Head coach Mike Tomlin and director of football operations Kevin Colbert held their pre-draft press conference on Monday afternoon down on the South Side. Both addressed various topics including, the Roscoe Parrish rumors, the release of Gary Russell, the Max Starks contract, players in their final contract year, draft prospects and the possibilities of trading up or out of the first round of the draft on Saturday.
Kevin Colbert: It is that time of year and we are excited as we always are. We (our scouts and coaches) have put a lot of time into this. They have done a great job of trying to catch up because we obviously had a short offseason that we will take any year. They very graciously gave their time to make sure that we have this process as complete as we need. We are almost there. We have a few more sessions to finalize everything, but we are excited about the players that are in this draft. We really feel that in the first three rounds we can get players that may eventually be starters somewhere, somehow. In rounds four and five I think we can get some contributors; in rounds six and seven you are probably looking at potential practice squad guys. We hope to get lucky with a couple of free agents that end up being better than we think they are. If we come out of it with that, and we get good, healthy people, then we will have a chance. We need for it to be a special draft because we lost a couple of guys in free agency from a good team. We get the majority of our players back, but we still have to account for some players who aren’t going to be with us any longer. There could be further deletions based upon how our cap situation continues to evolve. We’ve had some changes since the end of the season – some contract extensions. Those things, we have to adjust constantly as we go through this. As far as by position – and I think I said this before at the combine – really the strength of this thing is the cornerbacks and the outside linebacker types. Some teams will value those players more as defensive ends, and they can be drafted higher. There are more body types that can project as outside linebackers and more corners, maybe not the glitzy type, but a lot of corners that can be contributors in some form or fashion. I will open it up to questions.
Was Gary Russell’s release a cap move?
Colbert: What we wanted to do there, we wanted to have Charlie (Batch) in for the OTAs. At this time of the year, the top 51 players count against your salary cap. We were very tight – we couldn’t add Charlie without deleting somebody. We had to go through the roster and come up with a cap number that was significant enough to get Charlie in, but yet feel good enough about our depth (at that position). With Rashard (Mendenhall) coming back; you don’t like to get rid of a guy, especially when he helped win you a Super Bowl, but we felt that it was important to have Charlie on board at this time of the year.
Do you do anything differently because you just won the Super Bowl?
Colbert: No. We have been successful following this pattern and we will continue to use it. This is our third draft together – myself and Coach Tomlin. I think we have a better understanding of each other. He can speak of his understanding of what he does or doesn’t have as far as a team. We are going to continue to follow the same approach, and really, the same guidelines that this organization has used since long before I got here.
Do you have to get Max Starks’ cap number down or make some more cuts?
Colbert: No. Like I said, depending on how the draft unfolds, we want to manage it and make it all work. We had to make a move just to accommodate Charlie. Once the 53-man (roster) kicks in, which occurs on the final cut, you have to be able to accommodate the players that you want to keep. Between now and the final cut, August 30th or whenever it is, sure, there can be more changes. With the uncertainty of the CBA it is harder to manipulate not only new contacts, but the things that you used to be able to do to create room as far as guaranteeing paragraph five and turning it into a signing bonus.
Are your hands tied with other guys nearing the end of their contract?
Colbert: It depends on whether that number would come down as a result. Again, the uncertainty of the CBA limits our ability to do that. In the past you could take it and get it to a reduced number in the first year and then it would jump in years two, three and four. You can’t do that anymore; it makes it harder. The cap gains by doing that aren’t as available as they used to be.
Sounds like those Roscoe Parrish rumors can’t be true?
Colbert: Every year we are going to talk to every team. We will give them guys that we may have an excess on; they will give us guys. You just know who might be available, who wants to trade up and who wants to trade down. Would we trade up? Yes. Would we trade down? Yes. Nobody knows at this point. We have done both successfully. Where we will be on Saturday, nobody knows. We will talk to every team like we always do.
Is there any chance that you will sign the guys in the last year of their deal before the season starts?
Colbert: The James Harrison signing was a priority for us, and deservedly so on his part. That is taken care of, so we have a better idea where that landed. We have a finite number and we can now work forward and continue to look at the rest of the guys as well.
