Pre-draft press conference

Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin and director of football operations Kevin Colbert met with reporters Monday. Here's the transcript:

Pittsburgh Steelers press conference

Kevin Colbert: We just concluded two weeks of more intense meetings with the coaches, and really we're not out of meetings. We'll be getting back together with the coaches and the scouts Wednesday or Thursday of this week. Throughout the process, we probably started off with 1,000 names. We probably did more detailed evaluations on about 600. We pared that down to another 360 and we're probably going to be picking from about 160 guys when you put it all together. Of those 160, Coach (Mike) Tomlin and I have visited with 85 of those guys, either at the combine, at their individual workout, or back here. Hopefully we're going to get six good picks and 12 or so free agents to come in and help the team. That's where it stands. You know we're not going to answer questions about individual players, so fire away.

Q: Are there any positions you're looking at more than other?

Colbert: Prior to our combine we said this is a strong draft, and coming away from the meetings we still feel it's very strong. There've been a few kids eliminated for medical issues, character issues, or maybe we overevaluated them, but to offset that there's been a lot of kids we've upgraded, too. So we still think it's strong. We did make the statement prior to the combine that I don't see us taking a quarterback or tight end in the first round, but other than that we're open to any position. And this is one draft where at this stage I don't think we got a handle on, really, a position or one player. Sometimes you can get that feel, but this year I think there's going to be a lot of variables happen in front of us. We're not going to lock our knees. We'll be very flexible and try to adjust accordingly.

Q: Aside from the quarterback position, would this be one of the strongest drafts in years?

Colbert: Yeah. The offensive tackles (group) is extremely deep with talented guys, and a lot of the guys have position flexibility. It's unusual you have this many guys that have played with that much flexibility at the level they've played it at, so that's one position that's very deep. Running backs are unusually deep as well, and we think the corners are a nice group as well.

Q: If that's the case, in the first round, when you know the position is deep, might you pass on a guy at one of those positions and get a good one later?

Colbert: If the value of the player at the lighter position is still worthy of that position, sure. Coach and I will sit down and go through more detailed scenarios and we'll start putting together combinations, possibilities, of positions we can get. ‘If we do this in the first round, what happens in two, three,' just like you're talking about. So absolutely, that could influence, but we're not going to artificially overevaluate anybody because of a lack of depth at a certain position.

Q: Is the draft deep enough and strong enough this year to trade down?

Colbert: Yeah. Being that we only have six picks at this point, trading up in the first round is not a likely scenario. In other years I would always say ‘hey we could go up, we could go down,' but realistically I don't think we can go up. Trading down is definitely an inviting option because there are a lot of players in rounds two, three, four that could help this team, and the more picks we can get in any of those areas, the better off we're going to be.

Q: Do you see 23 first-tier players?

Colbert: We'll have 23 guys that we would definitely take, because you never know, it might come off that clean. With the sharing of information, the combine, pro days, things like that, you have so many more – I think anybody can get the first 20 guys right. You might not know where they're going to go, but it's usually going to be 20 guys are going to go to 20 teams that nobody's going to be surprised. There's probably going to be two or three that maybe we didn't have evaluated as highly probably going to slip in there as well. I think that group is that group, and then that second tier, again, I think there are a lot of kids that could go in the second and third rounds that could definitely help us. And some of those kids may get picked in the first round. You have to be flexible and ready to move.

Q: Did you say there were 20 or 23 players?

Colbert: I think in any given year there are 20 guys – the same 20 guys; just mix them up and shake them out. We're looking for 23 because we will have to pick if we don't trade out, and we've got to have 23 that we're happy with. And we will.

Q: Have there been more positive drug tests this year?

Colbert: That's confidential information and that's something that would never be talked about.

Q: A couple years ago you had only five draft picks. Have you seen any residual effects from only having five?

Colbert: If that was the year we traded up for Troy (Polamalu), I think if you added it all together it was worth it, being that we got an impact player out of it. Every draft's going to be different. Sometimes you'll get six guys that help you; sometimes you get two. And if those two are impact guys like Troy was, then you've got to feel it's worth it.

Q: With only six picks, does that put more of an emphasis on what you'll have to do with free agents. Do you put more of a premium on it?

