Colbert, Tomlin pre-draft chat

Steelers Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert and Coach Mike Tomlin held a pre-draft press conference today. Here's the transcript:

Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers

MT: Good afternoon. Really a big day for us in the offseason, getting a chance to utilize what is the first of our 14 allotted Organized Team Activity days. Guys have been working extremely hard here in the offseason with the winter conditioning program and so forth. It was good to get out on the field.

We have some new coaches, some new players. Get an opportunity to see those guys, measure those guys to see where they are in terms of this point in the offseason, particularly some of our veteran acquisitions: Antwaan Randle El, Arnaz Battle, Jonathan Scott, Larry Foote, Will Allen, get those guys out there, get them receiving some information. For some of our new coaches, getting them acclimated to how we do business.

We're really kind of setting the stage as we move forward. How we run the next couple of days is really kind of an indication of where we are from a football conditioning standpoint. Of course, our minicamp is right around the corner right after the draft.

Of course, the purpose of this press conference is the draft, so I'll hand it over to Kevin at this point.

KC: We've got some loose ends to tie up, some medical reviews. We'll sit down one more time with the coaching staff and the scouting staff and put our final markings on the board and be ready to go.

We still think it's a deep draft, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Offensively, it's good. It probably lacks the quantity of marquee players at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver positions, but again the overall depth is excellent. Questions.

Q: In the past when you've had this many picks, you've said you probably didn't want to use them. With this being such a deep draft, can you say that again with the 11 picks you have? Might you use all of them and not trade them?

KC: Good chance. Obviously the three extra picks, the compensatory picks, you can't trade, but it allows you to maybe trade some of the others, so we do have flexibility. As always that will be an option. Coach and I have talked about this thing. You can go through into the later rounds and still get people who are going to compete for a roster spot or a practice squad spot, so as deep as this is this is a great year to have that many picks.

Q: So 11 is not too many for you to actually draft?

KC: Oh, no, absolutely not.

Q: Didn't you say that before one draft?

KC: Yeah, but again, coming off a 9-7 season I think we're open to anything.

Q: Has the team still not fielded any offers for Ben Roethlisberger? And what's your approach when and if you do get phone calls regarding him?

KC: Again, we won't talk about specific players who may or may not be involved in trades. What we will say is a normal procedure for us is to contact every team. We have done that and we will continue to do that, and that will include trading up, trading down. And whether you get into discussions about individual players, those will remain confidential, but as a normal procedure we'll contact every team and we're just about complete with that.

Q: Did the events involving Santonio Holmes put a wrinkle in your draft preparations?

KC: Not really. It gave us an extra fifth-round pick. Obviously we have one less player at that position, but now we have four fifth-rounders. With the extra picks we have to try to make something out of those picks.

Q: Did it force you to look more seriously at receivers?

KC: No, because as we're doing the evaluations, we're evaluating every player we think is a good player, be it at a position you may or may not be interested in. You have to still evaluate all of them because you have to get them in a proper order so that when you do pick the ones you want you've stacked them against the other players accordingly so that they're placed properly.

Q: Does the uncertainty of the quarterback position in regard to Ben put more priority on the quarterback position as you stack your ratings?

KC: No, we've proceeded exactly as we have in the past. Our preparation has been the same, our evaluations have been the same, and we'll act accordingly when and if something does occur, as far as disciplinary action.

Q: You'd ruled out taking a quarterback or tight end with your first-round pick. Has that changed?

KC: We haven't changed our draft priorities at all.

Q: If there aren't many elite receivers, do you see the third round as maybe a place for them?

KC: Yep. There's good depth. It's just most years you can forecast a higher number going earlier. I don't think that's the case this year. It'll be interesting. Sometimes supply and demand across the league will change that. … There's depth. Really, this draft has depth, really, everywhere.

Q: A fifth-round pick for Holmes, was that agreed upon throughout the league, even though he was a Super Bowl MVP and is still young?

KC: If you look, really, at any sport in any trade, I think you have to assume that, with both parties, it was the best they could do. I think you're safe in making that assumption in this case. Everybody has a point where they think the deal is favorable. We reached that point when we made the trade with the Jets.

Q: Would a couple more days have helped? Was the deal rushed?

KC: Again, when you see a trade, I think in any sport, you can assume that that's the best a team can do and they were both willing to do it at that point.

Q: How many running backs did you bring in for a visit? Is that more of a need with Willie Parker gone?

KC: No. We went into the offseason assuming Willie was going to look for another team to play for. It really didn't change our thinking. We visited with a couple guys at the combine. We had one here. We probably talked to close to 100 players in meetings, be it the 60 we had at the combine, the 30 we brought in. When we went out to workouts, we can visit as many as we like, and when Coach and I went out to a few different places we had individual appointments set up. Roughly there were a hundred, and really, save for a couple positions, we talked to pretty much everybody.

Q: Mike, do you feel you need a complement for Rashard Mendenhall.

MT: We need another guy for competition. We're optimistic of what the men we have here are capable of. Any opportunity to add to that pool of guys with confident, capable men is going to strengthen us, and we're open to that.

Q: Kevin, considering what's happened with this team the last couple years, has there been an emphasis to bring in high-character guys?

KC: No, that hasn't changed at all. We've done as much background in previous years that we've done this year in our college visits, in our follow-up visits, in our psychological evaluations. It's been the same since we started 10 years ago. It's no different.

Q: Some teams have announced they've taken Dez Bryant off the board. Is he on your board? And is LeGarrette Blount on your board?

