The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 21, 2014

Steelers GM impressed with talent in this year’s draft

BY RON MUSSELMAN
sports@tribdem.com

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Kevin Colbert’s eyes light up when he talks about the 2014 NFL draft.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and this is the deepest draft that I’ve ever seen.” the Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager said Thursday on the opening day of the NFL Scouting Combine.

A record 102 underclassmen declared for the draft, and more than 330 player prospects are gathered here to be poked and prodded over the next several days.

Although the Steelers have the 15th overall pick, Colbert was quick to point out that the underclassmen scare him to some degree.

“With the juniors and redshirt sophomores, we are cautiously optimistic about their emotional and physical readiness for this huge jump,” he said. “Even though it's the most talented group I've seen, it's probably the most immature group.

"We have to be prepared for more player development-type programs to get the development out of these players."

The good news for the Steelers is that the May draft is rich with talent at wide receiver, cornerback and offensive tackle.

Colbert said he and his scouting staff department trust their instincts when it comes to picking players.

“The information is endless,” he said. “It can be overwhelming if you let it. You still have to go by what you’re seeing when they play. You have to true to your evaluations. The films, the games, the practices, from a physical standpoint and not get caught up with all the buzz about players.

“A lot of times you to remove the emotion all the hype. The hype’s great. It helps makes our game what it is. But when you’re evaluating, you try to remove that emotion and just really make a decision based on how the guy plays football.”

Colbert realizes the urgency for the Steelers to shake things up. If they don’t, they could remain pretenders in the AFC rather than contenders.

The Steelers were winless in the preseason and started the regular season 0-4 – their worst start in 45 years - before rebounding to go 6-2 the second half of the season.

But their 8-8 record this past season wasn’t good enough to earn them a playoff berth, and the Steelers missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since Colbert, a Pittsburgh native, took over as GM in 2000.

“When you go 8-8 in back-to-back years, it’s a huge disappointment, not only to our fans, but the organization,” Colbert said. “We feel it every day. It’s not something we’re comfortable with.

“I’m sure organizations that are used to winning – anybody who’s not in the playoffs after you’ve been there – it can devastating. 

“But we have to fight through it and hopefully we’re not talking about that next year.”

Colbert acknowledged the Steelers have some work to do in order to get under the salary cap – they’re $8.67 million over according to overthecap.com - before the NFL’s free agency period starts March 11.

But he didn’t discuss specifics, such as whether the team would restructure quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s contract or release former Pro Bowl linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Roethlisberger’s cap hit in 2014 is $18.95 million. Woodley would count more than $14.17 million against the cap next season if he is cut today.

“When you’re trying to judge the cap, there’s a different facet every day,” Colbert said. “There’s so many moving parts between now and March 11, it’s hard to nail it down. “We’ll continue to watch it, continue to monitor it, and make adjustments as need be. But it’s a very fluid situation.”

Word surfaced Thursday that the NFL will raise its cap to $130 million in 2014, up from $123 million.

“I think that’s a welcome rumor,” Colbert said. “We have no information on the cap and I don’t anticipate us getting that until close to March 11. We have to prepare for the worst and see where it lands.

“You don’t want to have a false hope that it’s going to be there and then it’s not. We still have to prepare off what we were working off last year and maybe add to it. Those numbers are floating around but they haven’t been substantiated.”