In a world that right now might seem disconnected because of working from home and social distancing, Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert spent Tuesday afternoon connecting fans with the team during a key time in the offseason.
With the 2020 NFL Draft less than a month away, Colbert, Coach Mike Tomlin and all of the scouts and coaches are dealing with the same issues all of us are – working remotely and trying to accomplish things without everything at our fingertips.
Colbert took time out from their virtual meetings to talk to fans on the Steelers Nation Unite Huddle, as well as taking media questions in a conference call later, answering questions about Ben Roethlisberger, the draft, how the team is dealing with COVID-19, new additions like Derek Watt and Stefen Wisniewski, and much more.
But more important than all of the football knowledge he shared, he had another message for Steelers Nation.
"We just want to encourage our fans to please take care of yourselves, take care of your families, take nothing for granted. Enjoy the moment the best you can," said Colbert. "Hopefully we can keep some football entertainment in your world. But most importantly, keep your family and your friends healthy."
For the fans that called in for the welcomed diversion from everyday life, Colbert answered plenty of questions to keep them up-to-date on what is happening with the team.
Here is a sampling of what Colbert had to say.
On Ben Roethlisberger's progress:
"So far so good. All the indications from Ben himself, in communication with our doctors, our trainers, the video we have seen of him throwing earlier in the spring, are all encouraging. We haven't seen him throw live because he hasn't been in our building. He has only been there for rehab checks with our doctors and trainers. He can't really physically get out on the field in this situation. This would be the time of year the players would be allowed to circle back in and begin their offseason programs. All of that is on hold. At this moment we just have to rely on what our doctors, trainers and Ben himself are giving us and that is encouraging."
On the challenge of preparing for the draft without being able to do evaluations of prospects in person:
"We have been evaluating these players since last spring. The scouts, myself, we have the coaches involved after the season. We are right in the middle of our draft meetings. We have been conducting those for the last week and a half and they have gone very well. We have a lot of information. Do we have all of the information that we would normally get? No. But we are no different than any other team in the league in that regards. But we do feel comfortable with the amount of information we have. When we do get ready to draft a player, we'll have a combination of five or six opinions between the scouts, myself, assistant coaches, coordinators and Coach Tomlin. We feel good about where we are, we just have to make the most of it."
On how everyone in the Steelers organization is doing with COVID-19:
"As we speak, to our knowledge, we have been fortunate in that regard. We don't have anybody that has been affected and hopefully the players can say that about their families. Hopefully our fans can say the same type of things. It's a once in a lifetime, hopefully, experience that none of us have seen before. We're all taking the proper precautions. Once we understood the depths of this issue, we all took the proper precautions and will continue to take them until it's a safe environment for everybody to proceed in."
On the competition at right tackle and left guard with the departure of Ramon Foster, the addition of Stefen Wisniewski and Matt Feiler returning:
"We have great options at those two positions. Matt Feiler has done an incredible job of turning himself into a player who was cut, a player who was on the practice squad and a player who has made himself into a solid starter at the right tackle position. When Ramon was injured last season, we put Matt over at left guard, which he had played before and he did a real good job. We know we have a guy who is an effective right tackle. He has played left guard.
"In Stefen Wisniewski we know we have a veteran starter who has started in two Super Bowls and he happened to win. We feel great about the competition that can occur at that position. We feel good about whatever the outcome is, we think it will be a good outcome because one will have outcompeted the other and we feel comfortable in knowing that we have options at more than one position in both of those players cases. Stefen can also play center, while Matt gives us that guard/tackle combination. It's a nice issue to be able to deal with. We would rather have more help than not enough."
On if they have done any video interviews yet with draft prospects:
Actually, we haven't done any yet. What we are doing—again, this would have been the week we were at owner's meetings. We would have been heading out to pro days this coming Thursday, and we would have been doing some interviews on site at some places and continued to follow up with the visits the following weeks. What we are going to do, the visits that we had planned when we got back from the owner's meetings and pro days, the visits we had planned, what we are going to do is a video/audio type interview with that player. Those will start up actually on Thursday. That is good at best. It is not as good as sitting down with a guy in person obviously, but again we will make the most of it and we will get the information we need.
