PITTSBURGH -- On the same day Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Steelers have told Ben Roethlisberger they plan to draft a tall wide receiver early, general manager Kevin Colbert offered this nugget in regard to the franchise quarterback.
“What we have to do is surround [Roethlisberger] with the best talent,” Colbert said on Wednesday, “and he has to play to that level that he’s capable of playing if we do get that talent around him.”
Colbert’s response was parsed and part of a larger answer to his acknowledgement that Big Ben isn’t getting any younger. But it signaled that the Steelers plan to go all-in with Roethlisberger, who turns 32 next month, and give him every chance of getting the organization back to the Super Bowl.
That, taken with what Dulac reported during an online chat, points to the Steelers providing Roethlisberger with the tall wide receiver he has long coveted – and hasn’t had since his rookie season in 2004.
Think about it.
The offense, unlike a defense in transition, is already largely in place for 2014.
Pro Bowler Antonio Brown returns after authoring the greatest season by a Steelers wide receiver. Le’Veon Bell has established himself as a feature back with plenty of upside after a robust rookie season. Tight end Heath Miller, solid in 2013, will be even better next season when he isn’t coming back from reconstructive knee surgery.
Colbert could have been referring to the offensive line when talking about the need to surround Roethlisberger with top talent. But the line returns intact after making significant improvement in the second half of last season, and it will get better under the watchful eye of new offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
Kelvin Beachum may not be a prototypical left tackle but he proved to be more than capable there after supplanting Mike Adams following the fourth game of the season. And the second-year man provided enough of a sample size for the Steelers to think he can hold his own protecting Roethlisberger’s blind side while also continuing to get better.
The obvious missing piece on offense is a rangy wide receiver, and the Steelers may not get a better chance to provide Roethlisberger with one while he is still in his prime.
The draft that Colbert said is as deep as any he has seen in 30 years is particularly flush with wide receivers. There are tall ones such as Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin -- each is listed as at least 6-foot-5 -- and there also appears to be a handful in the 6-2, 6-3 range who could be early-round selections.
Whether that means the Steelers draft a tall wide receiver in the first or second round remains to be seen. Colbert insists that the Steelers stick to their draft board and that talent always trumps need when they are making their picks.
The Steelers can’t know how things will shake out during the pre-draft evaluations that shift into another gear next week at the NFL combine.
Or how the actual draft in May plays out.
But if the Steelers are intent on taking advantage of every snap that Roethlisberger has left at wide receiver at No. 15 overall is very much in play despite the more pressing needs they have on defense.