*Throughout the 2011 NFL season, Coach Mike Tomlin will provide his insight and observations to Steelers.com on a variety of topics pertaining to the team and the National Football League.
Q. This is the time of year when teams are allowed to bring up to 30 draft prospects into their facilities for visits. What do you hope to get from those visits?
A. Usually, they fall into several categories. Maybe we don't have enough medical information on someone, so the medical aspect is a big component of it. We might have questions about their football intelligence, and most of the times those questions cannot be answered in a 15-minute period like we get at the combine. Or there might be questions about their off-the-field activities, or their track record at their colleges or universities. So usually, it's medical, football intelligence and background, or the last category is that we just might want to spend more time with somebody in an effort to get to know them better.
Q. From an organizational standpoint, do you need to get particular things from every draft in order for it to be considered a success and for it to contribute to the team's success?
A. I don't think you can say that with the draft exclusively. I think you can say that with the draft and with free agency. We all go into the offseason, the start of the new league year, with perceived areas of needed improvement, areas that you would like to address. And there are three ways in which to address them: free agency, the draft, and improvement from the players you already have. So we want to utilize all three areas, so the draft is just a component of getting better.
Q. But just judging a draft independently, are there certain criteria that make it a success; for example, getting a certain number of starters from a particular class?
A. No I don't look at it that way. It goes without saying that if you take someone high in the draft, you expect him to be a player and have a solid career, but I don't have a cookie-cutter mentality in terms of the production I'm looking for out of a particular draft. We're looking for good men who have the Steelers makeup and are capable of helping us win.
Q. You have been in four drafts as a head coach. What have you learned about the process over that time?
A. That I probably am attracted to young guys, and even though there are growing pains that come with that, it's something I embrace and enjoy. I like helping players grow and develop, and I think our track record indicates that. Lawrence Timmons was a 20-year-old, Rashard Mendenhall was a 20-year-old. Maurkice Pouncey was a 20-year-old, Jonathan Dwyer was a 21-year-old. I like guys with upside. I don't mind bearing the responsibility of helping guys develop.
Q. As the preparations for the draft continue and build toward April 28, do you find yourself doing more talking or listening?
A. More listening. I do this for a small portion of the year, and we have members of our organization who do this for 12 months of the year. Not only that, but they've been here for an extended period of time and they've covered the same area of the country for an extended period of time. That means they not only have knowledge of what a guy has done recently but in most cases they've watched this young man grow to this point. It's good to hear those views and that information. Of course coupled with the tape and your own personal opinions, you're able to put together a pretty good profile.
Q. Is that hard to do, the relying on others?
A. It gets easier over time, because like anything else, you develop a rapport with the people you're working with. You understand how they see things, you've got shared experiences you can call upon. So it getting easier to shut up and listen.
Q. You're not the kind of coach who rides the emotional roller-coaster, but as you're watching the draft unfold, do you go through highs and lows as you see players' names come off the board?
A. I generally don't get excited until about two-to-three picks before our own, and then I can start potentially forecasting our options. I'm not a guy who watches every pick and has a reaction for every single pick in the draft. Not at all. I know going into it that we're not going to get them all.