Kovacevic: Questions for Colbert? Please hold

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert watches the team during training camp in August 2013 at St. Vincent in Latrobe.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert watches the team during training camp in August 2013 at St. Vincent in Latrobe.
Photo by Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
| Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 10:53 p.m.

Kevin Colbert is your quintessential Pittsburgh everyman. He's the guy working the barbecue, your next door neighbor, your favorite uncle.

And the Steelers' GM is no less approachable in a professional setting, whether it's with his employees or even with us evil media types. To the latter, if Colbert's sought out for an interview at any point from January through August, he'll answer anything a reporter might want.

Just not in the regular season.

Did you know that?

The practice began with Tom Donahoe, director of football operations under Bill Cowher. Colbert held that title for 11 years, then had it revised to the more conventional title of general manager three years ago. But the no-talking-in-season policy didn't change, the only exception coming in the playoffs when the NFL mandates access.

If there's another team policy like this in pro sports, I'm unaware of it, at least not in the NFL, NHL or Major League Baseball. Ray Shero is available all through the Penguins' season, Neal Huntington all through the Pirates' season. Heck, I've talked with both those guys beyond midnight on game nights.

The Steelers' expressed thinking is that the team's voice remains a singular one, that of Mike Tomlin. They're never conflicted, never contradictory. And the truth is — let's be honest — no one has really cared. It's one of those cute things, one of those oh-that's-just-how-the-Steelers-do-it quirks that, really, wouldn't affect anyone so long as the team was winning.

The problem now, of course, is that the team isn't winning.

And as a result, there are legit, hard but fair questions to be asked of this franchise — right now, not in January — that only Colbert can answer. Not for my benefit or for anyone in the media. But for one of the world's most widespread and passionate fan bases that's demanding and deserving of answers.

Anyway, like a trick-or-treater ringing a doorbell even though all the lights are out and the blinds pulled down, I put in a request with the Steelers early Wednesday morning to interview Colbert. I was, predictably, rejected by media relations with the standard explanation that Colbert “does not speak during the regular season.”

But hey, since I did put in time coming up with questions for Colbert, thought I'd share five of them right here with you:

1. Who picks the players?

This is huge right now, given the 2008 and 2009 drafts that, at the moment, have only Ziggy Hood and a whole lot of Limas Sweed to show for them.

Tomlin was asked this same question Tuesday at his news conference and tersely came back: “I take responsibility for the players we've drafted.”

It was noble, but it told us nothing about the process or how to fix it.

2. No, really, who picked Jason Worilds when it's commonly known your scouts pushed for Sean Lee?

In 2010, Lee went in the second round to the Cowboys, 55th overall and three spots after another linebacker, Worilds. Worilds still can't start on a regular basis, but Lee was just named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October — 99 tackles, three QB pressures, six passes defensed and four picks — and is being cited as an early MVP candidate.


Not to mention, Lee played at Upper St. Clair and Penn State, right under the Steelers' noses.

This was a franchise-changing call.

3. Knowing this team had immediate needs, how could it invest a fourth-round pick in a clipboard holder?

Hello, Landry Jones.

And based on his preseason, it won't be long before the Steelers say goodbye, Landry Jones.

4. Did even a shred of long-term thinking go into the cap planning?

Under current projections for 2014, seven players — Ben Roethlisberger, LaMarr Woodley, Ike Taylor, Lawrence Timmons, Troy Polamalu, Heath Miller and Antonio Brown — will count $84 million toward the cap.

What's left?

Try $40 million for the remaining 46 players.

5. It's commonly discussed in football circles that the Steelers are one of the few NFL teams way behind in advanced statistical analysis. If that is the case, how can that be excused in the critical area of evaluating college talent?

Tomlin gave only a vague answer on this a couple of weeks ago. But give Tomlin credit. He was as forthright as I've ever heard him Tuesday, and he's been that way most of this fall. I haven't found all his answers satisfactory, but I also appreciate that he hasn't been ducking questions.

Do me a favor, Kevin Colbert, please: Clip and save this column. I'll never remember all this by the time the calendar flips into 2014.

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