KEVIN COLBERT AND MIKE TOMLIN - PRE DRAFT - 2008
Kevin Colbert: Good afternoon everybody. We want to talk to you about where we are with our draft preparations. We just concluded two weeks of more intense meetings with the coaches. We are not out of meetings, we will be getting back together with the coaches and scouts probably towards Wednesday or Thursday this week. Throughout the process, we probably started off with a 1,000 names. We probably did a more detailed evaluation on about 600 and paired that down to another 360 and we are probably are going to be picking from about a 160 guys when you put it all together. Of those 160, Coach Tomlin and I visited with 85 of those guys, either at the combine at their individual workouts or back here. Hopefully we are going to get six good picks and 12 or so free agents to come in and help the team. That is where it stands right now. You know we are not going to answer any individual questions about individual players.
Are there any positions that you are looking at more than others?
KC: Prior to the draft we really said this was a strong draft, I mean prior to our meetings and prior to the combine. Coming away from the meetings, we still feel it is very strong. There have probably been a few kids that have been eliminated either for medical issues, character issues, or maybe we over-evaluated him but to offset that, there have been a lot of kids that we have upgraded too, got a better feel for or did more evaluating, we felt better. So we still think it is strong. We did make the statement prior to the combine that I don't see us taking a quarterback or a tight end in the first round but other than that, we are open to any position. This is one draft where at this stage I don't think we got a handle really on a position or one player. Sometimes you can get that feel, but this year I think there is going to be a lot of variables that will happen in front of us and we are not going to lock our knees, we will be very flexible and try to adjust accordingly.
Is it one of the strongest drafts in years for offensive tackles?
KC: Yes, the offensive tackles as we have said before is extremely deep with talented guys and a lot of the guys have position flexibility, meaning they have either played left, left and right, guard, tackle and it is unusual that you have this many guys that have played with that much flexibility at the level they played it at. So that is one position that is very deep. Running backs are unusually deep as well and we think the corners is a nice group as well.
Do you pass on a guy at a position where there is depth to pick a guy at a position that is not as deep?
KC: If is the value of the player at the lighter position is still worthy of that position, sure. Coach and I will sit down and again, we are going to go through more detailed scenarios and we will start putting together combinations and possibilities of positions we can get, if we do this in the first round, what happens in two and three, just like you are talking about. So, absolutely that could influence it but we are not going to artificially over-evaluate anybody because of a lack of depth at a certain position.
Are you looking to trade down?
KC: Yes, being that we only have six picks at this point, trading up in the first round is really not a likely scenario. In other years, I would always say we could go up or we could go down, but realistically I don't think we can go up. Trading down is definitely an inviting option because there are a lot of players in rounds two, three and four that could help this team. The more picks we can get in any of those areas, the better off we are going to be.
Are there 23 top tier players in this draft?
KC: We will have 23 guys that we would definitely take because you don't know. It may come off that clean. With the sharing of information, the combines, pro days and things like that, I think anybody can get the first 20 guys right. You might not know where they are going to go, but it is usually going to be 20 guys are going to go to 20 teams and nobody is going to be surprised. It is probably going to be two or three that maybe we didn't have evaluated as highly that are going to slip in there as well. So I think that group is that group and that second tier, I think there are lot of kids that can go in the second or third round that can definitely help us. Some of those kids might get picked in the first round. You have to be flexible and ready to move.
Are there 20 or 23 guys?
KC: In any given year, there are 20 guys, that if you read mock drafts and look at them and put them all together, it is the same 20 guys just mix them up and shake them out. In this thing, we are looking for 23 that we have said, okay we definitely would because we will have to pick if we don't trade out. So we have to have 23 that we are happy with and we will.
Are there more positive drug tests among this year's draftees?
KC: Drug tests are confidential information and that is something that would never be talked about.
Are there any residual effects from the 2003 draft when you only had five picks?
