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Steelers GM Colbert looks at NFL Combine as important piece of puzzle

| Monday, Feb. 16, 2015, 9:45 p.m.
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Former Texas A&M offensive lineman Jake Matthews runs the 40-yard dash during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on Feb. 22, 2014, in Indianapolis.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert values the NFL Scouting Combine as much as his counterparts.

Colbert realizes how important the week-long poking, prodding, measuring, weighing, testing and interviewing of 323 potential draft picks invited to Indianapolis is in the evaluation process leading up to the NFL Draft.

But to Colbert, it's just another piece to the puzzle — a piece that has rarely, if ever, changed his mind on a player.

The Combine kicks off Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis with orientation and interviews of kickers, offensive linemen and tight ends, and wraps up Monday with on-field workouts by defensive backs.

Colbert and his staff of nearly a dozen scouts, along with Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff, won't try to decipher who is a good football player based on 40-yard dashes and bench presses or even on-field workouts. The Steelers contingent wants to reaffirm what they believe they already know.

“The amount of work that the scouts did throughout the fall really sets the table for the Combine,” Colbert said. “The Combine just verifies a lot of that information from a physical standpoint (and) a workout standpoint.

“You want to verify your beliefs from the film evaluations.”

Each weekend during the college season, Steelers scouts travel all over the country to get a first-hand look at players. They follow that up by studying film on players. By mid-February, the organization has a pretty good idea who they like.

“I learned that a long time ago,” Colbert said. “If you don't like the guy as a player and he works out good, you just know that he works out good.

“Maybe he doesn't like to play. Maybe he can't apply his athleticism to the game.

“Whatever the reason is, if you like a guy and he doesn't work out good, you should probably still like him.”

It has become more and more difficult to make a proper evaluation from the Combine alone.

There are dozens of facilities that specifically train players in the Combine measurable 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, 20-yard shuttle, 3-cone drill and bench press.

Since the event started in 1982, players who hold the record in the Combine events — Justin Ernest (bench press), Jeff Maehl (3-cone drill), Kevin Kasper (20-yard shuttle) and Scott Starks (broad jump) — didn't parlay that into successful NFL careers.

The exceptions are Chris Johnson in the 40-yard dash and Gerald Sensabaugh in the vertical jump. Johnson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.24 in 2008 and went on to be one of seven players ever to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.

Sensabaugh played eight seasons with the Cowboys and Jaguars.

“(The Combine) helps verify what you believe or don't believe,” Colbert said. “But if you draft them just because they work out good, 99 percent of the time (it) will be a mistake.”

One position where drills are evaluated a little more for the Steelers is outside linebacker. The Steelers like to convert 3-4 college defensive ends into outside rush linebackers. They did it with Joey Porter, LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds.

Part of the workout for linebackers is to drop into coverage, something converted defensive ends rarely do in college.

“Most of the outside linebackers in our defense have come from the defensive end position,” Colbert said. “Most of them have been real successful when they have stood up. We just have to make those same types of decisions and picks as we go forward.”

With Worilds, Arthur Moats and James Harrison free agents, the Steelers likely are in the market for a rush outside linebacker in the draft.

Nebraska's Randy Gregory, Missouri's Shane Ray and Florida's Dante Fowler Jr. all are converted defensive ends who are being projected to go in the first round.

“That's probably one of the positions that is potentially strong,” Colbert said. “And I say potentially because outside linebackers for the most part are projections.

“But right now there are a nice group of candidates for that position.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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