GM Colbert: Steelers are not old or in transition
INDIANAPOLIS—To Kevin Colbert, the Steelers aren't in turmoil or in transition.
They're also not chasing the Ravens. Or ready to concede that, despite an aging and much-injured collection of core players and an 8-8 record, they can't contend for the Super Bowl next season.
Colbert, speaking Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine, wouldn't comment about any prospective player, be it draft pick, possible free agent or any of his own unsigned players, including Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis or Rashard Mendenhall.
But he disputed wide receiver Antonio Brown's remarks to ESPN that the locker room was divided during a disappointing 2012 season that was littered with multiple injuries and bad losses to the Raiders, Titans and Browns.
Brown hinted at a leadership void — former team leaders such as James Farrior and Hines Ward departed — by saying, “Our team was a team last year where guys really wasn't together.”
Neither Colbert nor coach Mike Tomlin sensed that.
“Whether you win a Super Bowl or finish 8-8, there's not a 100 percent harmonious locker room,” Colbert said. “Quite honestly, I'm not concerned about our locker room. Coach Tomlin and I have had the opportunity to speak to our players, sometimes more than once, since the season ended. We have a very good finger on the pulse of where we stand from a team standpoint, and we're comfortable with that.”
Even if he remains uncomfortable with being a .500 team in a division that produced the Super Bowl champion.
“We have to change things to, first of all, get in compliance with the (salary) cap, which we'll do by March 12,” Colbert said. “And then we have to be open to any way we can to improve this team. Coming out of this (pre-draft) process this week, we'll have a much better idea of where we stand.”
Colbert offered no hints of who the cap-strapped Steelers might pursue in free agency or which position might be targeted in the April draft, saying it's too early.
But he said he believes it's not too late for many of these well-into-their-30s players to be a title contender.
“I don't want to say (the Steelers are in) transition because that means you're going to accept anything less than a Super Bowl,” Colbert said. “Obviously change has to occur over time, and you hope that you prepared and drafted or signed free agents to deal with that change as it occurs.”
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who turns 76 in September, also doesn't believe this team is done — especially a defense that was No. 1 statistically again last season.
“I still have dreams … I still have things I want to get done with these guys,” LeBeau said.
Colbert, the only Steelers executive or coach who will speak publicly at the combine, also said:
• There's a difference between being experienced and being too old. “Sure, we have some old players, but they are significant players,” he said.
• There is no assurance inside linebacker Sean Spence will fully recover from the devastating preseason knee injury that wiped out his rookie season. “We have to keep our fingers crossed that he does have a recovery,” Colbert said. “That will be determined over the next few months.”
• He won't count on tight end Heath Miller making a full recovery from his ACL injury until a year out, or December — the same approach he took with Mendenhall last season.
• The Steelers haven't ruled out bringing back any of their free agents, including Mendenhall, because market value won't be determined until the free-agent signing period begins.