It’s not a press conference that is ever steeped in breaking news, there is no tipping of the hand, no hints as to who the Steelers might draft or even what position they are leaning towards.
But nonetheless, the annual Steelers’ pre-draft press conference with General Manager Kevin Colbert and Coach Mike Tomlin definitely gets people’s minds churning, has draftniks excited and wondering what the team will do with their eight draft picks this year, most notably their first-round selection.
The Steelers have the No. 17 overall pick in the NFL Draft, which begins with the first round on Thursday, April 25 and concludes on Saturday, April 27, and who their pick will be is anyone’s guess.
“We think we are in real good shape,” said Colbert, who did indicate the team would not trade up in the first round. “We will be picking from a pool of about 150 guys that we have identified. Realistically I think there is probably six-eight guys in this group that we think are special players. I think you look at that group and it’s not unusual. That’s usually a group I think everybody can identify and say, ‘These kids should be special players, be it with us or be it with somebody else.’ The rest of them, there are going to be some really good players in that group, too. What comes to us at 17…who knows. I doubt that we move up. I think the more picks we have the better, in this draft particularly. But there will be a good player at 17, there’s no question about that.
“Beyond that, there is a nice group of potential starters that I think you will be looking at in rounds two and three. Beyond that, with rounds 4-7, we will be looking at depth.”
As is the case every year the makeup of the Steelers roster will be impacted by the draft, and building depth is going to be a key after the team lost five players to free agency. But after finishing the 2012 season 8-8, Colbert knows change wasn’t just inevitable, it was necessary. The draft, which Colbert said they will approach the same as the always do, will bring about more of that change, but it might not end there.
“As we’ve stated before, we finished 8-8,” said Colbert. “We weren’t good enough. Quite honestly the talent that we had assembled was an 8-8 team. Any other explanation than that I think is incorrect. Obviously the plan is to be able to upgrade the team that we are going to put on the field in 2013.
“All we try to do is add as many good players as we can. It’s not real scientific. There are going to be subtractions every year, it’s usually 14-20 guys per team turnover around the league. So, it’s not uncommon that there is change. Sometimes the change is due to finances from a cap standpoint. Sometimes it’s due to needing a change. I think when you go 8-8 it’s probably a combination of both for us. If we have the same team that we had last year, it would be silly to expect different results. So, it’s our job to try to improve that and all we can tell the fans is we’re working towards that end. You’ll be able to judge us in February, whether we got the job done or not.”
Tomlin, who has spent the better part of the offseason evaluating college players along with the player personnel department, was in complete agreement, that continuing to build a championship team is what the NFL Draft is all about.
“Our goals and mentality have not and will not change,” said Tomlin. “We desire to be a legitimate competitor for the Lombardi Trophy each and every year and 2013 is no different than ’12 or ’11, or ’15 or ’16 for that matter.
“That goal and that mentality and that approach will never change.”
* * *
Colbert admits that there are some positions where depth is lacking in this year’s draft, particularly tight end, interior offensive lineman, and defensive ends who can play in the 3-4 defensive scheme.
“It’s a little concerning with the 3-4 ends because there are about 14 teams that are playing our scheme right now,” said Colbert. “That’s a position where there just are not a lot of guys. But across the board, the other positions, it’s probably up to the team’s preferences, what they like and how much they like him. But I think you’ll have at least a selection to pick from. There is a lot of talk about the quarterback position not being particularly special this year, and I disagree with that. I think that group of quarterbacks, you’ll have starters emerge from that group. I don’t think anybody sat here last year and was ready to deem Russell Wilson a starter, Pro Bowl, playoff-caliber quarterback. He came out and surpassed expectations, quite honestly. I think this group, you’ll see players pop out of the quarterback position that will be starters, and some may be stars.
* * *
On the injury front there is no update on linebacker
“He’s continuing to work and doing a nice job of it, aggressively attacking the rehab, but we know that this is going to be a process in terms of him marching his way back,” said Tomlin. “But we like his demeanor and his availability throughout this process.”
Tomlin also said there is no update on tight end
* * *
The Steelers have not re-signed several of their own free agent who are still available, including nose tackle Casey Hampton and offensive tackle Max Starks. Colbert said that doesn’t mean bringing them, or anything back, has been ruled out.
“We haven’t shut the door on anyone that was with us last year,” said Colbert. “We don’t know what we are going to come out of the (draft) weekend with. There may be still some signees from that group of players. Again, it depends on how we fare out this weekend. I think they would prefer to wait as well, because they could sign a contract and end up behind a first round draft pick. We will keep those types of players in mind as we get through this weekend, and see where things stand on Monday.”