Do you like the process of preparing for the draft? Where does the draft rank?
Mike Tomlin: I had more fun today. I enjoy the process. It never gets stale. Just like in season, getting comfortable and doing what is required of me. I have a high level of comfort with this process because I have a better understanding of the men we do have. I am a draft junkie and I enjoy this.
Has this process been different as a Super Bowl champion?
Tomlin: Not at all.
Was it harder to get started?
Tomlin: It wasn’t from my perspective, but I don’t have any hobbies. Maybe some other guys who work with me found it difficult, but I was ready to go.
How do you evaluate the depth of the offensive linemen in this class? How about your own line?
Colbert: I think I have said this before, but I think that the depth of the offensive line is kind of top-heavy. There are going to be more guys higher than in previous years, but it doesn’t have the depth that it had last year. I don’t think that there are as many offensive linemen as there have been, especially compared to last year. Again, there will be starting-caliber players available across the board.
Tomlin: In regards to our offensive line, the same starting five that walked off the field in Tampa were in practice today, so that is encouraging. I am optimistic about what they are capable of being, all of those men, and that is probably why that group is together. They are growing – they are young guys, either in age or in playing experience – definitely in terms of group cohesion. I think the arrow is up and we are excited about what they are capable of being.
Is it difficult when you are picking as low as you are in the first round?
Colbert: No. We will have 32 guys. Collectively, I think we have 26 guys identified at this point. We need to go through our mock situations and really force ourselves into the worst case scenarios. If it comes clean, which it never does, we will have 32 people that we would be comfortable with. The frustrating thing is just waiting that long. It may get to a point where we don’t want to wait, and we want to trade up. We will look at all those scenarios; we will talk to all of those teams ahead of time, get some parameters and just see where it goes. We may get to the point where there are those 32 guys, but somebody wants to jump ahead of Detroit in the second round, so they may come to us. Those are the things that we need to decide on the fly, but there will be 32 guys that we will be comfortable with.
What do you get from the 30 prospects that came here to visit?
Tomlin: We are just trying to build a portfolio on the draft-eligible guys. The 30 guys that we bring in are for different reasons. Some of the guys we interviewed and spent time with them in Indianapolis. In those cases, the 15 minutes we spent with those guys weren’t enough, so we bring them back – whether it is positive or negative. We feel that we need more time with those guys. Then, there are other guys that weren’t combine invites and we wanted to bring them in to gather information on them, whether we heard about them later in the process or whatever. I believe there are a myriad of reasons why we bring a guy in, and I think the guys we brought in fell into those categories. It is about a developing a complete portfolio on as many of these draft-eligible guys as we can.
When you look back at past drafts and how guys haven’t panned out as expected – what are you cautious about or nervous about?
Colbert: We always go back and try to review on what we did do well and what we didn’t do well. Again, if we take a player at a certain point, that player is not saying that he is that value, we are. If that player fails then we failed to evaluate him correctly. If a player gets picked in the second round and he doesn’t contribute, that is not on the player that is on us because we were the ones who said that he could contribute. There could be different factors; maybe he wasn’t a fit, maybe he wasn’t as smart as we thought, maybe he wasn’t as tough as we thought and maybe he just got stuck behind some good players. But that is not on the player, that is really on us because we are the ones that said he is the 32nd pick of the first round or the 64th pick of the second round, not the player. But then again it is not any one factor but each year we will go back through it and try to see where our hits or misses were and see what maybe the common denominator.
How crucial is it to replace (Bryant) McFadden and (Nate) Washington?
Tomlin: It is critical that they get replaced in terms of what they did for us on the field, but those replacements may be in the building. Those replacements may be in the third, fourth or fifth round of the draft. Somebody has got to make the plays and I am sure that they will. Those are positions that we need to add depth when we are going through the process, but I wouldn’t put a level of importance on it to where we had to pigeon hold them to a certain round.
Who do you like?
Tomlin: I like everybody. I am a degenerate gambler. This guy has to talk me off the ledge. We will see what happens. I am impulsive by nature. He’s got a lot more patience than I do. I am going to detail my training camp schedule while we are waiting to pick 32nd.
How do you pick a guy looking at talent vs. character?