On how you can account for a shortened offseason program:
Nobody knows what our calendar is right now. No changes have been made, but something that continues to be monitored and watched. And what we have to do as an organization is be prepared for whatever because nobody knows what the next step is. I know Coach Tomlin will be prepared. We will be prepared by supplying him with the right types of players. He and his staff will be prepared with whatever training recommended that the League has put under moving forward. But nobody has an idea at this point.
On where he sees Chris Wormley fitting in:
Chris was somebody that we were very interested in coming out of Michigan. We like Chris a lot. He has the prototypical 3-4 defensive end body type. He is a 300-plus pounder. He is 6'5, he can run, and he played in a similar type scheme. But again, in today's football, a base defense is really not your base defense any longer. A subpackage defense is. And Chris will be able to give us depth along the line. Especially in the subpackages. He will be able to provide us and play from the inside. The base defense, my assumption is he will still be used as a defensive end. But again, 75 percent of the time we are using two defensive tackles and he would be one of those in the subpackges.
On what the plan is for the team's second round pick since the Steelers don't have a first-round pick:
"We do have a first-round pick. That is Minkah Fitzpatrick. We can't be more excited about not only having Minkah in the fold from last year, but as we move forward into this draft because of the unknown issues we are going to be dealing with, we feel even more comfortable having made that trade than had we not.
"(In the second round) at No. 49 it's hard to say (who we will pick). When you are dealing, and sitting in the first round, and picking 18th or 20th or 30th, wherever, you have a much better idea of what might be there for you. In this case we don't. We most likely will have to wait. I can't see us picking up a first-round pick at this point. Never say never. I can't say we will or won't. We will be sitting there in round two and a lot will happen in that first round. We will reconvene throughout the night on Thursday, the first round, as we see players go off. We can actually be meeting as players are picked because we won't be worried about who we're taking. We can be doing adjustments as we go. We are confident there will be somebody at a number of positions that will certainly improve our team and we would be anxious to take."
On the addition of Derek Watt and what the plans are at wide receiver:
"When we picked up Derek Watt we understood what Derek's role would be as a fullback, as an H-back. A very similar role to what he played offensively for the Chargers. The thing that really intrigued us with Derek was his production on special teams. He was one of the leading tacklers in the league in special teams and he was a Pro Bowl special teams player. We are excited about having that.
"With the receiver position we are always looking to add more players. At both running back and receiver we are looking to add a healthy James Conner and healthy JuJu Smith-Schuster. When they are both healthy, they are both Pro Bowl level players. They both suffered injuries last year that we hope they avoid this coming season. In the meantime, it's my job and our staff's job to add proper competition and depth."
On the 17-game season:
"That won't occur until the 2021 season. That is something that our league and players association agreed on. It will be exciting to have that extra game. I know they are trying to figure out the configuration of playoff teams. I am excited about that. Not that we want too many teams in the playoffs, but I thought 12 was a little too little. Maybe that 17th game will be influential in who those extra teams will be. The more teams we can have compete for a championship the better it will be for our game."
On how you evaluate XFL players as opposed to college players:
We have a pro scouting department. Their job is to monitor players once they get in the National Football League, and they also are responsible for the Canadian Football League and of course when the AAF was in session and when the XFL was up and running, it was their job to scout those players. So, they scout them and give us a current report on those players. But all of those players who played in those different leagues were scouted as college players at one point. So, we have a nice base of information. Most of them have been in an NFL camp and have played in preseason games, so we have evaluations on them. And again, if they showed up in the XFL when our pro scouts did them, we were looking to add guys. This year we signed five under contract and we still have a few more in the works. It was good that those players were made available to us because going through this draft as we are with some limited information, that could curtail some of the college free agents we are able to sign just on a knowledge of who they are type basis. Knowing these players, a little bit better, we felt it was important to add as many as we thought could help us in terms of competitive players for training camp.