Steelers Pre-Draft Press Conference Transcript

The Pittsburgh Steelers held their pre-draft press conference Monday. Coach Bill Cowher and director of operations Kevin Colbert met with the media. Following is the complete transcript:

KEVIN COLBERT: We're in the final stages of our draft preparations and have a good day and a half to finalize a couple positions and do our final ratings on a couple guys. We'll do some last-minute calls just for any loose information that we feel is still out there. We want to be done with the preparation, have our board set, by Wednesday afternoon. We hope to then conduct mock drafts on Thursday and Friday and then get ready to pick on Saturday.

We'll be talking to all the teams as we do every year. We split them up and touch base with everybody about trading up, trading down, see who's available, all those different situations. Really, in general, we think it's a good draft. We see reports that it's soft and not deep and a lot of opinions to that nature but we're pretty optimistic. We really think there are guys definitely available on the first day that can help our team, for sure, and then there are even some guys on the second day we think are going to come in and compete and add to us.

It's a draft we think has really good depth at the running back position, wide receiver, offensive line and corner, and really coming out of the combine this year this is the fastest group of receivers and fastest group of corners that I've ever witnessed. It was really exciting to see, not only because of the speed but the amount of kids that worked out at the combine. It was impressive. It's really why we think it's a pretty good draft.

Questions?

REPORTER: Have you identified your number one need for this draft, and if that need entails a player who's not ranked in the first round, would you be willing to reach?
KC: No. We're always going to avoid those situations. We have an idea what we'd like to come out of it with. If the need matches the value of the player then we'll do it. That'll be our approach to it.

R: You went to see Maurice Clarett. Do you consider him draftable?
KC: I don't want to talk about individual guys. You guys know we don't do that. But Maurice Clarett was no different than anybody else that we hadn't finalized our information on. We were out working guys out until last week, so there was no special situation. It was just a matter of finalizing his evaluation.

R: Is depth on the offensive line a priority?
BILL COWHER: I think there's no question. We've lost two players and replaced them with no one. So I think your math would say it's an area we'd like to address. We've got a number of areas we want to address, but I think the one good thing about our situation this year is at 30, I think, we can take the best football player. You look at all our positions, you talk about the right guard, right tackle, but with Kendall Simmons coming, he's played that position. We feel good about Max Starks. I know he has not had a whole lot of playing experience, but you look at that. Even Chad Scott was lost on the defensive side, the only starter in free agency, and Willie Williams really finished out the year there. Receiver-wise, we lost Plax (Burress) but signed Cedrick Wilson, have Antwaan (Randle El), who stepped in last year and did pretty well. And so I really think we do have a luxury in not having to reach, sorta speak. Certainly there are some areas you want to address, which we will do in the draft, but I think when you're picking that first round, you want to take the best player and let the board work itself. Hopefully we'll be able to do that.

R: What's the difference, from a preparation standpoint, in picking between 11 and 30?
KC: Preparation's been exactly the same. The meetings are the same; the evaluations are the same. It's just that when picking 11th, as we did last year, it's easier to guess at who the 11 players might be. Obviously when you're down at 30, it's a lot more difficult. But what we'll try to do, and we'll try to do this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, is try to identify the group that we're going to have to pick from. Picking 30 guys is a little unrealistic but we'll try to get close. It's just a little easier to pick 11 than 30 but the process is exactly the same.

R: How do you evaluate whether you've had a good draft or bad draft?
BC: Read you guys.

KC: Short of that, no. Really, there's no good draft, bad draft. It's where we are as a team and our collection of players and where we finished. We had a pretty good team last year. We didn't finish where we wanted to so we've still got work to do. That's the only way you can evaluate a draft, a series of drafts.

R: Kevin, based on the enforcement of the illegal contact rule, have you had to change the way you grade players?
KC: In the secondary?

R: Right.
KC: No. That's something the coaches are aware of when they're doing their evaluations as far as our own team and what goes on around the league, but as far as looking at a player it's no different on a college level because they're playing under different rules and you always have to project whether what they're doing in college can transfer to the next level. So, really, you don't take into consideration the rules.

