The Steelers unsung hero
Thursday, January 13, 2011 01:00 AM
Written by Bob Smizik
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He doesnít get much attention and prefers it that way. If his name never made the papers, heíd be happy. But every so often, in the midst of a Steelers success, itís only fitting and proper to bring attention to one of the teamís unsung heroes.
And Iím not talking about David Johnson.
When the Steelers named Kevin Colbert as their director of football operations early in 2000 -- following the stunning firing of Tom Donahoe -- it looked like Dan Rooney was rewarding another North Catholic graduate, which happens to be his alma mater.
If Miami of Ohio is the cradle of football coaches, North Catholic in particular and the North Side in general is the spawner of football scouts. And, as you might expect with Rooneyís guiding hand, most of them have been good ones. But Colbert is a cut above.
Look at his nine-year record: Two Super Bowls and going for three; six division titles; seven playoff berths. This isnít to suggest Colbert is single-handedly responsible for these accomplishments, but heís be integral to them.
Itís not like Colbert has achieved his success by throwing around big-time money in free agency. As is well known, the Steelers donít go heavily into that area of player acquisition. They believe in building through the draft and re-signing those players.
Not that Colbert hasnít made some terrific free-agent signings. Jeff Hartings, a guard at Detroit, became a Pro Bowl center with the Steelers and a key players in the Super Bowl XL win. James Farrior was an OK linebacker with the Jets. Heís become a star and a great leader with the Steelers and was instrumental in two Super Bowl wins.
Colbert took some criticism when he signed the then 33-year-old Farrior to a five-year contract before the 2008 season. The conventional wisdom was if the Steelers got two good years out of Farrior, the deal would be a wash. Anything more and it would be a success. Farrior is three years into that contract, which already makes it a bargain, and it looks like No. 4 -- something no one expected -- is up ahead. Farrior is having one of his best seasons.
Ryan Clark also has been a productive starter, who was signed in free agency.
But itís the draft where Colbert and his scouting staff earn their pay.
Has he drafted guys who didnít earn their paychecks? Absolutely. It happens to everyone. But the Steelers record speaks eloquently to how well they have done in the main area of player procurement.
Usually, it takes a couple of years to determine the quality of a draft. But the Steelers 2010 draft already is a raging success. It would be if center Maurkice Pouncey was the only player the Steelers selected. But in addition to Pouncey, the Steelers are receiving significant contributions from Emmanuel Sanders. Jason Worlids and Antonio Brown also could be future starters.
Quickly going through Colbertís drafts:
2000: Starters: Plaxico Burress (first round), Marvel Smith (second) and Clark Haggans (fifth). Two others players forged successful careers elsewhere: Kendrick Clancy (third) and Hank Poteat (third).
2001: Starters: Casey Hampton (first round), Kendrell Bell (second).
2002: Starters: Kendall Simmons (first round), Chris Hope (third), Larry Foote (fourth), Brett Keisel (seventh). Backup on note: Antwaan Randle El (second), Verron Hayes (fifth).
2003: Troy Polamalu (first round), Ike Taylor (fourth). Only five choices this year.
2004: Starters: Ben Roethlisberger (first round), Max Starks (third).
2005: Starters: Heath Miller (first round), Bryant McFadden (second), Chris Kemoeatu (sixth). Backup of note: Trai Essex (third).
2006: Starters: Santonio Holmes (first round), Willie Colon (fourth).
2007: Starters: Lawrence Timmons (first round), LaMarr Woodley (second), Daniel Sepulveda (fourth), William Gay (fifth). Backup of note: Matt Spaeth (third).
2008: Starter: Rashard Mendenhall (first).
2009: Starters: Ziggy Hood (first), Mike Wallace (third). Backup of note: David Johnson.
There have been great, good, average and poor drafts. But the final evaluation of these drafts and of Colbertís work is the product on the field. The Steelers are going for a third Super Bowl in six years and theyíre doing it mostly with players drafted by Colbert.