Colbert and Tomlin speak
April 19th, 2010
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Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin held their annual pre-draft news conference Monday afternoon.

They were naturally asked about a lot of other subjects, including the situation with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who took part in the Steelers’ first offseason practice.

Here is a transcript of their news conference starting with opening statements from Tomlin and Colbert.

Tomlin: “It was a really big day for us in the offseason, a chance to use first of our 14 allotted OTA days. Guys have been working hard in offseason, with the winter conditioning program. It was good to get out on the field. We got some new coaches, some new players, and it was an opportunity to see those guys. It was good to measure those guys, see where they are, particularly some of the veteran acquisitions — Antwaan Randle El, Arnaz Battle, Jonathan Scott, Larry Foote, Will Allen — get them out there and get them information and how we do business. It was a big day for us.”

Colbert: “We got a few more loose ends to tie up — medical reviews, we’ll sit down one more time with our scouting staff and coaching staff and put our final markings on the board and be ready to go. We still think it’s a deep draft, especially on the defensive side of the ball. We lost a few players through some medical conditions but we also picked up some guys we found to be a little more valuable in our evaluations. I think it balances out. Offensively, it’s (a) good (draft) but it probably lacks the quantity of marquee players at quarterback, running back and wide receiver positions but the overall depth is excellent.”

Q: Are 11 picks in the draft too many? Will you use all of them?

Colbert: “There’s a good chance (they will use them). The three extra compensatory picks we can’t trade but it allows us to trade some of others. We do have flexibility and that will be an option. Coach and I have talked about this — you can go into the later rounds and still get people who can compete for a roster spot or practice squad spot. Deep as this draft is, it’s good to have that many picks.”

Q: Is it too many?

Colbert: “Absolutely not.”

Q: Is there any chance you will trade Ben Roethlisberger?

Colbert: “We won’t talk about specific players we may or not be involved in trades with. We will say our normal procedure is to contact every team. We’re doing that and will continue to do that and that will include trading up or trading down. Individual players will remain confidential. We’re just about complete with that.”

Q: Does the trade of Santonio Holmes change your approach to the draft?

Colbert A: “Not really. It gave us an extra fifth-round pick. Now we have four fifth-rounders with the extra picks and we have to make something out of those picks. As we’re doing our evaluations, we’re evaluating every player we think is a good player, be it positions you know you are going to be interested in and or may not be interested in. You still have to evaluate all of them because you have to get them in proper order so when you do pick the ones you want you’ve stacked them against the other players accordingly so they’re placed properly.”

Q: Does the uncertainty with Ben put more of an emphasis on quarterbacks?

Colbert: "No, we’ve proceeded exactly as we have in the past. Our preparation is the same, our evaluations are the same. We’ll act accordingly if and when something occurs as far as disciplinary actions."

Q: You have said you wouldn't use your first-round pick on a quarterback or tight end. Has that changed?

Colbert: " We haven’t changed our draft priorities at all.”

Q: Can wide receivers be found later in the draft if you don’t take one in the first or second round?

Colbert: “There’s good depth at those positions. It’s just in most years you can look and forecast a high or higher number at those positions. I don’t think that’s the case this year. It will be interesting. Sometimes supply and demand across the league will change that. We’re always shocked about some players getting picked where we may not have them evaluated, and I’m sure other teams are shocked when we make our picks at times. This draft has depth really everywhere for amount of depth it has. It’s unusual you don’t have as many players at those positions.”

Q: Could you have gotten more in the trade of Holmes?

Colbert: “If you look at any sport, in any trade you have to assume that both parties, that was the best they could do. You are safe in making that assumption in this case. Everybody has a point where they think the deal is favorable and we reached that point when we made the trade with Santonio.”

Q: Is running back more of a priority with the loss of Willie Parker?

