Steelers Pre-Draft Press Conference

Head coach Mike Tomlin and director of football operations Kevin Colbert held their pre-draft press conference Monday. Here's what they had to say as the Pittsburgh Steelers finalize preparations for the NFL draft and open their 2009 OTAs:

Opening Statement, Kevin Colbert: It is that time of year. We're excited as we always are. We put a lot of work into this, our scouts and coaches. They've done a great job of trying to catch up because obviously we have had a short offseason. They've very unselfishly given their time to make sure we've gotten this process completed as we need to do. We've got a few more sessions just to finalize everything. We're excited. We're really excited about the players in this draft. We really think in the first three rounds we can get players that may eventually get players that will be starters at some point in time. In rounds four and five I think we can get some contributors. In six and seven, you're probably looking at potential practice squad guys. And then you hope that you get lucky with a couple of free agents that end up being better than we think they are. If we come out of it with that, with healthy people, we'll have a chance. We need for it to be a special draft. We lost a couple of guys in free agency off a good team. We get the majority of our players back, but we have to account for some of the guys that are no longer with us and further deletions as we move forward as our cap situations continue to move forward and evolve. We've had some changes already with contract extensions. Those things we have to adjust constantly. I think as far as positionally, as I said before at the combine, I think the strength of this thing is the defensive backs and outside linebacker-types. Some teams will value those players more as defensive ends and they could get drafted higher. But there's more those guys that can potentially be outside backers. There's more corners, maybe not all of the top-end kind of guys, but there's a lot of corners that are going to be able to be contributors. With that, we'll open it up to questions.

Was Gary Russell one of those cap casualties?

KC: What we wanted to do there, is we wanted to have Charlie (Batch) in for the OTAs and right now, at this time of year, you've got to understand that the cap, the top 51 players count against your salary cap. We were very, very tight. We couldn't sign Charlie without deleting somebody. So we had to go through the roster and find a cap number that was significant enough to get Charlie in, yet we felt good enough about our depth. Obviously, with Rashard (Mendenhall) coming back, that we could get rid of a guy, especially a guy that helped you win a Super Bowl, but it was more important to have Charlie back at this time of year.

Is there anything that you'll do differently because you won the Super Bowl? Has your approach changed in any way?

KC: No. We've been successful following this pattern. This will be our third draft together, myself and Coach Tomlin. I think we have a better understanding of each other. He can speak to his understanding of what he has and doesn't have as far as a team. But we're going to continue to follow the same approach and the same guidelines that have taken this organization from long before I got here to where they've been and where we want to keep going.

It sounds like you'll have to get (Max) Starks' number down or make some cuts to sign your draft class.

KC: No, depending on how the draft unfolds, we want to continue to manage it and make it work. Realistically, where we stand today, we had to make a move to accommodate Charlie. Once the 53 kicks in, which will be on the final cut, you have to be able to accommodate all the players you want to keep. Between now and when that cut happens, Aug. 30 or whenever, there could be changes. With the uncertainty of the CBA, it's harder to manipulate some of the stuff you used to do to create room as far as guaranteeing and turning it into a signing bonus.

Are you hands kind of tied right now then in terms of other guys going into the final year of contracts?

KC: It depends on whether than number would come down as a result. With the uncertainty of the CBA, it limits our ability to do that. In the past, we've been able to reduce numbers in the first year, then it would jump in years two, three and four. You can't do that any longer. So it makes it harder. So the cap gains by redoing somebody, aren't as they used to be.

Sounds like the Roscoe Parrish rumors can't possibly be true.

KC: Every year we're going to talk to every team, give them guys that we may have an excess of. They'll give us guys. You just know about who might be available; who wants to trade up, who wants to trade down; Would we trade up? Yes; Would we trade down? Yes. Nobody knows at this point. We've done both successfully. Where we'll be next Saturday, I don't know as far as a trade. But we'll talk to every team as we always do.

The guys you have in the last year of their contract, is there any chance of them signing extensions before the season starts?

KC: We'll start. But obviously the James Harrison contract was a priority for us and deservedly so on his part. That's taken care of so now we have a better idea of now of where that landed. We now have a finite number that we can work forward from and continue to look at the rest of the guys as well.

Mike, do you like this process? I know you'd rather be coaching.

