Pittsburgh Steelers GM Kevin Colbert met the press for almost an hour on Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. Courtesy of Ken Laird’s blog on Trib Live, here is the transcript of the media session with Colbert. Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3 all included below.
What’s the latest with Hines Ward?
“Hines Ward is still on our roster. We won’t know again, once we get the salary cap figure we’ll know how much more work we have to do. We’ve done some work in forms of restructurings, we’ve done a few terminations, and they’ll be more of both to come. We just don’t know what combination that’s going to be. As of right now Hines Ward is still a Pittsburgh Steeler and a great part of our history because he’s been such a great contributor.
We don’t know what we’re dealing with from a cap standpoint, so we don’t know. We have to look at multiple scenarios as to what we can and can’t do. And what we’re going to have to do. I can honestly say there can be more restructuring and there still can be more terminations, and that’s where we have to leave it.”
Is their value in having an elder statesman like Hines Ward around to help the younger guys?
“I think there’s value in having experienced player at a group because you want someone to show them the way beyond their coaches, sure. But again ultimately that player has to be able to help you win. And not only be a mentor but a contributor as well.”
How important is it for your 4th or 5th WR to play special teams?
“I mean it’s usually important, last year we had six [receivers] and we had Arnaz Battle who was mainly a special teamer and then of course Antonio Brown was our primary return guy. They both did play teams, so you want to be able to if you can, great, but that won’t be a deal breaker whether a guy’s on the team or not. I think it’s more of a bonus. That’s why Arnaz was on our team last year.”
Are you surprised you are in this much salary cap problem?
“No, we knew during the uncapped season we ran above the cap, we weren’t the only team to do that. And we knew there could be consequences somewhere down the road for doing that, and obviously there are. And we expected to be where we are right now. We’ll continue to deal with it, and we will be in compliance by March 13th but how we’re going to get there over the next two-and-a-half weeks I can’t tell you because I don’t know what we’re dealing with from a cap number.”
On the team’s RB situation:
“We’re pretty sure we won’t have Mendenhall early, so we’ll have to see what mix we come out with.”
Would you have to pay Mendenhall if you put him on IR?
“If there’s performance bonuses and a guy doesn’t perform, it could lessen it. Anything that’s concrete is concrete. They make the same money on ‘Physically Unable to Perform’ that they do on active. Because you’re actually an active player until you go on reserve, and then you still get complemented fully. We’re not expecting him to be on IR for the year. What I said a few weeks back was an ACL could take a year to be 100%. That doesn’t mean you can’t play. A lot of guys play at 70%, 80%, so after 6-weeks he gets three weeks of practice. After those three weeks you have to decide whether to activate him or to put him on Reserve-PUP for the season. We anticipate he will be active someday.”
Where is Hampton relative to Mendenhall?
“I think Hamp, it’s a different position so you don’t have to worry about speed, you don’t have to worry about the quick change of direction when you talk about offensive or defensive linemen. And the one edge that Casey will have on anybody it he’s been through this twice and he knows what to expect, how he’s going to feel at a certain point and when he feels he’s healthy. What else can you do, it is what it is.”
Some people expected his career to be over with this third knee injury.
“We don’t necessarily share that view because again, he knows how to do this. He knows how much work he’s going to have to do and he knows how to do it.”
Do you expect him to be on the team this year?
How do you know if Issac Redman and Steve McLendon can handle the load?
“You don’t. Until someone goes the distance and plays sixteen games, you don’t know they can. If they show it over four or five there’s a good chance they can but until they do it we always say ‘We don’t know.’ We’re just hoping that they can.
Any concern with Maurkice Pouncey’s high ankle injury?
“No. The last reports we got in that last time we’ve seen him he was progressing just fine. Without my medical degree, high ankle sprains are difficult injuries, and then when you re-injure it sometimes you’ve got to do some procedures to shore that joint up. It’s not uncommon if there’s been multiple injuries on that joint.”
Did you say that Marcus Gilbert is going to be your starting LT next year?
“Ultimately that’s Coach Tomlin’s decision. If something would have happened in a game to Max Starks, sure Marcus Gilbert would have kicked over to LT and Jonathan Scott would have gone in at RT. This year we get Willie Colon back which we’re very excited about, we haven’t had him for two seasons and he had been our starting RT. So if we were to start a season right now, that’s my guess but ultimately that’s Coach Tomlin’s call.”