KC: I think if you add it all together, it was worth it being that you got an impact player out of it. Every draft is going to be different. Sometimes you are going to get six guys that help you and sometimes you are going to get two. If those two are impact guys like Troy (Polamalu) was, then you have to feel it was worth it.
With six picks, is there more importance on the undrafted rookies?
KC: Yes, that is really one extra free agent. Like I said, we have looked at a lot of players and you have to feel that there is going to be somebody in there that can help you for sure. It is no different this year. I know, collectively, we wish we had more picks. I think we will be very competitive in trying to get good free agents, especially without a seventh round pick.
What is your philosophy on drafting in later rounds?
KC: It varies. One, two, three you can't miss some of those kids. If those kids aren't pushing for starting positions at some point while they are here, then they weren't evaluated correctly. Four through seven, you are looking for depth. If those guys turn out to be starters, then credit goes to them and to their coaches for exceeding what we thought they could do. With free agents, you hope to get lucky. Realistically, depending on the position, some positions you may be drafting a player and you know he is going to be a depth guy and another position he may be closer to starting than you would like to admit. It really varies. Those guys are given the same scrutiny, except for maybe Coach and I haven't talked to them, but all the other guys have.
How do you feel the change in rules will affect the draft?
KC: We are excited because it will be a lot quicker, 15 minutes is way too long. Sometimes people know what they are going to do and they just wait to see if anybody calls. That is fine after one or two minutes, if nobody's calling, then make the pick. We don't like to wait around. You can make your mind up. Ten minutes is plenty, 7 minutes is plenty. As I have said before, you can make a trade, we have traded in the later rounds when we only have a five minute window. It is really just two phone calls, so it is not a big deal.
Do you re-shuffle your board after the first day?
KC: We don't re-shuffle it, we will look at what we did in the first two days. Quite honestly, the mistakes we have made, the players that haven't worked out for us have been the second and fourth rounds. For whatever reason, maybe we had too much time to think about fourth round picks, those players weren't properly evaluated and we made some mistakes. So we have to be careful. I don't know if a new format is going to change that or not, we will see as it goes but really, shorter time on the picks is god for us. It is good for everybody, you guys can go home earlier.
Can you evaluate defensive line prospects in this draft?
Mike Tomlin: Of course, the defensive line is probably not as deep as the offensive line. I think it is a unique year, particularly from the tackle position standpoint that Kevin stated earlier. There are some quality defensive linemen, particularly that play the scheme that we play. We are looking for someone with a unique body type, there are some of those guys. Some guys are very interesting. Rushing the passer is an important element of it. That is why I make the statement that I make. That will always be the case regardless of scheme, guys that can get after the quarterback give you a chance to win.
Can you evaluate the wide receivers class, are they taller?
KC:After Ben (Roethlisberger) made a statement of liking taller receivers, well he is a tall quarterback so he likes to throw on an even plane. That is not unusual. Really, there is not going to be any artificial evaluations because a player happens to be taller than. If a player is a good receiver and he happens to be tall, great. If the player is a good receiver and he is small, fast and does a lot of things, that is great too. So really we are not looking for a taller receiver, per say. We are looking for a good receiver like we are looking for a good lineman and a good linebacker. We never lock ourselves into the measurables for any position.
Is it a good year for wide receivers?
KC: It is a good class. I wouldn't say it is exceptional. But there certainly are some very good players. It is probably as not as deep as it has been in other years where you really felt that you could get a lot in each round.
Can you talk about Willie Parker coming along health-wise and Max Starks now signing his tender, and how that affects your draft strategy?
MT:Willie is doing well. If you had to say where he is from a schedule standpoint, he is ahead of schedule; he feels good. Mentally he is in great shape and that's Willie. He is a guy who sees the glass half full. If we are going to err we are going to err on the side of caution. He did get some work done today which is encouraging to see him out there with his teammates running around. I feel good about where he is and I expect him to be 100% no doubt. It is great to have Max Starks back because he is a starter-caliber guy, as is Justin (Hartwig), who we added in free agency. From my standpoint that is the most important thing, to get some guys who are starter-capable and go up to Latrobe and have them compete for positions. Competition is a thing that makes us all better and that is what is going to make us better as an offensive line unit; what is going to make us better as a football team.
