from other teams, discussions we're having either going the way we want them to go or not the way we want them to go, getting a better idea every day about the free agency class, as well as the draft class. We just concluded preliminary meetings with the scouts on the draft class, and then starting (Thursday) we have our free agency meetings with the scouts and the coaching staff. So again, every day you get a clearer picture of where you want to be or where you could possibly be come March 11.

Q: Do you hope to re-sign a few of your own?

KC: We'd like to. Those are distinct possibilities.

Q: Who?

KC: Who knows. Who knows. I mean, really, again, until you get further down the road with your evaluations to see how your own stack up against the alternatives. What are the chances of signing the outside guys that you don't know?

Q: One of the big discussions amongst people are LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds: Can you keep both?

KC: Yeah, we could. There are an infinite number of possibilities. We won't exclude anything, because like I said this thing changes daily and you have to be open to all those possibilities.

Q: Do Woodley's medical issues come into play with you?

KC: LaMarr has had some durability concerns over the last couple seasons, and they've been legitimate injuries. I think any time a player has an injury and if it extends beyond a season I think it does become a concern. It has to be, because if a player's not on the field he's not helping us. I think he's missed (14 games the last three years) with injuries. Is that a concern? Yes. But it would be for any player who's coming off an extended period in one season or a prolonged period over successive seasons, I guess.

Q: He seems to have issues in the back of the leg. Troy Polamalu aggressively rehabilitated his issues. Did you look into this for LaMarr? Can it be addressed?

KC: That's something we always look at for the whole team. In fact, we're meeting (Wednesday) afternoon with the training staff, with the strength and conditioning staff, and reviewing where we are medically with all our players, different things we need to try to do as an organization to ensure we minimize those in the future. We had similar type meetings last year and I think Troy's the perfect example of someone who changed their regimen with positive results. Each guy's an individual and they train differently. The frustrating part is we don't have them for the amount of time we'd like to have them. Per the CBA we can't be with them. We can monitor from afar what they're doing but we can't be with them as much as we'd like, or they can't be with us as much as we like. Even if they're at a remote site, we can't visit that site because there could be college kids there and we can't be there at the same time. So it's hard to really monitor where the players are from a conditioning standpoint.

Q: It becomes a trust issue?

KC: We have to trust the player, and hopefully they'll be professionals about it.

Q: Is Sean Spence making any progress? Do you have plans for him?

KC: We had one great day of practice last fall and that was very exciting for us and exciting for him. Unfortunately he broke his hand that same day. Maybe it was a blessing. Maybe that small sampling he gave us was enough to show that he can be fully recovered from this injury. Whether or not he can sustain it through an off-season, through a training camp, preseason, regular season, we won't know, but what he showed us in that one day of practice we're very encouraged where he is right now.

Q: Your plans right now are to have him go through the spring and summer and training camp?

KC: The plans with Sean would be he's certainly going to be in the mix as a possibility, but I think it would be naive to say that he's over the hump because nobody knows at this point.

Q: Was Joey Porter brought in in part to work with Jarvis Jones?

KC: First of all, it was exciting for the organization because of who Joey Porter was and who he still is. Of course we were aware of what he did at Colorado State last year. He did a nice job with those kids in one year. We saw Joey at the Senior Bowl. He was excited about the opportunity to advance. Quite honestly I think Joey's more excited about coaching for the Steelers than just coaching in the NFL. I think he was quoted as saying he wanted to work at Colorado State and here. I think that's a big reason why Coach Tomlin was interested, because Joey can bring a certain element of pass-rush expertise. The exciting thing is he and Jarvis are very similar stature, so I think there are some things he'll be able to share with Jarvis that will help Jarvis be a better player. We're looking for a lot of improvement in Jarvis as a second-year player, as we do with any young player in this defense. If the player's going to be a good player there's usually a big jump from year one to year two, and we're hoping that's the case. But he wasn't brought in here just for A player. The expertise he can lend for all of our pass-rushers, interior people as well as the outside linebackers, will only help us.