Any urgency you feel you need to address this year on defense more than any other?
“No. We’ve got one guy who is unrestricted and that’s William Gay. So, I think it’s a progressive replacement is what we try to do. We did that with Ziggy Hood, we did it with Cam Heyward coming into the mix. So, you just try to keep guys coming up from behind providing depth and providing competition. It’s no different than it has been, really.”
Is it possible you can bring both of your backup quarterbacks back?
Is it likely?
“I think so. I hope so. I think they’re comfortable being part of it, and they understand the room. So yeah, I think they’re open to that. They want to wait and see what’s out there for them because when you’re playing behind a great quarterback like that maybe you want to go somewhere else and have a better opportunity to start.”
How about Dennis Dixon?
“I think being a young quarterback, I anticipate Dennis will [test the market], and I anticipate Dennis will have a lot of interest around the league. I don’t think the league has seen the best of Dennis Dixon yet only because he’s been behind a great quarterback and he’s been held back by some injuries. Even coming into the league he’s been behind the eight-ball with the knee injury like he had.”
Who was the last fullback you had on the roster and do you miss that?
“Danny Kreider. Not necessarily, I mean whatever group you have you’re going to try to run the type of offense that they’re going to be best at. So whether or not we have a fullback in the mix I can’t say. I don’t think anybody knows at this point. Until our offensive staff, particularly Todd, gains an understanding of the players we do have and then we’ll have to see what players we can add.”
Do you expect Todd Haley do make drastic changes to the offense?
“I think any coach coming into a situation just like Mike [Tomlin] did and we had a 3-4 team, he looked at what we had, what we did, how we did it, and decided he wants to maybe add his personal touches but for the most part not change, so it’s hard to come in and drastically change your philosophy because of the group of players that you have. You can’t make drastic... you can’t overhaul a whole roster in a season nor are we looking to because this group of players have been successful. So I think he’ll learn what we have, we’ll learn what he’s kind of thinking about or looking for in a player and we’ll try to keep progressing.”
On TE Wes Saunders’ suspension:
“The only thing I can say about the suspension is that it was a suspension for performance enhancing drugs, which is a one-time violation as opposed to street drugs which is usually a cumulation of violations. He will be suspended once the regular season starts.”
What kind of dilemma are you in with Mike Wallace?
“Having a great player like Mike Wallace is never a dilemma. Once we determine what his tender will be and then we’ll know what our compensation will be I’m pretty sure it’ll be with a first round pick at minimum. There’s always a franchise possibility. But not knowing what our cap situation is until we get a final cap number, I really can’t say but we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that Mike Wallace remains a Pittsburgh Steeler and I think that’s Mike’s belief as well. So usually when you have two parties that share the same goal it’s usually easier to achieve that goal.
We want Mike to finish his career with the Steelers, and I’m very confident that Mike wants to finish his career with the Steelers and play with a great quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger and the other receivers we have to compliment him. We think we’ve only scratched the surface in what he can do. There’s a lot left there that still can be developed and we’re anxious to see it happen as a Steeler.”
Do you think with the restructuring you can clear that much cap room if need be to franchise tag someone?
“Is it likely? No. Is it still a possibility, yes. It would take a lot of work, but again not knowing what I’m dealing with, I can’t answer it concretely.”
Do you think another team would come in and offer a first round pick and a contract to Mike Wallace?
“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if that happened. But ultimately, it’s our call. We’ll just wait and see where things go. Mike’s a restricted free agent. If we tender him, he’ll have the opportunity to entertain offers but ultimately it’s our decision.”
Why do you like him so much?
“Because he can run fast and he’s hard to cover.”
Are you surprised there are so many questions about an RFA?
“No because Mike’s a unique RFA. Usually those types of guys are first or second round picks and coming off a four-year deal, and they usually miss the RFA period. So a great player like Mike who developed into a Pro Bowl guy over the last three years, he now is a restricted free agent. It is unusual. And this year the rules are different.”
Why do you negotiate three-year contracts?