R: What's your take on Jerome Bettis saying he might or might not come back?
BC: Jerome's coming back. I think some of what he was saying before probably got a little misinterpreted, him trying to be honest. If there was an outside chance at his age and where he's at, there might've been a chance of him having some second thoughts. I think all those second thoughts, at least from my conversations with him, aren't even really there. He's planning on coming back. Certainly I think again we'll see how the draft revolves, but certainly I think that with him coming back and with Duce (Staley) and Verron (Haynes) and Willie (Parker), we've got pretty good depth right now, but certainly wouldn't rule him out.

R: Will you use Willie more?
BC: We'd like to. I think there's no question a guy like him, in the second year in this system, his understanding, he should develop. You always see a big jump from the first year to the second year, just in terms of going through it once and being able to pace themselves. That first year is always a very long year, very hectic. Yeah, he did a lot of really good things. Certainly we all know what he did when he was asked to run the ball a lot in Buffalo against a pretty good defense. We kind of liked him all year long. This will be a nice problem to have. He does give you a little bit of a different dimension than the other guys do and it's nice to have that.

R: Bill, do you go into the draft thinking you need X number of guys that'll make your team, X number of starters?
BC: Like you said before, 'How do you rate a draft?', if you don't have good drafts, it's going to show on the field at some point. Not to say you may not miss on a player here or there, or you may end up getting a player you took too high and it didn't work out, and you may end up getting a player that you took low that probably should've been taken higher. So all those things balance out, but you've got to make sure that the players you're getting are contributing. That's what's going to add to that cost and balance of veterans and young-ness that you want on your team, and part of having that balance and not getting too old too fast, or getting too young too soon, is being able to have good drafts where you can have some players come in. They may step in right away; they may have to sit for a year, and that sometimes is the ideal situation. This system says you're only assured of them, from the second round down, for four years because of the system you have, a lot like college. The first year you might get them signed to a five-year contract so you buy another year, literally. I think to assess it into what you expect, we want to create competitive situations. We want to create depth. As you saw last year, nothing was more evident that our football team was not just measured by the starting 22, but measured because we had some people step in that played at a high level. Some of them were draft choices; some of them were free agents; some of them were guys who've been here for a couple years. That's what you're trying to create is depth, a good balance on your football team, so when you do lose a player or two through free agency, through injury, that you're not going to miss and there's not going to be a big void in your football team.

R: If a guy makes the team, is he a good pick?
BC: Not necessarily. You've got to give it time. A guy can make a team, but at some point you've got to make a notch for yourself in this league. I think there's a difference between the two.

R: Bill, three out of the four times you had to pick 20th or beyond, you've gone offensive line. Is there a security in taking offensive linemen deep or have those been coincidences?
BC: I think it might've been more coincidental. We're always trying to upgrade the offensive line. I just know that when we've not had very good years, there's probably been instability in our offensive line. It's harder to throw it. It's harder to run it. It's harder to do much consistently offensively if you don't have a good offensive line. I feel like our offensive line is a good one, even the people that we have coming back. But certainly behind those five guys we don't have a lot of depth, and we need to have that. We need to continue to groom people to get them ready just like we did a year ago. We had a Keydrick Vincent, who had some experience, ready to step in. We like having Chukky Okobi. I think Chukky can step in if something were to happen to Jeff (Hartings). I feel good about that. Jim Jones is a young guy who hasn't played a lot. I don't know much about him. I knew a lot about Keydrick. We went in last year with Max and Barrett (Brooks). We didn't know much about Max until we got through camp. We started feeling pretty good about him. We got through last year pretty good health-wise (knock, knock, knock on desk) and hopefully we're going to get a little bit of that again this year. I just think some of those things are coincidental. Sometimes it is a good, safe pick. You'd better have depth.

R: Have you talked to Max since he's come back and are you still high on his potential?
BC: I haven't seen him. We've been meeting. But I feel good about Max.

R: Bill, there are some good tight ends out there. If one's available, would you go there? If so, would that mean altering the philosophy and giving Ben (Roethlisberger) another weapon to use?
BC: Yeah. I mean, we've been talking about the tight end position since I've been here. It's never been one that's much-used in the passing game, but I'd certainly like to leave those options open. I know when we got Jay (Riemersma) a couple years ago, we felt good about what he was able to do in terms of utilizing the middle of the field and I think with Ben we've got to continue to put weapons around him and that's an option. But we feel good about Jerame Tuman. I like Jerame. We signed Walter Rasby and Marco Battaglia. Matt Cushing's back. We've got some bodies there and we feel good about Jerame continuing to grow as a tight end. But certainly we would not overlook that position if somebody were to show. Like I said, I feel good about our football team right now. We can take the best player with that 30th pick and let the board kind of work itself.