Colbert: “We went into the offseason assuming Willie was going to look for another team to play for. It really didn’t change our thinking. We visited with other guys at the combine, we had one here. We talked to close to 100 players in our meetings — 60 at combine, 30 we brought in, other guys when we went out to workouts we had individual appointments set up. Roughly there was 100 (they talked to). Save for a couple positions, we talked to pretty much everybody.”

Q: Do you need to find a complement to Rashard Mendenhall?

Tomlin: “We need another guy for competition. We’re optimistic about the men we have here and what they’re capable of. Any opportunity to add to that pool of guys, with competent capable men, is going to strengthen us, and we’re open to that.”

Q: Is there more of an emphasis on high-character guys this year given what has taken place during the offseason?

Colbert: “That hasn’t changed at all. We’ve done as much background in previous years as we did this year. It’s been the same since we started 10 years ago. It’s no different.”

Q: Has wide receiver Dez Bryant been taken off your draft board because of off-the-field concerns?

Colbert: “You know we don’t talk about individual players. We will take players off the board. We’re not going to address individual players. You are definitely safe in assuming we will take players off.”

Q: How many players are on your draft board?

Colbert: “Roughly 225 to 228 and a bunch of free agents beyond that. Probably close to 400 guys. Of those 400, we’ll probably pick 100 to 120 (to focus on). That should get all 11 picks. Again that’s based on how we like them. Doesn’t mean they’re the right guys.”

Q: Can you talk about the return of Limas Sweed?

Tomlin: “He’s been involved with offseason (conditioning) since the day it started. He’s been working extremely hard in offseason program and progressing well. Good to have him back out there.”

Q: Did you tell players before practice that there is a zero-tolerance policy as far as off the field conduct?

Tomlin: “I don’t remember that conversation this morning. That wasn’t said. Someone’s pulling your leg.”

Q: What was said?

Tomlin: “Generally, we talk about how it is we practice, what we’re trying to get done with organized team activities, how we approach it, what we’re trying to get done, short term and long term. I thought it was important that we evaluate our level of football conditioning. With the minicamp right around the corner ,guys have to be mentally and physically prepared to get through two-a-day practices. That Friday and that Saturday are two-a-day practices. I thought today’s work and tomorrow’s work are a good measuring stick in terms of their preparation for that. Wanted everybody to have their eyes and ears open in regards to the giving and receiving of information. We’ve got some new people, the communication with those people, that’s what was talked about as we gathered this morning.”

Q: Do you take it personally when players on your team get into trouble like Ben and Santonio?

Colbert: “Anything in regards to Ben, Art (Rooney II) has made his statement and anything further will be addressed by Art at the appropriate time. Really for us to dwell on that, I don’t think is appropriate for this time. In Santonio’s case, he helped us win a Super Bowl and he was a big part of this organization. As Art stated, it was in our best interests that we both moved on. We wish Santonio nothing but the best. We expect a lot out of all of our players not only on the field but off the field as well.”

Q: When you are dealing with outside distractions, do you take a "business as usual" approach with practice?

Tomlin: “It is a 'business as usual' approach because the reality is as a football team you’re going to be faced with things that can be perceived as distractions. That’s the nature of our business, particularly at this level, so it is a 'business as usual' approach in that football can be our sanctuary at times, particularly for the four hours that we’re in this building, working at our craft. I think that’s what the guys were able to do today and we had a very productive day.”

Q: How have allegations against Ben affected how you feel about him?

Tomlin: “We’ve made all the comments in regard to Ben’s investigation that we’re going to make to this point. Art’s been very clear about our position as an organization. The next thing for us is to see where this thing goes from a discipline standpoint and then react accordingly and we will at that time.”

Q: Has what has happened during the offseason made your job more difficult?

Colbert: “I would term the offseason challenging for us but I think what happened during the '09 season is more of an indication of what we have to accomplish with this draft. We’re a 9-7 team and we have to be better than that. The off-field stuff? That was a challenging offseason and it’s going remain a challenging offseason for us. But what happened in '09 is more of our concern at this point with this draft coming up to remedy 9-7.”