“I don’t know that’s just what we do. I mean, some teams extend them even longer, we try do a fair deal for the round in which they’re taken.”
How many deals do you have to restructure to keep Wallace?
“Until we get that final cap number, we’re still guessing as to how much more work we have to do. We’ve already done some restructuring, we know we’re going to have to do more, we know we’re going to have to terminate players. We just don’t know what combination, or how much restructuring we have left.”
How difficult is drafting players?
“It is guesswork. I always say you don’t know a player until you’ve had him in your locker-room for three years, at least. People will say that’s a cop-out, but it’s the truth. Until you get a guy in your locker-room, see him practice, see him in meetings, see him interact in the building, you don’t know what you have. So you have to do as much research as you can to limit the mistakes you can potentially make.”
Is any part of the NFL Combine meaningless?
“No, you learn about a player walking into this building watching how he interacts with [the media], you learn about him when he runs a 40-yard dash, you learn about him in the interview. In every drill, you might learn about some athletic trait you didn’t see. As much as we can get out of this process, I don’t think anything’s meaningless. You’re never going to pick a guy based on one athletic trait, but all of it’s important in putting together the whole picture.”
How do you think free agency will look this year?
“I think there’ll be a flurry like there always is early, then I think there’ll be a lull. And then I think it’ll be a big back-end market because there’s going to be a lot of players left with contracts after that initial wave, after that initial wave probably more than ever. Teams will be scrambling to add guys they can still fit under their cap. It’ll keep unwinding up until the draft.”
Is nose tackle less of an important position nowadays?
“No, because you can’t get to third down unless you stop ‘em on first and second. So that’s important. Traditionally anybody you take in the first round you want them to be three down players. But, a nose tackle chances are you’re not going to get him if you don’t take him high because they’re worth that much. Can you take a players who’s not a three down player high? Absolutely. But it’s got to be unique and they’ve got to be special and nose tackle is a special part of our defense.”
Will it remain so?
On the nose tackle crop in the 2012 Draft:
“It’s a good group. It’s not as deep as a couple of the other positions but there’s enough that we’ll have opportunities to look at some in higher rounds.”
What do you think of this draft’s offensive line group?
“It’s a little different, a little better on the interior specifically at guard which is unusual than it has been in recent years. Tackles are still good, it’s not as deep as it has been. And center is not very deep at all.”
“It is deeper than it has been. Traditionally, for the last two years, tackles have been bigger, more of them. This year there happens to be more guards. Every year is a little bit different. Except for the tight ends and fullbacks, they’ve been dwindling.”
Do you have to hit the offensive line early in the draft? Is it a mis-perception that you’ve ignored that position in past years?
“I don’t necessarily agree with that, I mean you’re not going to have five rounders we’re very fortunate to have one first rounder up there. Max [Starks] was a third rounder, Marcus Gilbert’s a second rounder, Willie Colon’s a fourth rounder. Sure you fill in with a couple free agents and they develop. Ramon Foster did a great job. Doug Legursky, I mean they developed into NFL starters in some form or fashion. No team has five Pro Bowlers, no team has five first rounders on the offensive line. It’s always going to be a collection of different players.”
On the TE crop in the Draft:
“It’s either 1 or 2 [in rankings] with the least number [of good players]. I think there’s 13 or 14 tight ends [at the combine], well there’s 32 teams. So obviously there’s going to be a deficit in that talent. There are great tight ends in this league, it’s just they’re few and far between coming into the league. So we have to dig a little deeper, make sure we don’t miss guys that maybe aren’t playing in a pro style offense day in and day out but have the ability to do so from a size and athleticism standpoint. We’d have to make sure we try to unearth all those guys and give them their due even though you’re not seeing them do the same thing you’re going to ask them to do.”
How about ILB?
“Not a real deep group.”
“There’s not a lot of numbers in either of those groups. With more teams running 3-4 [defenses] it makes it harder. I wouldn’t say it’s an especially deep group. I think the change in college football you’re seeing more linebackers that can cover, but they’re smaller. They usually have grown out of safety into a small linebacker and they’re usually better cover people than they are rushers that can take on the run.”
Any position you can rule out in the first round?
“Punter. Ok, quarterback. Probably not kicker.”