Colbert: It's really one extra free agent. Like I said, we've looked at a lot of players and you have to feel there's going to be somebody in there that will help you for sure. It's no different this year. I know I wish we had more picks. I think we'll be very competitive in trying to get good free agents, especially without a seventh-round pick.

Q: Your later rounds in general, what is your philosophy going into those later rounds and have you gotten what you wanted to out of the later round picks the last few years?

Colbert: It varies. One, two, three, you can't miss on those kids. If those kids aren't pushing for starting positions at some point while they're here, well, then they weren't evaluated correctly. Four through seven, you're looking for depth. If those guys turn out to be starters, then credit goes to them and to their coaches for exceeding what we thought they could do. In free agency, you hope to get lucky. So realistically, depending on the position, some positions you may be drafting a player and you know he's going to be a depth guy. At another position, he may be closer to starting than you like to admit, so it really varies. But those guys are given the same scrutiny.

Q: How will the change in the draft rules affect how things will go this weekend?

Colbert: We're excited because it'll be a lot quicker. Fifteen minutes is way too long. Sometimes people know what they're going to do and they just wait to see if anybody's going to call. That's fine for one or two minutes. If nobody's calling, make the pick. We don't like to wait around. It's great. You can make your mind up. Ten minutes is plenty. Seven minutes is plenty. And as I said before, you can make a trade. We've traded in the later rounds when you only have five minutes. It's really just two phone calls so it's not a big deal.

Q: In the past did you re-shuffle your board after the first day?

Colbert: We won't re-shuffle it. We'll look at what we did in the first two rounds. And quite honestly, the mistakes we've made have been the second- and fourth-rounders. Maybe we have too much time to think about fourth-round picks. Again, those players weren't properly evaluated and we made some mistakes. So we've got to be careful. I don't know if a new format is going to change that or not. But, really, shorter time on the picks is good for us. It's good for everybody.

Q: Coach, how strong is the defensive line crop?

Tomlin: The defensive line's probably not as deep as the offensive line. I think it's a unique year, particularly from the tackle position standpoint that Kevin stated earlier. But there are some quality defensive linemen, particularly that play the scheme that we play. We're looking for a unique body type and there are some of those guys. Some guys are very interesting. Rushing the passer is a very important element of it. That'll always be the case, regardless of scheme. Guys that can get after the quarterback give you a chance to win.

Q: You visited with a number of taller receivers? Would you like to add a bigger receiver?

Colbert: No. After Ben (Roethlisberger) made his statement about wanting a tall receiver, well he's a tall quarterback, so he likes to throw on an even plane. That's not unusual. But there's not going to be an artificial evaluation because a player happens to be taller. If he's a good receiver who happens to be tall, great. If a player's a good receiver and he's small, fast and does a lot of things, that's great too. We're not looking for a tall receiver per se, we're looking for a good receiver, like we're looking for a good lineman or a good linebacker. We never lock ourselves into the measurables for any position.

Q: Is this a good class of receivers?

Colbert: It's a good class. I wouldn't say it's exceptional, but there are certainly some very good players. It's probably not as deep as it has been in other years, where you really felt you could get a lot in each round.

Q: Mike, can you talk about where Willie Parker is health-wise, and with Max Starks coming back how that may influence who you draft?

Tomlin: Willie is doing well. He's ahead of schedule. He feels good. Mentally he's in great shape. That's Willie. He's a guy that sees the glass half-full. If we're going to error, we're going to error on the side of caution. He did get some work done today, which was encouraging to see him out there with his teammates running around. Feel good about where he is. Expect him to be 100 percent, no doubt. Great to have Max Starks back because he's a starter-capable guy, as is Justin (Hartwig), who we added in free agency. From my standpoint that's the most important thing, to get some guys that are starter-capable and are going to Latrobe and competing for positions. Competition is the thing that makes us all better. That's what's going to make us better as an offensive line unit; that's what's going to make us better as a football team. The moves that we made and the actions we've taken have allowed us to stick to the philosophy that was stated earlier on in that we would be open to any positions.

Q: Kevin, is it important to do a long-term deal with Max?