Q: Where would you like to see the team get better?

Tomlin: “I think competition has been my mentality as far as reviewing ’09 and where we need to get here in (2010). Competition is the truest motivator. It will enable us to ride the bumps that is a National Football League season. I think that’s why we’ve acquired some of the men that we’ve acquired and type of people we’ve acquired, veteran football players that are started capable that have experience that are good people, good teammates, guys like we mentioned earlier. Antwaan Randle-El, Arnaz Battle, Jonathan Scott have all started in the National Football League, and of course, Larry Foote and Will Allen. We want to continue to do that, add capable men for the purposes of the draft, capable young men that are going to increase the level of competition and add quality depth to our football team so we can do better than we did in '09.”

Q: Did you urge Troy to show up for the practice?

Tomlin: “No, it’s totally voluntary and Troy’s a volunteer. He looked good. It’s good to have him back out there and Troy’s a guy with great spirit and loves the game of football. It’s good for him to be back out there with his teammates and he was excited for it.”

Q: Do you expect to see him for the offseason practices after mini camp?

Tomlin: “We’ll see. You know the nature of these organized team activities. They are voluntary. We encourage participation and we got it today.”

Q: How many heated arguments are there when you are putting together the draft board?

Colbert: “None, really. The meetings are great. His assistant coaches and our scouts, we know each other and we know what we’re looking for and we know coach’s needs and likes and dislikes. We know each other a lot better than we did the first year. Really the discussions are good. They’re respectful. I ask the scouts to give an opinion, I’ll ask an assistant coach to give an opinion and it’s our job to put those together for a Steelers opinion. Arguments don’t exist. Great discussions do. Really there’s a lot of good information that’s exchanged, there’s a lot of respect back and forth until we come up with our rating. It’s a process we started in detail with the coaches March 29 and continues up until Wednesday when the scouts get back in town. We’ll have one more run at it to come up with a draft board.”

Q: Is one area of the draft particularly deep on defense?

Colbert: “The defensive line is unusual. I said this last spring when we came out of our spring meetings: I had never seen so many defensive linemen rated. And then when the underclassmen were added to that in January, it just made it that much deeper. It’s an unusual group of big men who are very athletic and can play in a 3-4 defense, which is important because now it’s up to 13 teams that run a 3-4 defense. In the past, we more or less had our pick of the litter because there were only three or four 3-4 teams. Now a lot of people are looking for that type of player and fortunately there’s a bunch this year.”

Q: What do you think of the draft going to three days?

Colbert: “We don’t know. This is going to be new territory for us. It’s different and we have to adjust and that’s fine. I was a big opponent of the NFL Network coming into the combine because I thought it would be a distraction and it was quite the opposite. It made it more exciting for the players and we had better participation. Do I like a three-day format? No, because it gets me out of a comfort zone, but we’ll adjust. Ask me that on Saturday when we’re done. It’s going to be a long three days. You have one round and then a whole day before you have another pick. That will be unusual but we’ll adjust.”

Q: Do you go into the draft thinking you have to address defense more than offense? Does the Foote signing make inside linebacker less of a priority?

Tomlin: “I think the acquisition of Larry Foote is big-time beneficial to us. First and foremost, he’s a quality player, one we’re familiar with. We know what he’s capable of doing. He strengthens us at inside linebacker. He’s capable of playing buck and mack. He’s starter-capable so there’s comfort in that. In regard to our needs at this point, with the number of picks that we have and the quality of depth of the draft, I’m open to exploring the addition of players across the board, offensively and defensively — and special teams, for that matter. There are quality return men in this draft.”

Q: Have you set a deadline for finalizing draft board?

Colbert: “We’re going to have some final medical information tomorrow. We take that up to the last minute because that can change. The scouts are getting back in town Tuesday night and coaches are done with OTAs so Wednesday we’ll finalize it and once it’s set it’s set. Everybody has input. It’s our board and we’ll follow it.”
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