Will their status affect your draft day plans?
MT:I think that the moves that we have made and the actions that we have taken have allowed us to stick to the philosophy that we have stated earlier on in that we would be open to any position. The acquisition of those men or the re-acquiring of those guys and Willie coming back from an injury is part of that.
Do you have to do a long-term deal with Starks?
KC:It would give us salary cap relief and that has been our goal when we did put the transition tag on Max. It still remains our goal and I know that it is his goal and Eugene Parker's as well. We are going to keep those talks alive because there are benefits for everybody involved. Max gets long-term security, we get security at a position as coach said and we would get some cap relief.
Was not starting Starks last year a mistake?
MT:No, we can't look back and base decisions we made last year on hindsight. We did what we thought gave us a chance to win. We make no bones about that and we move forward. Just because he was not the starter last year does not mean that he will not have the opportunity to win the position this year or a position this year. I think that one of the things that is attractive about Max is that I got to know him from a player's standpoint and he does have position flexibility. He is capable of playing right and left tackle, which adds value.
Do you consider special teams when you are drafting players in later rounds?
MT:It can, and what I mean by it can is that a lot of times we do not get an opportunity to evaluate these guys as special teams players because maybe they have limited special teams play at their college or university. Some of these guys are four-year starters so you are projecting what they are capable of doing on special teams. Some programs put an emphasis on it and they have fourth and fifth year guys playing on special teams. In the instances where we get the opportunities to evaluate those guys as special teams guys we have done that.
How does not having a seventh round selection affect what you do on the second day? Do you now consider positions more on that day?
KC:We will stay with the board. It is developed that way and a lot of the times the guys that we are picking in fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh, they may have second or third round grades on them. Hopefully that is the situation. It doesn't mean that we have them evaluated correctly but it means that we are picking guys that we like. We hope that is the case. Sometimes as coach talked about earlier, defensive lineman that have to convert to linebackers, there are some unknowns in there. We have evaluated them, we have worked them out and just tried to gauge whether they can do it. That is part of it as well. Coach talked about the special teams aspect as well. Have they played teams and if they have then are they athletically and mentally ready to do that. Really you are going to follow the same board that you put together because as we said all of our guys are probably going to come from the 160 or so guys that we like. It doesn't mean that we are right; it is just how we like them.
What do you look for before picking a Division 1-AA or small school player?
MT:Are they ready to take the next step. There is a little bit more parity in college football just like there is parity in this league. I think that the scholarship limitations have created that. I think that shared information like Kevin mentioned earlier makes those guys known commodities. The one thing that I look for personally is that those guys who play at lower level competitions dominate; that they stand out. I think that is important because you know that the leap that they have to take is going to be longer than the leap that other players have to take.
Can you give an insight into the possible shuffling of the offensive line?
MT:We value guys that have position flexibility. Some of the guys that we have acquired, not only in this off-season but prior to, have position flexibility. Whether they are guys who are capable of playing both tackles, whether they are guys that have guard-tackle capabilities or whether they are guys who have guard-center capabilities. We like that because we think that that gives us options. It allows us to put the best five guys on the field. Who the best five guys are will be determined when we get closer to playing, specifically when we get closer to training camp. Right now we like the nucleus of the guys that we have playing. We know that they are capable of playing multiple positions that will allow us to put the best five out on the field.
Will you get the line together before you go to camp?
MT:Yeah, we will narrow it down. It will become crystal-clear as we move forward. But this is a game that is played in pads and is a game that is played by big men and played physical. I have always hesitated and will always hesitate to make lineups based upon play in shorts.