Q: In the same vein, how much will Mike Munchak help Mike Adams?

KC: Again, I don't think Coach Munchak was brought in for any one player. You hope he gets the most out of all your guys. Obviously he has the credentials to do that, having done it not only as a player but as one of the most respected -- if not THE most respected -- line coaches previous to being a head coach. It was real exciting to have the opportunity to have him join us. I can't speak for the younger players, but I think they'll be all eyes and ears when you have a Hall of Famer talking to you and trying to teach you. I think they're excited for that.

Q: Do you think the stabbing incident set Adams back?

KC: No. When Mike came back he was 100 percent cleared, so, no, I don't.

Q: Would've set me back, I know that.

KC: Yeah, your vacation.

Q: Kevin, do you feel you need to get younger in the secondary?

KC: You always have to get younger. You always have to have young players coming up behind your starters. I wouldn't limit it just to the secondary. You have to acknowledge there will be growing pains when you go from one starter to another but you hope the young player's been in your system and he's been learning and he can make the transition smoothly. You've got to have young talent, always, in the system, offense, defense, special teams, you've got to have young guys pushing and learning and developing.

Q: Do you have that at both safety and cornerback?

KC: Probably not as deep as we'd like to be at either. But again, depending on who leaves and who stays that could change. But the old standard is we never have enough good players at any one position.

Q: Do you have a problem with what Ryan Clark said about some of your players smoking weed?

KC: No, players can have their opinions in how they state them. What has to be distinguished is that's the opinion of a player and certainly not of an organization. As an organization, we recognize that marijuana is illegal in our state and most of the country, and certainly is prohibited under the NFL standards as well. That will always be our stance.

Q: Do you have a problem with one of your players also working in the media while he's playing?

KC: No. Ryan's not the only guy who works in the media. Other guys have shows during the season. I don't think we can ever limit that. We try to give them, not restrictions, but guidelines as to how things may be interpreted when they're doing their own shows and when they're doing interviews. We try to teach them how to say things, how to answer questions appropriately, but that's something that's part of growing as a professional. Whether or not they have their own shows, that's up to the individual. As long as they don't embarrass themselves or embarrass the organization we won't have a problem with it.

Q: Have you had any discussions with Ben Roethlisberger's agent about an extension?

KC: We won't discuss individual players.

Q: You're an 8-8 team again. Do you have better feelings going into this season? Is your team back on the upswing? How do you view things?

KC: We were 8-8 at the end of 2012 and we're 8-8 at the end of 2013. To ignore that would be ignoring the obvious, that we're still an 8-8 team that didn't qualify for the playoffs. That is a disappointment. The encouraging thing is I don't think you can minimize the job Coach Tomlin and the players did after the 0-4 start of really pulling it back together. We slipped a little bit a couple times after that, but really pulling it all together and finishing 8-4 and then 6-2. So are you encouraged by where we finished? More so in 2013 but that doesn't override the fact that we still weren't good enough. If we don't accept the fact that we're 8-8, we're going to mislead ourselves and we can't do that.

Q: When you draft a player, do you expect him to play right away?

KC: The system forces young players in sometimes before they're ready. I know that's one of the concerns we have with this current draft class. I'll go on record and say this is the deepest class I've seen in 30 years, and a lot of that's due to the influx of underclassmen, but I will also say in regard to that, even though it's a talented group it has a bigger chance of failing because you're going to get a lot of kids who aren't physically or emotionally ready for this. So, to that point, we believe the longer a guy can delay his play, the better his chances of succeeding. Not to say that a rookie can't come in and impact the season, or have a great start of his career, because we've seen that happen. But I think you see many more who benefit from learning and preparing and being ready for the challenge that they face.

Q: How did Steve McLendon do in his first season as a starter?

KC: He did OK. He was OK. He fought through some injuries and gave us some good work. But, again, to say that anybody was good enough, including myself, when you're 8-8, I think that's a disservice to the organization.

