View Full Version : On The Steelers: Unsung Colbert quietly molds another elite team

02-01-2011, 06:13 AM
On The Steelers: Unsung Colbert quietly molds another elite team
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

No one hears much from Kevin Colbert during the season. But it's tough to argue with his track record as director of player personnel with the Steelers.

DALLAS -- It took Kevin Colbert 20 years of hard labor on the National Football League scouting prairies before he finally landed in the lush oasis of a Super Bowl.

He grew up in Pittsburgh, a Steelers fan who followed in the footsteps of the Rooneys at North Catholic High School. As such, Super Bowls and Lombardi Trophies seemed a birthright, and then Colbert went to work as a scout and discovered they were not.

Starting in Miami in 1985, six years with the Dolphins. Then 10 years with the Lions in Detroit. And then coming home to Pittsburgh and the Steelers, another five years, two coming agonizingly close, before his team reached its first Super Bowl after the 2005 season. And won. And got there again three years later. And won. And now they are here again.

Super Bowls have become commonplace for Pittsburghers again and a lot of credit should go to Colbert, yet it does not. He has never won the executive of the year, which the Sporting News has chosen since 1955. Bill Polian has won it six times, and while Polian is recognized as an excellent general manager, he has one Super Bowl ring. Scott Pioli of Kansas City won it this year because the Chiefs were so bad the previous year.

Yet, Colbert keeps stocking teams that have gone to five AFC championship games in the past 10 years and can win their third Super Bowl in that time. Again this year, he's staring at draft picks near the bottom of each round and not the middle or top.

"I don't care," Colbert said, shrugging off the award stuff. "As long as we win. The ultimate prize is what counts."

He's a Cool Hand Luke of the Steelers' front office, rarely showing emotion other than an occasional outburst while watching his team play. His big plans for tonight in Dallas? He intends to take in the hockey game between the Canucks and the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center

"The first time it was almost, like, incomprehensible that you were going," Colbert said about cracking his personal Super Bowl ice in 2005. "And then we were fortunate enough to win it. Because it had evaded you for so long, it proves that if you stay with it, maybe good fortune will come your way."

He knows all the talk about three Super Bowls in six seasons or extending the record by bringing back a seventh Lombardi Trophy. Colbert, like a good scout, doesn't get distracted by looking at past accomplishments.

"Really, this isn't about us being here for the third time, it's about this team, this 53 and eight-man practice squad. Sure, for guys who have been here before it's nice, but the focus has to be on this group, chasing this championship. It isn't about three and it isn't about seven, it's about this group."

Colbert maintains a policy of not speaking about the team during the season. The exception he makes, almost because he must, is at Super Bowls. Monday, he touched on a variety of subjects:

He does not regret releasing rookie linebacker Thaddeus Gibson to make room for another defensive end on the roster, Steve McClendon, because they did not put Aaron Smith on injured reserve. Smith has not played and McClendon has not played in the past seven games. Gibson, claimed by the 49ers, did not play much with them.

"When anybody claims one of your players that you wanted to keep in your fold some way, some how, sure you're disappointed. But you understand that can happen and it's a risk you have to take. But a guy like Aaron Smith on your roster is very important -- even if he doesn't make it, yes. Because you had to keep alive that possibility that he could make it because he's that important to us."

Colbert said the Steelers have not discussed which impending free agents they might sign before March 3, which will either mark the beginning of the free agency signing period or the beginning of the lockout. Willie Colon? Ike Taylor? LaMarr Woodley? Not a clue, he maintained. And Colbert added that he's not permitted to talk about anything beyond March 3.

"We really have spent very little time talking about next year. We haven't had any discussions about next year. We're really behind. When you get this deep into the playoffs, you fall behind on a lot of things because everybody's focused on the task at hand. Once we get out of here, then we'll talk about the next steps ... I can't even say anything about potential free agency."

Many believe this is among his best rookie draft classes in his 11 years doing it with the Steelers. Colbert acknowledges that Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey exceeded all expectations, and the contributions others have made, such as wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. He'll wait for the final analysis.

"We always judge a rookie class by where we are. To this point, we're as far as we can be and if they help us win the Super Bowl, great. That's the only way to judge any class of players -- draftees or free agents or unrestricted free agents. You hope for the best results and again we've gone pretty far with this group. We hope the journey is not over."

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11032/1122063-66.stm#ixzz1ChzsoeIO

02-01-2011, 06:15 AM
View From The Press Box
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Kevin Colbert Q&A
January 31st, 2011

Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert talked extensively Monday about a number of subject, including the job Mike Tomlin has done, the support the Steelers have shown Ben Roethlisberger and the decision to keep defensive end Aaron Smith on the roster. Here is his Q&A from Monday.

Q: Do you hate as a guy who collects talent to lose a fourth-round pick in Thaddeus Gibson because you kept Aaron Smith on the roster.

A: “When anybody claims one of your players that you wanted to keep in the fold some way, somehow, sure you’re always disappointed but you understand that can happen and those are risks that you have to take. A guy like Aaron Smith being on the roster, it’s very important even if he doesn’t (play in the Super Bowl) because you had to keep alive that possibility because he is that important.”

Q: How happy are you with how rookies have come through this year?

A: “We always judge a rookie class by where we are and to this point we’re as far as we can be. If they help us win a Super Bowl great and that’s the only way you judge any class of player, be it draftees or college free agents or unrestricted free agents.”

Q: Did the class as a whole exceed your expectations?

A: “No, we don’t have a crystal ball when we take a group of guys and put them together. You hope for the best results and we’ve gone pretty far with this group. We hope the journey’s not over. That, to me, is how you decide the worth of any group of players, is the end result.”

Q: Did you draft Emmanuel Sanders and/or Antonio Brown because Santonio Holmes had been traded?

