INDIANAPOLIS – For Kevin Colbert and others in his line of work, the NFL Scouting Combine is all about the future. There are 333 athletes here to be tested medically, physically, and psychologically as to their readiness for the NFL. Because of the nature of the sport and the current economics of the CBA, draft choices are more valuable than ever before.
For Kevin Colbert and others in his line of work, Thursday of Combine week is all about the media. A stint at the podium was followed by a stop on Radio Row for a segment, then the attending Pittsburgh media got some time, then a couple of national writers. Most of that time, for Colbert anyway, was spent talking about the past.
Maybe in a weird way it's a testament to the run of success the Steelers have enjoyed over the last decade, or maybe it's more a function of the build-them-up-quick/tear-them-down-faster mentality, but the Steelers' 8-8 finish in 2012 still is big news. The 24/7/365 news cycle presents a lot of time to fill, and that makes for fertile ground for anonymous sources and then the reactions to those anonymous sources. Colbert is as accommodating and gracious as there is when dealing with the media, but it didn't take him long to make clear he's not a big fan of anonymous sources.
"I was bothered by the fact it was an anonymous comment," said Colbert when asked about a report based on an anonymous source critiquing LaMarr Woodley's play/conditioning last season.
"LaMarr Woodley has been a significant player on some very successful teams, and we're happy that he's part of our team. If you talk to LaMarr he'd be the first to tell you that he was disappointed in his performance. Going forward, he's going to try to erase that season. Am I disappointed by the comment? Only in the sense it was anonymous, and I don't give any credence to any comment that isn't attributed. That's a bigger disappointment to me than anything LaMarr Woodley did or didn't do for us last year."
Also on the docket was a question about what Antonio Brown was reported to have said about the chemistry/harmony in the team's locker room last season, a locker room that lost Aaron Smith, Hines Ward, and James Farrior all at once.
"Whether you win a Super Bowl or finish 8-8, there is no 100 percent harmonious locker room," said Colbert. "I don't care where it is. I think it's more likely (to happen) when you do go 8-8, but quite honestly, I'm not concerned about our locker room. Coach (Mike) Tomlin and I have had the opportunity to speak to our players, sometimes more than once, since the season ended. We have a very good finger on the pulse of where we stand from a team standpoint. We're comfortable with that."
While Colbert and the rest of the Steelers' contingent will be gathering information here to be used during a draft set to begin on April 25, there is another date looming that will have to be dealt with first. That date is March 12, the first day of the new league year, the day when the salaries of each team's top 51 players have to add up to a number lower than whatever number turns out to be the 2013 salary cap, and it's the opening day of free agency.
Colbert didn't sound much like a man who foresees March 12 being a dark day for the Steelers necessarily.
"No, it's really not unique," said Colbert when asked to characterize the team's cap issues. "It's been ongoing. When you have some success, you've probably had good players, some of them have probably been a little bit older, and some of them are going to move on. We have to be prepared, both from a salary cap standpoint and from a talent standpoint, to make those changes. But it's really not any more sophisticated than previous years."
As to the graying of the teams' roster, Colbert said, "I don't view our team as old. I don't know what the roster is going to be on March 13 (after the salary cap kicks in) or on April 20 (after five weeks of free agency), so I can't say it's old. Sure we have some old players and they're significant players because they wouldn't be with us at their age if they weren't. But we have a lot of young guys I think who are ready to take the next step when it's their turn."
The one difference to this Steelers' offseason could end up being that while the team won't have to be cutting a swath through its roster of veterans between now and March 12, it also will be hamstrung by an inability to re-sign most of its own free agents, which is the franchise's preferred method of handling things. But this time, their plan looks to have to be more reactionary than aggressive.
"We haven't eliminated anybody because we don't know how this will all open up," said Colbert. "The player doesn't know what his market is until he's had the opportunity to get a call from another team. So he won't settle for anything until he knows. Until March 12, we won't know what that market is."
STEELERS' NOTES: On the subject of Sean Spence, the promising rookie inside linebacker who sustained a severe knee injury in the preseason finale, Colbert said there is no timetable for his return. "When you have an injury of that significance, it heals at a different pace for different people. He's doing everything the doctors and trainers have asked him to do. We just hold out hope that Sean can have a successful recovery and be a Steeler because he had a successful preseason." … Colbert also said he won't expect Heath Miller to be ready for the start of the 2013 season, but he believes Miller, injured on Dec. 23, will return in 2013. "In my mind, an ACL injury late in the year, I still don't believe a player is 100 percent until a (calendar) year is up. They may play before that, but whether they're 100 percent or not, I don't know. In my mind if you get something from a player before one year, that's a bonus. (Heath) will be back at some point, so if we look at a tight end (in the draft) … it will depend on which tight end is available more than Heath Miller's status, because right now we believe Heath will be back at some point."