Colbert: It would give us salary-cap relief, and that's been our goal when we did put the transition on Max. It still remains our goal and I know it's his goal and (agent) Eugene Parker's as well, so we're going to keep those talks alive because there are benefits for everybody involved. Max gets some long-term security; we get security at the position and then we'd also get some cap relief.

Q: In retrospect Mike, was not starting Max Starks a mistake last year?

Tomlin: No, we can't look back and base decisions we made last year on hindsight. We did what we thought gave us a chance to win. Make no bones about that and we'll move forward. Just because he was not the starter last year does not mean he's not going to have an opportunity to win the position this year, or a position this year. One of the things that's attractive about Max as I have gotten to know him from a player standpoint is that he does have position flexibility. He is capable of playing right and left tackle, which adds value to us.

Q: Coach, special teams is such an important part of the game, do you also look at a player regardless of position and also look at him as a special teams player?

Tomlin: It can. A lot of times we don't get an opportunity to evaluate them as special teams players because maybe they had limited special teams play at their college or university. Some of these guys are three or four-year starters, so you project what they are potentially capable of doing on special teams. Some guys, some programs, put an emphasis on it and they have fourth- and fifth-year guys playing on teams. In the instances where we get an opportunity to evaluate those guys as special teams players, we have done that.

Q: You don't have a seventh-round pick, how does that impact you? And in the second day, do you try to look at - I don't want to say reach - but look at some guys based on potential?

Colbert: We'll stay with the board. It's developed that way. A lot of the guys we're picking in four, five, six or seven, they may have a second- or third-round grade on them. Hopefully, that is the situation. It doesn't mean we have them evaluated correctly, but it means we're picking guys that we like. We hope that is the case. Sometimes, as coach talked about earlier, the defensive linemen who have to convert to linebacker, there's some unknown in there. We've evaluated them, we've worked them out, just to try to gauge whether they can do it. But that's part of it as well. Like coach talked about with the special teams aspect of it – have they played teams? If they haven't, are they athletically and mentally ready to do that. But really, you're going to follow the same board that you put together. As I said, we're probably going to pick all of our guys from the 160 names that we really like. Again, that doesn't mean that we're right, it's just how we like them.

Q: Coach, when you look at D-II and I-AA players, what are you looking for from those players?

Tomlin: Are they ready to take the next step? There's a little more parity in college football, just like there's more parity in this league. I think the scholarship limitations have created that. I think shared Information, like Kevin talked about, makes those guys known commodities. The one thing that you look for with those guys is that they dominate, they stand out. That's the one thing that's important because you know that the leap that they take is going to be bigger than the one others take.

Q: Mike can you give any insight into the shuffling of the line, particularly with Willie Colon and the guard spot you have open?

Tomlin: We value guys that have position flexibility. Some of the guys that we have acquired, not only in this offseason, but prior ones, have position flexibility, whether they are guys who can play both tackles, whether they have guard-tackle capability, or whether they have center-guard capabilities. We like that. We think that gives us options to put the best five on the field. Who the best five are will be determined as we get closer to playing, specifically as we get closer to training camp. Right now, we like the nucleus of the guys we have working. We know that they're capable of playing multiple positions that will allow us to put the best five on the field.

Q: You want to look at the spring and then shuffle and go to camp with your best five?

Tomlin: Yeah, we'll narrow it down. It will become crystal clear as we move closer. But it's a game that's played in pads, it's a game that's played by big men and played very physical. I've always hesitated and will always hesitate to make starting lineups based on football in shorts.

Q: Will you take this opportunity to look at Willie at guard?

Tomlin: Yes, we will.

Q: You mentioned that Willie Parker is doing well. How well? Is he running yet or just jogging?

Tomlin: He's running. I can't put a percentage on it. He's less than 100 percent, but he's well enough where he took a couple of snaps today and caught some balls. He's moving in the right direction, which is a good sign.

Q: Kevin you mentioned before that you'd better not miss on one, two or three. No. 1 is the one you really want to hit a home run with. Looking back at this team, have you been satisfied with how that has evolved?

Colbert: Yeah. No. 1 picks, when you're picking from so many guys at that stage, you should hit on those guys. The higher the pick, the easier the evaluation. They're supposed to be good players.

Q: It doesn't always work that way.

