Punters Anyone?

INDIANAPOLIS -- Steelers GM Kevin Colbert yesterday made his typical first-day rounds with media at the NFL Scouting Combine. But he wasn't asked the typical first-day fare.

Colbert was asked this year about the first group to show up, the punters.

"Punters?" he repeated. "Well, last night they were all available for interviews. I don't know how many actually got talked to."

Apparently, the position isn't a pressing need for the Steelers, but the Steelers did rank 31st in the league with a 37.0 net average last season. They haven't done anything about it except to sign Brad Wing off the street. Wing and 35-year-old holdover Mat McBriar are the left-footed Australians manning the position at the moment.

Will Colbert watch the combine punters?

"(Friday) is their day," Colbert said in the affirmative. "They get out here and traditionally don't perform well for whatever reason. I don't know what that is, but that's aside from what they've done throughout their careers. I think there are six here total. There could be one in that group."

The Steelers likely won't add one until after the draft.

Or not at all, if Wing overcomes his reputation as a bad boy.

While at LSU, Wing was arrested in 2011 for simple battery, had an in-game argument with his coach, and was suspended for a bowl game for reportedly failing multiple drug tests.

Wing was kicked out of school, went undrafted, and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles last spring but was cut.

"Again, another underclassmen who probably wasn't ready for the challenge," Colbert said. "We'll see where it is. It was a no-lose situation for us."

Did Wing have to prove to Colbert he had turned his life around?

"No," Colbert said. "Brad got married recently. He has a child. Again, players mature as the years go on. If we weren't comfortable with his character, we wouldn't have signed him."

Wing is far from a lock with the Steelers. He must prove he can kick in the clutch, a factor that weighs heavily in special teams coach Danny Smith's evaluation process. That won't begin until after the draft, so the Steelers will keep on eye here on Steven Clark of Auburn, Pat O'Donnell of Miami, Tom Hornsey of Memphis, Richie Leone of Houston, Cody Mandell of Alabama, and Penn State transfer Anthony Fera of Texas.

The top punter is probably Clark, who had a 42.6 gross average last season, but had only five of his 56 punts returned. He also had 21 punts downed inside the 20 with only four touchbacks.


As for the offensive linemen, the Steelers are only doing their due diligence. They'll likely let new line coach Mike Munchak develop the three young tackles, while depth can be found among their own free agents, specifically Fernando Velasco, Guy Whimper and Cody Wallace. Colbert was asked about Velasco, who claimed in December that he'll return from his Achilles' injury in time for spring practice.

"Individuals heal differently," Colbert said. "Hopefully he could be ready for the spring, but we'll err on the side of caution if he's still with us."

Translation: Velasco wouldn't practice until training camp.

As for the talented and deep group of tight ends that will help open the workouts today, Colbert said the Steelers don't NEED one.

"Needs? Again, we don't use that word," he said. "We like Heath Miller. We like where he is. And getting Matt Spaeth back healthy last year, along with Heath progressing throughout the season, was encouraging for us. Though it's nice to have that option at that position."


Colbert was asked about a report that the salary cap limit will officially be set at $130 million, up from the generally accepted estimate of $126.3.

"That's a welcome rumor but we've gotten no information on the cap, and I don't anticipate us getting it until real close to March 11," he said. "We have to prepare for the worst and see where it lands."

With the new number, the Steelers would have to clear $9.3 million by March 11, instead of the original estimate of $13M. Cutting tackle Levi Brown would clear $6.3 million of that $9.3 million.

As for the medical update, Colbert said that other than Velasco's Achilles' tendon, Curtis Brown's torn ACL, and a clean-up procedure on Markus Wheaton's pinky, the Steelers "are as healthy coming out of this season as any season."

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