A: “We never draft for need. Obviously we didn’t have the same group of players that we had from the previous season so if there’s a guy available that fits an area you might be looking at, sure you take him. When we took Emmanuel Sanders we felt better about that position. As the draft moved on we addressed some other things and when a guy like Antonio was still available he was too good to pass up.”

Q: It’s a tough position to come in and produce right away yet you had these two following Mike Wallace…

A: “They followed pretty much the same pattern. They all came in and were backups that played in different packages. They learned and those packages expand as the coaching staff and quarterback gets comfortable with them and they with Ben as well so that’s more like a natural progression.”

Q: Did you anticipate the signing of Flozell Adams working out this well?

A: “When Willie (Colon) got hurt, obviously the pool of players is going to be limited because everybody has pretty much picked over the free agents that are left. Fortunately there was a veteran guy like that left in Flozell. The only problem was he had been a left tackle the majority of his career. The majority of his college career he had played right tackle but his NFL experience was almost exclusively at left (tackle). When you get into those situations I know the coaching staff’s preference was to switch as few people as possible and that’s what we hoped we were going to be able to do with Flozell. I can’t say enough about what (offensive line coach) Sean Kugler did with him and what Flozell did in accepting that change, to move to the right side. I mean it’s a five-time Pro Bowl guy going into his 13th year and he’s willing to make that move. It was fortunate for us.”

Q: Does it ever bother that you’ve never won Executive of the Year?

A: “No. As long as we win the ultimate prize, that’s all that counts.”

Q: Are there players, such as cornerback Ike Taylor, you want to lock up before the CBA expires on March 3?

A: “Honestly, we have not had any discussion about next year. When you get this deep into the playoffs you fall behind on a lot of things because everybody’s focusing on the task at hand.”

Q: Is three to four weeks enough time to sign those guys if you want?

A: “Once we get out of here then we’ll talk about the next step but we really haven’t. All we’re worried about beyond this is I have to continue our draft preparations because I know that’s going to happen.”

Q: You said last April that you didn’t condone Ben Roethlisberger’s behavior but that he deserved the chance to make things right…

A: “I’m not surprised by his success on the field nor his behavior off the field since that time.”

Q: Did teams call you about him?

A: “No but if you remember our regular protocol in pre draft is pro scouts are going to call every team. Are you interested in trading up or trading down? Do you have any players available? We never shopped anybody in that period. We never actively shopped any player.”

Q: Do you see this team as being able to continue to compete for Super Bowls with some older players?

A: “I hope. The goal of the organization is to have a chance to compete every year so we have a chance this year. Beyond that we’ll try to re tool it and see where we stand. But quite honestly we haven’t thought (ahead), except for draft preparation.”

Q: Is it safe to say Maurkice Pouncey exceeded your expectations as a rookie?

A: “Yes. Maurkice was a junior and any time you take a junior you never expect instant contribution because we always say you’re getting them for their senior year. Couple that with that he was going to play the most difficult position as a center. That’s why coach Tomlin started him at guard so he could ease him into learning because there’s so much connunication that has to come out of that position. Much to our surprise he exceeded (expectations). We thought he could do it eventually. Nobody thought he could do it instantly.”

Q: Are you going to draft his brother?

A: “His brother’s pretty good.”

Q: Is it cool that two teams with this much history are playing in the Super Bowl.

A: “I will say this: The Green Bay Packers are a first-class, top-notch organization. I respect their president Mark Murphy, their general manager Ted Thompson and of course Mike McCarthy. From top to bottom they’re a class group, and it’s going to be fun to compete with them for this championship.”

Q: Do you need to re-build your (offensive) line

A: “We never go into an draft looking for this position or that position. We try to get young guys coming up behind. Who knows where we’re going to be come April but we’re not going to go into anything saying ‘OK, we have to rebuild this, this and this.’ We’ll go into it, ‘We could use this more than we could use that.’ But when you make the mistakes it’s because you force yourself to do one or the other.”

Q: Have you shown with success of your wide receivers that you really don’t need to use a: a first-round pick on wide receiver?

A: “I don’t know. We’ve had successful No. 1s with Santonio and Plaxico too. I think that’s more on those players proving that you don’t have to be a first rounder to be a contributor.”

Q: Did Jason Worilds get lost in the shuffle this season?

A: “That’s typical for that position. Those guys rarely contribute at that position for the first couple of years. If you just look at the history of it before I got here Jason (Gildon) and Joey (Porter) and Clark (Haggans) and James (Harrison) and (LaMarr) Woodley. They come into their own once they learn it and Worilds have done a nice job of contributing on special teams while he is learning the position. And he happens to be playing behind two Pro Bowl-caliber guys.”

Q: What do you think of the job Mike Tomlin has done this season?

A: “I think it’s been awesome. We’ve had our challenges, coming into the season, throughout the season. I think coach Tomlin has done a great job of keeping this team focused on the task at hand.”

Q: Think this might be his top coaching job based on all of the circumstances?

A: “Every year it’s new, it’s different. It depends. It depends on where we’re sitting next Monday. That’s what we all believe.”

Q: What are the challenge of drafting late when you’re successful on the field?

A: “If you’re successful you’re going to draft later and you want that that. Look every year there’s players available. I was doing some draft work on the way down (Monday) and we’re either picking 31st or 32nd (in the first round) but I feel good that there’s going to be players that can help this team in this year’s draft.”

Q: It took 20 years for you to make a Super Bowl (in 2005) after breaking into the NFL as a scout. What was that like?

A: “The first time it was almost incomprehensible that you were going. Then we were fortunate enough to win it because it evaded you for so long but it kind of proved if you stayed with it maybe good fortune will come your way.”
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