Colbert: I know, and you hope to avoid that. It's not to say that we won't make a mistake, but we've had some pretty good No. 1 picks, but again, they're supposed to be good.

Q: It seems that running backs can always be found later in the draft. Given that, how serious would you be about taking one in the first round?

Colbert: It depends on the back and the alternatives at the other picks. We're never going to pass a good player feeling that you're going to get another good player somewhere down the line. If we really like him, we'd better take him where we like him because you don't know. We'll look at the odds and say, ‘maybe we can get this player.' But if you really like somebody, you'd better take him and adjust as you go down. I'm not going to pass a really exceptional player on the hopes that we can get a player similar down the road, even though you'll know what your possibilities are. If you're choosing between two good players and I have a better option on picking up a similar player later, you're probably going to take the one that you don't have the option on.

Q: Last year you said you were going to run Willie until the wheels came off. Do you feel the same way, or would you like to get someone in here with a contrasting style?

Tomlin: I said that and I kind of said that tongue-in-cheek because he is our feature ballcarrier. He's a Pro Bowl-caliber player. We did that last year and we intend to do that this year. Those guys need their touches. When Willie runs the ball, we have a chance to win. Do we need a stable of backs? Absolutely. Look around this game and there are a bunch of those kinds of backfields. We desire to be one of those. We feel like we have some guys here now who are capable of helping him carry the load. We have some guys who showed that they are capable last year. We're going to build this football team for 2008. Willie's a big part of that. He's shown he's capable of carrying the load. He wants to carry the load. He's an All-Pro-caliber runner.

Q: Why do you bring the guys in you do after the combine? Is there any extra value to that?

Colbert: There's a variety of reasons why you want to bring a guy back in. First and foremost is medical information. There's probably a medical situation that we need a follow up on. Sometimes guys are coming off injuries and you need further information. At the combine, you may have a player being looked at by seven doctors at once. If you really want to spend more time with that player medically, you have to bring him in yourself. Sometimes when we talk to player, we get 15 minutes. We call them "iceberg guys." You only get that little bit of information. That 15 minutes isn't enough time to really figure them out. We want to bring them in and talk to them some more because we didn't feel good enough about what we found out there. And then sometimes we didn't talk to them at the combine. We're limited to 60 guys there. You may want to follow it up. I think of the 30 visits we have, 11 were follow ups. And we had 19 that were visits. We had some free visits with the Pitt kids. They didn't count toward that total. Collectively, we talked to 85 of them. We're trying to get as much information, but really it's for a variety of reasons why.

Q: With Max signing, where are you at with the cap?

Colbert: We're fine from a cap standpoint. We don't have to make any adjustments for the draft. As it comes time to sign some guys, we may have to make some adjustments and there are various ways we can do that.

Q: Mike, is the whole draft process different for you this year as opposed to last year?

Tomlin: It really hasn't changed whatsoever. I'm a better piece of the puzzle, a better part of the process, because I know what the steps we take along the way are headed. There's a level of comfort that comes with that and I'm better able to manipulate the board, I guess. I can get them where I want them. No, it's the same exact process and involvement. We have a great time in there with Kevin and the rest of the scouts talking about players, visions of players, and what it is that we desire. It's a great couple of weeks.

Q: At the end of the season, you said that the two biggest areas you needed to address were the offensive and defensive lines. Do you still feel that way or have any of the moves you've made to this point change that?

Tomlin: Some of the moves we've made strengthened us in those areas. Having the ability to re-sign Nick (Eason) and Travis (Kirschke) on the defensive line, and Justin (Hartwig) and having Max in the fold, subsided some of those issues. But this is a game that will always be played in the trenches by big men on both sides of the ball. We believe and will continue to believe that if you can effectively run the ball and stop the run, you've got a chance to win. Those will always be my desires.

Q: Kevin, how is Dan Kreider doing?

Colbert: I haven't checked. I haven't been downstairs in the last three weeks. I think he is still in the building rehabbing when he is in town. The last time I checked with (trainer) John (Norwig), he was still getting ready for training camp, whether he ends up here or somewhere else.

Q: Mike, last year you exclaimed about Darrelle Revis and the Jets traded up ahead of you to take him. Do you want to take the opportunity to go off on anyone now?

Tomlin: I still like Revis. He's a fine player.


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