MT: I had more fun today. I enjoy the process. It never gets stale. Just like inseason, getting comfortable with what's required of me and where we need to go. I have a higher comfort level with this process because I've got a better understanding of the men we do have. It makes the process enjoyable. I enjoy it. I'm a draft junkie. I enjoy that. It's been good.

Mike, has this process been different for you as the Super Bowl champion?

MT Not at all.

But was it more difficult to get into the draft process since you got a later start?

MT: It wasn't from my perspective but I don't have any hobbies. Maybe some other guys that work with me found it more difficult, but I was ready to go.

How do you rate the offensive linemen in this draft? And, Mike, how do you feel about your offensive line heading into this season as it stands?

KC: I think the depth of the offensive line is kind of top-heavy. There's going to be more guys going higher than in previous years, but it doesn't have the depth that it had last year. I don't think there's as many offensive linemen as there has been, especially compared to last year's group. But, again, there will be starting-caliber players available in the first round across the board on the offensive line.

MT: In regards to our offensive line, the same starting five that walked off the field in Tampa was at practice and in the huddle today. That's encouraging. I'm optimistic about what they're capable of being. That's why that group is together. They're growing. They're young guys, either in age or playing time experience, definitely in terms of group cohesion. I think the arrow is up for them collectively and we're excited about what they're capable of being.

When you're picking where you are in the first round, does it make it any more difficult?

KC: We'll have 32 guys, collectively. We've probably identified 26 at this point. We need to go through our mock situations and really force ourselves into the worst-case scenario. If it comes clean, which it never does, what would we do. We'll have 32 people that we'll be comfortable with. The frustrating thing is just waiting that long. It may come to a point where we don't want to wait and we'll trade up. We'll talk to people ahead of time and get some parameters and see where it goes. You may get to a point where you say there's 32 guys, but somebody wants to jump ahead of Detroit in the second round so they may come to us. Those are the things we have to decide on the fly. But we will have 32 guys that we'll be comfortable with and feel good that we're going to get a good player.

The 30 prospects that came here and visited, what were the reasons for bringing in those 30 guys and what do you get out of that? Does it increase their chances of being drafted by you guys or decrease it?

MT: We're just trying to build a portfolio of the guys. The 30 guys that we bring in here we bring in for different reasons. Some of them, we interviewed and spent time with in Indianapolis. Those cases, the 15 minutes we spent with those guys wasn't enough for us, so we bring them back. Whether it's positive or negative, we felt like we needed more time with those guys. Then there are other guys that are out there that maybe weren't combine invites that maybe you want to bring them and get information, whether you heard about them later in the process or not. I think there's a myriad of reasons to bring a guy in and the guys we brought in all fell into that category. More than anything, it's about developing a complete portfolio on as many of these guys as we can.

When you look back on past drafts on guys who haven't panned out as well as you'd like, what are some of the things you look at?

KC: We always go back and look at what we did well and what we didn't do well. Again, if we take a player at a certain point, that player's not saying that he's that value, we are. If a player fails, then we failed to evaluate them correctly. If a player gets picked in the second round and he doesn't contribute, that's not on the player, that's on us because we're the ones that said he could contribute. There could be different factors. Maybe he wasn't a fit. Maybe he wasn't as smart as we thought. Maybe he wasn't as tough as we thought. You can go back and maybe he just got stuck behind some good players. That's not on the player, that's really on us. We're the ones that said he's the 32nd pick of the first round or the 64th pick of the second round, not the player. It's not any one factor. But we review each year and go back through it to see what our hits and misses were and what was maybe a common denominator.

How crucial is it to replace (Bryant) McFadden and Nate (Washington) with a guy that contribute quickly and how comfortable are you with Willie Gay and Limas Sweed stepping into those roles?

MT: It's critical that they get replaced in terms of what they did for us on the field, but those replacements may be in the building. Those replacements may be in the third or fifth-round of the draft for that matter. Somebody's got to make the plays and I'm sure that they will. Those are positions that we need to add depth so we're going through the process. But I wouldn't put a level of importance on it that we had to pigeon-hole it into a certain round.

Who do you like?

MT: I like everybody. I'm a degenerate gambler. These guys have to talk me off the ledge.

That sounds like a guy that wants to move up.

MT: We'll see what happens. I'm impulsive by nature. He's got a lot more patience than I do. I'm going to detail my training camp schedule while we wait for the 32nd pick.