Q: Does your defense need more help than the offense in terms of new people?

KC: It depends on what the result is after free agency. I don't know who the defense is right now, because you could look at certain positions like the defensive line and say you have two under contract. I don't know what the group is yet. Potentially I would say yes, because we have younger players and less free agents on the offensive side I think.

Q: Isn't your natural inclination to fill these needs no matter how much you want to draft the best available athlete?

KC: No. We can't. You just can't do it. If we bypass a great player to fill a spot, we're going to disrupt the natural evolution of the roster and we can't do that. You can't. As tempting as it may be you have to avoid that.

Q: Is it more tempting with a 32-year-old franchise quarterback when you might feel the window is closing?

KC: First of all we're very fortunate to have a franchise quarterback because the majority of the teams in this league can't say that, and we have one. There's nobody we'd rather have than Ben. That's a big part of where we are as an organization. We realize he doesn't have 10 years left. We all would acknowledge that. Does he have 2? 3? 5? I don't know. Hopefully he stays healthy and we get the maximum years out of him. But what we have to do is surround him with the best talent, and he has to play to that level that he's capable of playing to if we do get that talent around him. We all have to come together and try to win the Super Bowl. But we understand there are only so many snaps left with a franchise quarterback. When we'll get another one, who knows. You never want to be in a position to draft a franchise quarterback because most of the time it's at the top of the draft. We hope we're never back in that position and we have to make the most of the years that we have left with our franchise quarterback.

Q: Some accuse you guys of mismanaging the cap. Do you feel you went about it the wrong way?

KC: No, I really don't. Nobody has the same 53 guys. We have to manage ours as best as possible. The goal is always going to be competing for a Super Bowl championship. To win the Super Bowl championship you obviously have to get in the playoffs. That standard will never change. We're never going to say, 'OK, we know we're not a contender. We've got to gut this thing and start over.' I never want to see that day. As I said earlier, you don't want to get into the position of drafting a franchise quarterback. It'll never be acceptable for this organization to gut it and start over. Our challenge is to compete and improve at the same time. We did what we thought we should do with the cap in order to do that. That's our challenge again this year, to take what we have from a cap standpoint, where we are from a record standpoint, and improve them both. Can you look back on decisions and say 'Boy, I wish I would've done this or that?' Sure, but we do that with draft picks, every signing, but I don't fault the philosophy as to why we did what we did. There was a reason we did everything, be it short term, cap gain, or long-term security of a player.

Q: Will Michael Sam's evaluation be affected by his pronouncement that he's gay?

KC: We never talk about an individual player. However, as an organization we will not discrimminate against any player based on sexual orientation.

Q: Can someone who's openly gay assimilate into an NFL locker room?

KC: I think any player assimilating into an NFL locker room is subject to scrutiny just as a new player. Players for the most part usually don't accept new players until those new players prove that they can help them win and win a championship. Once they do, I think everybody is accepted regardless of their background. I mean that's up to the individual players in the locker room, but I think that all new players are not welcome until they can prove they can help you win.

Q: Would you consider taking a developmental quarterback this year?

KC: In regards to the quarterback position, we like the layout of it. We have a franchise guy. We have a nice veteran in Bruce Gradkowski who has proven he can win games in this league and he's got a great mix of experience and youth for that experience. And then you have a young guy in Landry Jones, who we saw improve every week as a look team quarterback. So is that a position where we don't feel good about the depth? I wouldn't include that one. Again, they're all under contract.

Q: What positions in the draft jump out at you?

KC: I'm telling you it's as deep across the board as any draft I've seen in 30 years. It's a record number of underclassmen that obviously have enhanced it from a talent standpoint, but we're also concerned about how many of those players came out prematurely and won't be ready for this next challenge. That's the thing we have to be able to sort through because they're not all ready for this.

Q: Don't the 90-man rosters have you scrambling for bodies?

KC: No, there are plenty of players.

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