Their fans are abuzz over the events of what has been an offseason to forget, but when the NFL Draft begins on Thursday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be guided by what was a season to forget.
The 2009 season.
"I would term the offseason challenging for us, but I think what happened during the 2009 season is more of an indication of what we have to accomplish with this draft," said Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert. "We were a 9-7 team, and we have to be better than that. Again, the off-field stuff, that has made for a challenging offseason, and it will remain challenging. But really what happened in 2009 is our concern with this draft coming up. We have to remedy 9-7."
During that playoffless season made even more disappointing because it followed the sixth Super Bowl title in franchise history, the Steelers had problems with their running attack, with their pass defense, with their kick coverage, with their ability to protect leads in the fourth quarter. Those are the issues they can be expected to try to remedy via the draft, even though the situations involving Santonio Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger have dominated the conversation for the past several weeks.
Or as Colbert said on Tuesday, "We haven't changed our draft priorities at all."
What those draft priorities are remain a closely guarded secret, but Colbert would not back off the statement he made earlier in the offseason when he ruled out quarterback and tight end as positions to be considered in the first round, and he also maintained the trade of Holmes will not increase the likelihood of the Steelers selecting a wide receiver early in a draft Colbert judges to be lacking in the number of marquee skill-position players available.
"As we're doing evaluations we're evaluating every player that we think is a good player – be it at a position you may think you're going to look at or a position you may not," said Colbert. "Whether positions you know you're going to be interested in or may not be interested in, you still have to evaluate all of them because you have to get them in proper order, so that when you do pick the ones you want, you've stacked them against the other players accordingly."
As is their preference, the Steelers go into the draft without any glaring holes in their starting lineups on offense or defense. Even with Holmes having been traded and the probability that Roethlisberger's discipline will include a suspension, the Steelers still would be able to line up with 22 players who have NFL starting experience were the regular season to open this weekend.
The Steelers have 11 picks in this draft, and Colbert said that is not too many even with the experience to be found on the roster.
"Coach and I have talked about this thing, and really, you can go through the later rounds and still get people who are going to compete for roster spots or practice squad spots," said Colbert. "As deep as this is, this is a great year to have that many picks. Coming off a 9-7 season, we are open to anything."
Open to anything that helps erase 2009.
"Competition is the truest motivator," said Tomlin. "It will enable us to ride the bumps that are a part of every National Football League season. That is why we have acquired some of the men we have and the type of people that we have acquired, those veteran football players who are starter capable, who have the experience, who are good people and good teammates. Add in some capable men, of course from the draft, capable young men who will increase the level of competition, so we can be better prepared to do better than we did in 2009."