KC: No. You've been here for all 10 years. You know we don't talk about individual players. But it was a good attempt.

Q: Do you take guys off your board?

KC: We will take players off the board, sure, absolutely. But we're not going to address individual players. We would be here all afternoon. But really you're definitely safe in assuming we will take players off.

Q: How many players do you have on the board?

KC: There'll be roughly 225-228 and then there's a bunch of free agents beyond that. It's probably close to 400 guys.

Q: Some teams have admitted they only have 120 or so guys that are legitimate considerations.

KC: Yeah, we'll probably pick, of those 400, we'll probably pick out of 100 to 120. We should get all 11 picks. That's based on how we like them. That doesn't mean they're the right guys.

Q: Mike, why did Limas Sweed return to practice today and how did he perform?

MT: He's been involved with the offseason since the day it opened. Today was just the first day he could take the field, like everyone else. He's been working extremely hard in the offseason program and is really progressing well. It's good to have him back out there.

Q: Some of the players said you talked to them this morning about zero tolerance and "get in line or get out."

MT: I don't remember that conversation (laughs) this morning.

Q: No zero tolerance?

MT: No. No, that wasn't said, so somebody's pulling your leg.

Q: What was said?

MT: Generally we talk about how it is we practice, what we're trying to get done, how we approach it, what we're trying to get done short term and long term. I thought it was important to evaluate our conditioning with the minicamp right around the corner. Guys have to be physically and mentally prepared … (see opening statement).

Q: How do the actions of Santonio and Ben reflect on you guys?

KC: Let me take that. I think that, again, anything in regards to Ben, Art (Rooney) has made a statement and anything further will be addressed by Art at the appropriate time. So really for us to dwell on that I don't think is appropriate at this time. In Santonio's case, Santonio Holmes helped us win a Super Bowl. He was a big part of this organization, and as Art stated it was in our best interest that we both moved on. We wish Santonio nothing but the best. You know, we expect a lot out of our players, not only on the field but off the field as well.

Q: Mike, when you're dealing with off-the-field problems, can you have a business-as-usual approach?

MT: It is a business-as-usual approach, because the reality is as a football team you're going to be faced with things perceived as distractions and so forth. That's the nature of our business, particularly at this level. So it is a business-as-usual approach in that football can be our sanctuary at times, particularly during the four hours that we're in this building. We're working at our craft. Whatever may be going on in our lives, noteworthy or otherwise, we leave in the parking lot. I think that's what the guys were able to do today. We had a very productive day.

Q: How have the allegations against Ben affected how you view him?

MT: Again, I think Kevin said repeatedly, we've made all the comments about Ben's investigation/situation that we're going to make. Art's been very clear about our position as an organization. The next step for us is to see where this thing goes from a discipline standpoint and then react accordingly. And we will at that time. Meanwhile, the purpose of today's sit-down, we're just here to talk specifically about the draft, how we feel about those men, and how we feel about their ability to add to our football team and help us pursue our goals, which is to be a championship-caliber team here in Oh-10.

Q: Is this draft more urgent? And is your job more difficult?

KC: No. I would term the off-season challenging for us, but I think what happened during the '09 season is more an indication of what we have to accomplish with this draft. We're a 9-7 team and we have to be better than that. Again, the off-field stuff, that was a challenging offseason; it's going to remain challenging for us. But, really, what happened in '09 is more of our concern at this point with this draft coming up. We have to remedy 9-7.

Q: Mike, what areas of the team would you like to improve?

MT: I think competition has kind of been my mentality in regards to reviewing our '09 team and where we need to go here in Oh-10. Competition is the truest motivator. It'll enable us to ride the bumps that (make up) a National Football League season. I think that's why we've acquired some of the men that we've acquired and the type of people that we've acquired, veteran football players that are starter-capable, that have experience, that are good people and good teammates.

Q: How did Troy Polamalu look today? And did you urge him to show up?

MT: No. It's totally voluntary and Troy's a volunteer (smiles). He looked good. It's good to have him back out there. Troy's of course a guy with great spirit and loves the game of football. It was good for him to be back out there with his teammates and he was excited to do it.

Q: Do you expect to see him next month?

MT: We'll see. I'm ready for whatever every day I step out of my car into the parking lot. Of course, you know the nature of these Organized Team Activities. They are voluntary. We encourage participation, and we got it today.

Q: Because of the depth in the draft, is there one area on defense that really intrigues you?

MT: Defensive line is unusual. I said this last spring when we came out of our spring meetings, I'd never seen so many defensive linemen rated. And when the underclassmen added to that in January it just made it that much deeper. It's an unusual group of big men who are very athletic, and can play in a 34 defense, which is important because now there's up to 13 teams that run a 34 defense. In the past we more or less had our pick of the litter because there were only three or four 34 teams. Now, a lot of people are looking for that type of player, and fortunately there's a bunch this year.

Q: Kevin, with the way the draft's set up this year, you'll miss the Penguin game.

KC: Don't count on that.

Q: Mike, do you need to address more defensive positions than offensive positions? And what impact has the signing of Larry Foote made on the draft plans?

MT: The acquisition of Larry Foote is big-time beneficial to us, first and foremost. He's a quality player, one that we're familiar with. We know what he's capable of doing. He strengthens us as an inside linebacker. He's capable of playing buck and mack. He's starter-capable. There's a level of comfort with that.

In regards to needs, I'm open to exploring the addition of players across the board, offensively and defensively, and special teams for that matter.

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