Do you have a guy that really excites you as a player but you have to worry about his character? How do you handle that?

MT: How much are you willing to be seduced by talent? One of the things we've talked about, quite frankly, is that we're not going to allow that to happen. Those are the things you can't measure, the character, the toughness, the smarts. We're more inclined to be seduced by those things.

Mike, what about the corners and receivers that may be a little shorter than ideal but were really productive in college?

MT: Short in what area?


MT: You know, there's no cookie cutter. I've always subscribed to that. When you go to Canton and walk those halls, they come in different shapes and sizes. I'm a believer in that. Guys that can play, can play. Guys that are short find ways to compensate for that. If they're a great player, they do. Guys that are slow compensate for that if they're great players. I tend to lean on the tape.

Is there anybody who didn't show up you were expecting?

MT: Everybody that showed up, I was happy to see. The guys that didn't show up, I anticipated them not showing up.

Is there any position you've crossed off the list in the first and second round?

KC: Obviously quarterback, I would say first-round quarterback and first-round running back would probably be. Last year we said that about tight ends. Those would be the two that would be obvious reaches for us in the first round with our current roster. Other than that, any position would be open, especially down at 32.

Any heath issues with the squad right now?

MT: Nothing major at this point. I thought one of the most significant thing out there today was seeing some of the guys work that had been quite a while since they got in the huddle. Charlie Batch getting an opportunity to go out there and throw the ball around a little. I thought he looked sharp. Daniel Sepulveda was back in the stretch lines, Rashard Mendenhall. It's a process. There's some other guys that went through surgeries at the end of the season, Ryan Clark, Hines Ward, their progress will be a little slower. It's just good to see some of the guys that hadn't been in the game, in the huddle today.

Was Byron (Leftwich) just looking for a starting job?

KC: I think so. Byron told us repeatedly last year that if there wasn't a better opportunity from a chance-to-start standpoint, that he wanted to come back here. He thinks he has a better opportunity there. Byron was a big part of us. He didn't get to play a lot, but he was a big part just in the way he practiced and prepared our defense. It would have been great to have him, but we understand the situation and we wish him the best of luck.

If you've got a player who was in a spread offense versus a player who played in a pro-style, do you give any nod to the pro-style player?

KC: You can look at it both ways and we talk about this all the time. The spread offense does make it more difficult for us to evaluate not only offensive players but defensive players because the defensive players have to play a different technique because of what the offense is doing. When you see a kid in a spread offense or a defense against a spread offense, it's more projection. That just makes it a little more difficult. On the flip side, if they're in a conventional offense or a conventional defense and they're not doing what you think they potentially should be doing, it probably makes it a little more clear-cut. Just because he's in a spread-type offense or playing against it doesn't mean he can't do it. He may just need some time to adjust. Case and point, Dennis Dixon last year. You kind of have to take what he did from a certain point on when he does take his extra two steps from a shotgun, he's pretty much doing what a regular quarterback will do. Does he take snaps under center? No. We really only got to see him do it at workouts. It can go either way but it does make it a little more difficult. But that's where college football is and I don't think it's going to change anytime soon.

If both are equal, does the pro-style guy have an advantage?

KC: I wouldn't say he has an advantage because if he's playing at a certain level, that's probably what he's going to do. He's doing what you're going to ask him to do. The other kid, maybe he just hasn't had to do an opportunity to do more of the conventional stuff. That doesn't mean he can't. Sometimes you may go with the unknown and figure that he can as opposed to the known.

When you sign undrafted rookies after the draft, do their bonus count towards the cap and do the contracts count against the rookie pool?

KC: Yes on both counts.

So because you're so close to the cap, will that affect how many rookie free agents you sign?

KC: At this time of the year, it's top 51. The drafted players will only have a minimum tender until they sign their contract, so their salaries don't count on the top 51.

What about the bonus, weren't you throwing in $5,000 or $10,000 bonuses?

KC: Yeah, but most of the time that's insignificant at that point. Not to bore everybody with details, but if you gave a guy $5,000 on a two-year deal and he's a minimum salary guy, which I think is $280,000 now, his cap number would be $282,500, which is still not in the top 51. It's not going to put them in the top 51.

So you just can't sign your top draft picks for a while.

KC: When you sign your top draft picks, obviously, they're going to be in the top 51. But at that point, you've probably drafted some other people that may give you some more maneuverability.

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