R: Kevin, are Day Two evaluations different than Day One?
KC: When you get to the second day, we have as much information on those guys from an evaluation standpoint, at least in rounds four and five. The early rounds, we probably have five looks at them between three scouts and two coaches. The second-day guys, sometimes it's two scouts and one coach. There may be less looks because of the numbers, but we have just as much medical information and character information as we do on the first-day guys. For the most part, it's the same amount of evaluation, probably a little less when you get to rounds six and seven.

R: Do you look at this defense as the one that finished first in the league last year or the one that didn't look so good in the last game?
BC: I don't know if I look at either. I look at each position: defensive line, linebacker, secondary. How are the players that we have coming back? How do they fit? How are they developing? Where do you see them as rising players, declining players? I feel good about our defense. I like the guys we have coming back. I like our football team. We're going to understand that what we did last year was last year. It's going to be a lot harder this year. There is some good leadership on that side of the ball. We have some good veterans who had solid years. We need those veterans to continue to play at that level. We need other guys to pick up their games. We're going to have some new players coming in from the draft. So we'll see. Last year was last year. There were a lot of good things that were done. We've gone through the cut-ups. We'll address some of the good things that were done and some of the things that we didn't do as well. We'll focus on that in the offseason and training camp and see how the season unfolds. We're playing new guys and different teams, so our approach to that will vary from week to week. The bottom line is winning football games. It's not about where you stand offensively or defensively or even in the kicking game. It's about winning football games. We'll never deviate from that approach.

R: What about the wide receiver position? A lot of people equate speed with a deep threat. Is that something you're looking to add to your receiving corps?
BC: We want to get a good football player. Plex (Burress) was a big contributor to this football team. But I feel good about Antwaan (Randle El). Antwaan stepped in and was still a good complement to Hines (Ward). Of all the guys, he high-points the ball probably better than anyone we had on the team last year. He can go up and get the football at its highest point. I don't look at size so much as a person's ability to catch the ball at its highest point. That's the size you play at. Bringing in Cedrick Wilson, a good, young player and one of the few free agents we brought in, we felt good about him. (San Francisco) didn't throw the ball a whole lot. They're going through a kind of rebuilding process. We feel like he's a good receiver who can play inside or outside. I think between those three guys, you have to feel good about it. Yeah, we'd like to add one, but we feel like we've got a pretty good group right now. You can get a guy who can threaten (deep), but you still need a guy who can catch the ball, that's the bottom line in this business.

R: Do you start with El?
BC: He and Cedrick will be out there competing. I'm sure El will be out there with the first group, he knows the offense better.

R: You have to start somewhere, right?
BC: Yeah. Is that your first story.

R: With the success of guys like Antonio Gates, do you look more at the basketball guys now?
KC: There are obviously athletes in other sports that have made it in this sport. We're going to try to be aware of everybody we can. If we hear of a kid who is in another sport who wants to work out or try out, we're going to cover it. But we have enough trouble trying to get the football players right. That's always going to be our concentration. But if we get a tip, as we did years ago with Carlton Haselrig, you have to be aware of it and try to follow up on it. We just don't have the time or resources to make sure we get the guys we think we know correct. We'll do whatever we can. You just can't look for the exception. You've got to make sure you get your core guys evaluated correctly.

R: Is Chevy Troutman interested in playing football?
KC: We did follow up because we did hear that Chevy was interested. To our knowledge, he's still interested in pursuing a basketball career first.

R: You've added depth in recent years at the corner position with Ricardo (Colclough) and Ike (Taylor). Are you still thinking about cornerback in terms of numbers?
BC: We're open-minded to it, not that it's any reflection of those two guys. But I like Ike and Ricardo. They are two good young prospects. Willie (Williams) played solid for us last year, but Willie's getting up there. Deshea (Townsend) is a good veteran guy, but that doesn't mean we're not going to look at that position. We're going to continue to look.