Tomlin: How much are you willing to be seduced by talent and one of the things that we’ve talked quite a bit about is that we are not going to allow that to happen. The most deciding factors are the things that you can’t measure; the character, the toughness, the smarts. So we are more inclined to be seduced by those things.
Corners and receivers that are short in height – how do you weigh that?
Tomlin: There is no cookie cutter and I have always subscribed to that. When you go to camp and you walk those halls, they come at different shapes and sizes and I am a believer in that. Guys that can play can play. Guys that are short find ways to compensate that, if they are great players they do. Guys that are a step slow find a way to compensate for that, if they are great players. So I tend to lean on the tape.
Anyone that didn’t show up today that you thought would?
Tomlin: Everybody that showed up I was happy to see them and people that didn’t show up I anticipated them not showing up. I was there.
Any position off the list for first and second round picks?
Colbert: Obviously I would say first round quarterback and first round running back would probably be. Last year we said that about tight ends, but those would be the two that I think would be obvious reaches for us with our current roster. But other than that, any position would be open. Especially down at 32.
Any health issues at this point?
Tomlin: Nothing major at this point. I thought one of the most significant things that happened out there today was seeing some of the guys work that it has been quite a while since they have been in the huddle. Like Charlie Batch getting an opportunity to get out there and throw the ball around, he looked sharp today. Guys like Daniel Sepulveda back in the stretch lines. Rashard Mendenhall. It’s a process. There are some other guys who went through surgery at the end of the season, Ryan Clark, Hines Ward; their progress will be a little slower. But it is good to see the ones who hadn’t been in the game, to be in the huddle and work a little bit today.
Byron (Leftwich) – just a guy looking for a starting job?
Colbert: I think so. Byron told us repeatedly last year that if there wasn’t a better opportunity from a chance to start standpoint that he wanted to come back here. He thinks he has a better opportunity there. Byron was a big part of us. He didn’t get to play a lot but he was a big part of our success just in the way he practiced and prepared our defense. It would have been great to have him back but we understand the situation and we wish him the best of luck.
Colleges are going to spread offenses – is it harder to evaluate a player and is it more favorable for a guy to play in a spread offense or pro-style offense?
Colbert: You can look at it both ways and we talk about it all of the time. The spread offense does make is more difficult for us to evaluate not only offensive players but also defensive players because the defense has to play a different technique because of what the offense is doing. When you see a kid in the spread offense or a defense playing against the spread offense, there is more projection and that just makes it a little more difficult but on the flip side if they are in a conventional offense or defense and they are doing what you think potentially they should be doing, it probably makes it a little more clear cut. But just because a player is in a spread type situation or playing against one doesn’t mean he can’t. It just means that he may need more time to adjust. Case in point, Dennis Dixon last year as a quarterback. You kind of have to take what he did from a certain point on, maybe when he takes his extra two steps when he does from the shot gun, he pretty much is doing what a regular quarterback would do. Did you see him take snaps? No. Was that a guess? Yes, because we really didn’t get to see him except in a workout situation. So it can go either way, but it does make it a little more difficult, but that is where college football is and I don’t think it is going to change anytime soon so we just have to keep adjusting.
If both were equal would pro-style have the advantage?
Colbert: I wouldn’t say he has an advantage because again, if he’s playing at a certain level, that’s probably what he is going to do. You are seeing him do what you are going to ask him to do. Whereas the other kid, maybe he just hasn’t had the opportunity to do more of the conventional stuff. Doesn’t mean he can’t. So sometimes you may go with the unknown and just hope to figure that he can, as opposed to the known or maybe he couldn’t.
When you sign an undrafted rookie, does bonus count against your cap?
Colbert: Yes. At this time of the year it is the top 51. The drafted players will only have a minimum tender until they sign their contracts. So their salaries don’t count on that top 51. If you give a guy five thousand bucks on a two year deal and he is a minimum salary guy, which I think it is $280,000 now, so his cap number would be $282,500, but he still is not in the top 51. It’s not going to put him in the top 51. When you sign your top draft picks, obviously they are going to fit into your top 51, but at that point you probably already drafted some other people that may give you some more maneuverability.