Cowher, Colbert make their cases

They wouldn't admit to any disagreement over the Steelers' No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. However, coach Bill Cowher and director of football operations Kevin Colbert wouldn't admit to having reached an agreement, either. <br><br> "We are both still standing," Cowher said with a laugh.

In probably the worst-kept secret in town, Cowher is lobbying for a cornerback while Colbert is arguing for a quarterback. The two sat at the head of the media room Monday and updated reporters on the status of their discussions.

"They are ongoing," Cowher said.

Is it a debate or a discussion?

"It is ongoing," Cowher repeated, his smile growing wider.

"They are good discussions," said Colbert, who had talked earlier about an "unusually deep" crop of cornerbacks in this draft. It could be the point that turns the argument his way.

"I think the depth is good enough that you could get some starters out of the second round," he said. "Really, you can stretch it on down to the third round. There is quality depth there. ... It is unusual for that position. With that position, you are usually searching for guys, for whatever reason. It has been helped by some of the underclassmen that have come out."

According to the rankings of Pro Football Weekly, 12 cornerbacks are worthy of first or second-round grades. It's the highest number at any position, even the celebrated crop of wide receivers, of which 11 (including Mike Williams, who was ruled out of the draft by a court yesterday) are rated as first or second-rounders.

Obviously, if the Steelers draft a quarterback with the 11th pick of the first round they can find a cornerback with the 12th pick of the second round. But Cowher made a counterpoint to drafting a quarterback.

"We still feel good about where we are with Tommy Maddox," Cowher said. "There were inconsistencies with Tommy's play, but there were some inconsistencies with our whole offensive play. He did not have the same offensive line as the previous year. I think consequently he never really got in synch. That certainly should not all be put on Tommy's shoulders. I think Tommy is a quality quarterback. I think the thing we are looking at, as Kevin alluded to, is that sitting at 11, we need to put ourselves in a position that we take the best football player. We don't like to think that we are going to be up this high that often. So, if you are up this high, then the benefit is to have an opportunity to pick and get a top player.

"We are sitting at 11, so I think we are not going to bypass a good football player, regardless of the position. Certainly, the speculation of quarterback is always that because it is always a very high profile position. But we certainly feel good about Tommy Maddox."

The Steelers will conclude their draft meetings by Wednesday evening. On Thursday and Friday, the coaches and owners will conduct mock drafts. The last point of business will be to call the other teams to gauge interest in trading up or down. Colbert doesn't think the Steelers will do either, but wants to keep the options open.

"We think there are at least 11 good players. We feel real confident about that," he said. "I think you can probably really stretch it down to 15. If we get into a trade-down scenario, I think we could probably go all the way down into the middle of the bottom half and still come away with a pretty good player. We are very open to anything but I think we are most likely to sit where we are and pick, but trading down will definitely be a possibility. I think we are probably less likely to trade up."

Since he was named director of football operations in 2000, Colbert has given unusually frank positional assessments at these pre-draft press conferences. Last year, Colbert called the crop of offensive linemen "alarming."

The Steelers needed a tackle last year, didn't draft one, had two additional injuries and the line became the team's albatross.

"For 2004," Colbert said, "we think it is unusually deep, especially in certain positions. I like the running backs, the quarterbacks, the wide receivers -- probably the best group of receivers I have seen in 20 years. (The) tight ends are a little top heavy. The offensive line is not a deep position. It is a little concerning actually. With the defensive backs, the safeties are a little thin, but we think it is unusually good for corners this year as well. Linebackers are probably better inside than outside. Defensive linemen, there probably aren't a lot of great ones, but there will be a lot of contributors coming out of that."

The draft will begin Saturday at noon. Since teams have 15 minutes to select players in the first round, the estimated time for the Steelers' first pick is 2:15 p.m. The Steelers enter the draft with nine picks, including three in the sixth round.

NOTES -- The Steelers will have a minicamp May 7-9 and then conduct coaching sessions Tuesdays through Thursdays from May 18 to June 10. Kicker Jeff Reed (hip) and tight end Jay Riemersma (shoulder) are expected to miss minicamp but Riemersma should be available for coaching sessions. ... Cowher said he didn't know whether Jason Gildon would be invited to minicamp. "We will have a better sense of where we are after the draft," Cowher said. ... The NFL has increased the size of practice rosters from five to eight.

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