R: Considering the amount of time put into the evaluation process, are you surprised when free agent guys make it or a guy like (Tom) Brady goes in the sixth round?
BC: No, it happens. I was a free agent and that was when there were 12 rounds. It happens. When these guys get here, certainly your first-round pick is going to be a talented guy you know you're going to spend some extra time with. So certainly they are going to get more of an opportunity to show what they can do. But at some point, they still have to produce on the football field. When they're on the football field, you're not looking at guys as a second-rounder, third-rounder or free agent. They've still got to go out there and play. You'd like to think that the better football players were drafted, but that doesn't mean that a guy doesn't come in, open you eyes and make your football team. It happens every year with us because we do not sit there and predetermine when you pick a guy how he'll do on the field. You don't know how they're going to respond. You've got all of this information. But until you see them compete and handle some of the expectation thats put on them, it's still speculation. We try to stay open-minded and let the players perform on the field. The cream usually rises to the top at some point.

R: When you get to free agency, do you just go on the board with what's left?
KC: Yeah. Once our draft picks are coming to an end, we see what's left and then it's a free-for-all. You call them in the order you have them rated. You can't wait around. If one guy is indecisive, you go to the next guy. If you wait around, you might lose both of them. It's a really quick process. I think we were done with the free agents at six or seven o'clock in the evening. You can't wait for a kid to make a commitment. You call them, call his agent, see if he's interested. Try to do the contract and if not, you move on to the next guy.

R: Have those become more of negotiations in recent years?
BC: You sell them an opportunity. It's important. We have information. We have information on guys who weren't drafted that we like. It's just that sometimes in the draft, you're trying to address certain positions. You want to bring them to camp and when it's all said and done, there are places for free agents to make this football team. You try to sell them on that opportunity.

R: It sounds like there is more indecisiveness at the top of the draft this year than before. Does that trickle down to you guys at 30?
KC: I guess this draft doesn't have as many marquee guys at the top, but really, I think there are good player. There are going to be All-Pro players come out of this, even out of the top group. It's a little harder to identify who's going to be there at 30. We really feel good that there will be one who will be there for us. The lack of that marquee guy doesn't matter for us, because whether or not the other teams are happy with their picks doesn't affect us. I really think there are players who can help this team.

R: When you're looking at players making a transition from one position to another, do you look at each one on an individual case?
KC: It is more individual. You look at each situation. How did he play in college and can he play the same position in the NFL at the same level? You have to do it really on an individual basis based on sizes and circumstances.

R: What are you thoughts on the two West Virginia guys, Rasheed Marshall and Chris Henry?
KC: We don't like to talk about individuals per se. Rasheed played in the Gridiron Classic as a wide receiver and a quarterback. And of course Chris Henry has been a wide receiver the whole time. We'll see.

R: Bill, you spoke about wanting to put more weapons around Ben (Roethlisberger). He spoke recently about wanting to open up the offense. Are you in favor of that?
BC: That's what you would expect. It depends on who you ask. I'm sure that's the way Ben should feel. We'll open things up more this year. Will we get away from our approach? No. It's nice to be able to have a quarterback of Ben's ability and I think that he'll be much more comfortable this time through than he was at any time last year. It's great that he's comfortable and he's been here and he's looking forward to next year. And we'll try to utilize the people we have. Certainly we're not going to deviate from what we believe in and the running game is a big part of our offense. Not that we don't think we can't open it up if we need to, but establishing our running game is a mindset that can permeate through your football team.

R: How much did you limit the playbook with him?
BC: I'm sure we had more in practice than we did in games. We limited it some, but the results weren't too bad. What we tried to do was do enough each week to win a football game. I do feel like there won't be many limitations. We kind of evolved week-to-week and really, after about the middle of the year on, it was like, this is where he is, this is what he does well and we want him to feel comfortable. The more he did things, the more that comfort level grew. But you want to do the things that he does well and the things that we do well as a team.

R: At 19 picks lower than last year, is there more pressure on you or less than last year?
KC: It really doesn't matter. We feel the same. It's probably going to be five hours of anxiety as you wait for that first round to unfold. It's fun to watch it once you get it set. It's fun to watch it all come together. You can pretty much pick out the top 20 guys pretty easily. It's just a process of elimination. Where they fit in, you don't know. One trade can trigger 10 different scenarios. Sitting at 30 there no less, you never know. There may be a situation where someone's tempting us to go up and get him as we've done from 26 before. And we might get down there and the guys we were thinking about might get taken. Then you start thinking about moving down and getting some extra picks. For me, it's a lot of fun to see how it happens and getting ready.

R: Do you put everybody on your board?
KC: Yes. We don't narrow it down to 100 players or anything like that. You have to have a whole pool of players so that you have a realistic idea of who's available.


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