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Harris: Steelers' draft plans shrouded in mystery

| Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Some of what Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said Monday about this week's NFL Draft was spot-on. Some of what Colbert said was obviously scripted. In other words, Colbert said what he meant, even if he didn't always mean what he said.

I mean, everybody knows what the Steelers' most critical draft needs are -- cornerback, tackle, cornerback, guard, cornerback, defensive tackle, cornerback, defensive end.

Colbert didn't yield to the temptation of sharing his intimate thoughts about the draft, which begins Thursday night. He wasn't forthcoming with his opinions, especially when asked about specific players.

When reporters peppered him with inevitable questions about his team's first-round draft pick (No. 31 overall), he reeled off an impressive string of nondenial denials.

"If two or more players are close, we'll always take the player of need," Colbert said after narrowing the talent pool to 100 draft-eligible players the Steelers believe can help them.

And this:

"When the lockout began, this is our team as we know it and we're going to draft accordingly. We're going to draft based on the team that we know we have at this point."

Nothing new there. Then Colbert raised the possibility of the Steelers making a trade.

Through clenched teeth, Colbert disclosed that the Steelers won't reach for a player with their first-round pick -- not even for a cornerback.

"We're going to pick somebody at No. 31 -- if we have to," Colbert said. "If there are offers for our pick, we'll certainly entertain the possibility of (trading) down."

True or false, it was the most revealing thing Colbert had to say because it made perfect sense.

"What we don't do is reach for a specific position," Colbert said. "That's where the biggest mistakes have been made."

Left unsaid is the Steelers don't need a first-round pick to consider their draft a success.

There's enough talent at cornerback to address that position in the second and third round while adding extra draft picks.

The Steelers, however, are less likely to trade their first-rounder if someone like Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod is available.

Asked if he's comfortable with the physical status of players such as tackles Max Starks and Willie Colon, who were sidelined because of injuries, coach Mike Tomlin replied tersely, "I don't know. I haven't seen them."

We know, Coach. We also know that you know the Steelers' offensive line needs an upgrade at tackle.

Sherrod, whose blocks resulted in 22 of his team's 25 touchdowns to lead the nation in 2010, is a left tackle who dominated Southeastern Conference defensive linemen.

Colorado's Nate Solder is another option at tackle for the Steelers. Solder, though, is more suited to play right tackle in the NFL, while Sherrod is a natural left tackle and a better value pick.

Baylor guard Danny Watkins is among the more intriguing first-round options. Watkins is a 26-year-old former fireman from Canada. He's relatively inexperienced despite his advanced age and would need to play next to an experienced tackle because he's still learning.

Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward, who underwent Tommy John surgery in January, might be the best possibility for the Steelers if they consider drafting a defender in the first round. Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau visited Heyward at Ohio State's Pro Day.

Sherrod, Watkins, Solder and Heyward have first-round grades, which makes them more attractive than players such as Texas cornerback Aaron Williams.

Williams' speed -- he ran a pedestrian 4.62 in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine -- is a concern.

Truth be told, the entire draft should be a big concern for Colbert, who had a funny way of showing it by remaining calm at all times.

During yesterday's session, as he deflected probing questions the way Marc-Andre Fleury deflects pucks, Colbert was on top of his game.

It's called posturing, folks. Get used to it.

At least until Thursday night.

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