About a month ago, a telephone call from General Manager Kevin Colbert meant you were in a very select group of people, one of those about to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Tuesday, May 14, another telephone call from Colbert went out to another select group of people, those being Steelers season ticket holders.
As an amenity to their season ticket holders, the Steelers made their general manager available for a 30-minute question-and-answer session via a conference call format. At the appointed time, every Steelers season ticket holder received a call at the number listed on their account, and by answering they became a part of the Colbert Q&A.
Some chose an active role and submitted questions, while countless others stayed on the sideline and just listened to Colbert's answers. During the session, Colbert fielded 22 questions, and the topics were varied but stayed within the parameters of a typical news conference.
To Thomas, who started things off with a question about the status ILB Sean Spence, a No. 3 draft pick in 2012 who spent his rookie season on injured reserve after sustaining a serious knee injury in the preseason finale, Colbert said, "Sean is progressing. When you have as serious a knee injury as he unfortunately had, it sometimes is a very long process. Sometimes it takes over a year to fully rehabilitate. But the good thing is we are seeing signs of progress, albeit small steps. But it is progress. Sean's attitude is off the charts. He wants to rehab. He wants to be a great player. He is working hard to get there. He is making small progress, and as long as he is making progress, we will be patient with him and hopefully get him back at full speed at some point."
From there, the questions touched on a variety of subjects, from the team's draft philosophy on picking for need vs. best athlete available, to the difficulty in judging a player's character during the draft process, to the possibility of an 18-game regular season, to requests for Colbert to evaluate specific units on the team's roster, to replacing lost veteran leadership, to the impact being felt by the restrictions on the number of two-a-day practice sessions now permitted at training camp.
"Any player we are looking to add to the team, we always have to try to judge whether he is the type of people we want to add to our team," Colbert said in response to Tom's question about character. "Unfortunately, a lot of prospective players come from challenged backgrounds, and we have to do our due diligence in checking. Really, when it comes down to it, when we add a player, we pretty much say as an organization that we trust this player will be a good person as well. When a player betrays that trust, he no longer can be a part of our organization. We've had to move on from significant players in those regards. I think the part not seen is the number of significant players we choose not to bring in, and I'm talking about first-round-type talent that can certainly help us win on the field. There have been players of that nature in the past that we have bypassed because we just didn't think they would be a good fit as people. We are not perfect. We don't claim to be perfect. So, we just try to do the best we can to get not only the best player but the best person as well."
To Matt, who asked about the team's standing under the salary cap, Colbert said, "Right now, we're in good shape. Not to get too technical, but when we terminated Willie Colon there was a technicality in there where part of his cap relief was prior to June 1, but we'll also get more relief after June 1, which we will use to sign our draft picks. So with all that in mind, we can enter the season in good shape. You always have to build in some (cap) room, unfortunately, for injuries that will probably occur during the season, but we'll have that cushion built-in as well."
At the end of the draft every year, Colbert joins Coach Mike Tomlin in addressing the media about that particular class, but it always happens before the team signs its group of undrafted rookies. Since the Steelers have had remarkable success with their undrafted rookies – James Harrison, Willie Parker, Steve McLendon to name just three – it was interesting when Clifford asked Colbert to talk about one of this year's undrafted rookies: Utah WR-KR Reggie Dunn.
"He is an exciting player. He ran in the 4.3s on his pro day," said Colbert. "Reggie didn't have a lot of production as a receiver or a runner, but on kick returns – I believe without checking – he had 10 kickoff returns and four of those were for touchdowns. He isn't the biggest guy. He is extremely fast. We know what he can do as a kickoff returner, we're anxious to see how he can handle punts. He really didn't do a lot of punt returns at Utah because they had others who were, quite honestly, better during his time there. We're excited because the speed (is something) you can't teach. You have to give that young man the opportunity to prove what he can or can't do on the field."
While certainly not groundbreaking in terms of the information dispensed, it was an interesting session that seemed to be over much more quickly than the 30 minutes it took. And in closing, Colbert made sure the season ticket holders knew they were appreciated.
"Thanks to all the fans, not only for the questions, but we do appreciate everybody's support," said Colbert. "Without the fans, we have no team, we have no business. Our job is to provide the best team for our fans, for the people who pay the bills, and that's what we're going to try to do. The goal will never change. We'll never be happy unless we're Super Bowl Champions. Each and every year, that will be our approach and with your support, let's try to get the job done together. Thanks for your interest, and you guys have a great summer. We look forward to you following us and seeing us at training camp in July."