Steelers GM Colbert: Another playoff miss was 'devastating'
INDIANAPOLIS — Kevin Colbert knows his job is to make sure the word “devastating” doesn't creep into the Steelers' end-of-season vocabulary again.
Nearly two months into an offseason that began once again in December, Colbert knows there is immediate help available in a draft class he calls the best he's seen in 30 years. But there also are many mistakes waiting to be made in the Class of 2014, which he said includes too many underclassmen who declared too early.
The Steelers can't afford any draft day fumbles. Especially this year.
Asked Thursday at the NFL Combine about the importance of this offseason to a franchise that is 16-16 the last two seasons — its worst such record since 1999-2000 — Colbert said, “It's huge.”
“You go 8-8 in back-to-back years, it's a huge disappointment. It is a 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 that is not in the playoffs after you've been there — it can be devastating if you let it.
“Hopefully, we're not talking about that next year.”
Colbert is making clear there will be lineup changes. There were after the Steelers went 8-8 in 2012.
But the Steelers would have to make some dramatic cuts to create enough cap space to make any tangible, multiple moves in free agency, so the draft is expected to be their primary route to immediate improvement. Colbert said there is depth and talent at every position as opposed to many drafts in which some positions were overloaded compared to others.
“This is the deepest draft that I've ever seen. ... But this is a huge jump. Even though it is a more talented group, or the most talented group that I have seen, I am also worried that it is probably the most immature group,” Colbert said. “We have to be prepared ... (for) maybe enhancing your player development to get the most out of these younger players.”
While many fans focus on 40-yard dash times and weightlifting reps to judge players during the combine, Colbert called the in-person interviews more revealing about whether a player will succeed in the NFL. A year ago, for example, nearly one-third of the more than 300 players invited to the combine weren't drafted.
“How they handle sessions like this is huge,” Colbert said. “Experience has told us that many of these younger players for us aren't ready for this. I don't think a lot of them understand that until they get on the playing field and see the increase in the quality of play. But that's the physical part. ... But if you fail emotionally early, it can be overwhelming and sometimes career-ending.”
While players began arriving in Indianapolis earlier this week, their on-field work at Lucas Oil Stadium won't begin until Saturday. Until then, they'll undergo media and team interviews, physicals and other tests.
Some NFL coaches hold news conferences at the combine, but Mike Tomlin won't talk to reporters again until next month at the owners' meetings in Orlando, Fla.