Will you take this opportunity to look at Willie Colon at guard?
MT:Yes we will.
What can Willie Parker do right now?
MT:He is running. I can't put a percentage on it. He is less than 100% but he is well enough to where he took a few snaps today, caught a few balls, and took a few handoffs. He is moving in the right direction which is a good sign.
Have you been satisfied with the number one picks over the years?
KC:Number one picks, when you are picking from so many guys at that stage, you should hit on those guys. The higher the pick then really the higher the evaluation so they should be good players. You hope to avoid mistakes and that's not to say that we won't make them, but sure we have had some good number one picks. Again, they are supposed to be good.
Because running backs can be had later in the draft, will you take one in the first round?
KC:Depends on the back and the alternatives at the other picks because really we are never going to pass a good player feeling that we are going to get another good player somewhere down the line. If we really like him then we better take him where we like him because you don't know. If you really like somebody then you better take him and then adjust it as you go down. I'm not going to pass a really exceptional player on the hope that we can get a really similar player down the road, even though you will know what your possibilities are. If you know that you are choosing between two really good players and you know that I have a better option of picking the other one up later then you are probably going to take the one that you have the option on.
Last year you talked about running Willie Parker until his wheels came off. Do you still feel that way?
MT:I said that and I kind of said that tongue-in-cheek. He is our feature ball carrier and he is a Pro Bowl caliber player. We did that last year and we intend to do that this year. Those guys need their touches and when Willie runs the ball we have a chance to win. Do we need a stable of backs? Absolutely. If you look around this game there are a bunch of those kinds of backfields. We desire to be one of those and we think that we have some guys here right now that are capable of helping him carry the load, some guys who showed that they were capable of helping last year. We are going to build this football team for '08 and Willie is a big part of that. He wants to carry the load and is capable of carrying the load, wants to carry the load, and he is a feature All-Pro runner.
How do you choose which rookies to bring in before the draft?
KC:There are a variety of reasons as to why you want to bring those guys back in. First and foremost it is medical information. There is probably a medical question that we have to follow up on. Sometimes guys are coming off of injuries that have to be evaluated further. At the combine we might have a player being looked at by seven doctors at once. If you really want to spend more time with that player medically, then you have to bring that player in. Sometimes when we talk to players we get fifteen minutes and that information really is not enough. Sometimes that information is not sufficient enough. Sometimes we didn't get to talk to a guy at the combine because we are limited to sixty guys there. I think that of the 30 visits that we had we had eleven that were follow-ups and nineteen other visits. Then we had some free visits, the Pitt kids didn't count towards that total. Collectively we talked to about 85 of them and we are just trying to get as much information.
How are you cap-wise?
KC:We are fine from a cap standpoint. We do not have to make any adjustments as we go forward with the draft. When it comes time to sign some players we might have to make some adjustments and there are various ways that we can do that.
Mike is the process different for you in your second year?
MT:It really hasn't changed whatsoever. I'm a better piece of the puzzle because I know the steps that we take along the way and where they are headed. There is a level of comfort that comes along with that and I am better equipped to manipulate the board and get them where I want them. It is the exact same process and involvement. We have a great time in there with Kevin and the scouts talking about players and what we desire.
Do you still feel that you need to improve the offensive and defensive lines?
MT:Some of the moves that we have made strengthen us in those areas. Being able to re-sign Nick (Eason) and Travis (Kirschke) along the defensive lines and acquiring Justin (Hartwig) in free agency and having Max in the fold helps some of those issues. This is a game this is always going to be played in the trenches by big men on both sides of the ball. We believe and we always believe that if you can effectively run the ball and stop the run then you have a chance to win. Those will always be my desires.
How is Dan Kreider doing?
KC:I haven't been downstairs in the last three weeks. I think he is still in the building rehabbing periodically when he is in town. The last time I checking he was progressing well and should be ready in time for training camp wherever he ends up, be it here or somewhere else.