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Steelers

Inside the Steelers war room

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said Monday that the team's options for their first-round draft choice will be "wide open," but coach Bill Cowher -- for the second time in the past month -- emphasized the importance of addressing the quarterback position.

"You don't want to pass up a chance to get a good quarterback," Cowher said. "Nothing deflates your team quicker than not having someone to run your team. You better not diminish the importance of that position. If you don't have options there, there can be nothing more demoralizing to a football team."

Colbert and Cowher held their first and only predraft news conference in which they refused to discuss draft prospects or the team's needs. Colbert said the Steelers will approach their seven picks -- including the 27th overall choice in the first round -- with "three to five" players who are worthy of being selected at that time.

"That's the ideal we all strive for," Colbert said. "We're going to have some options. We're not going to lock our knees and stick ourselves with having to do anything."

The Steelers, who must replace two of their 22 starters from a year ago, may not have the luxury of choosing the best available athlete.

"With free agency, need does factor in," Colbert said. "But we have a formula, and we are going to follow it and we are never going to reach for a need. If you have three to five players, that would ideally prevent you from reaching. We will try to exercise patience."

The Steelers hope that the need at strong safety with the departure of Lee Flowers will be covered by returning second-year player Chris Hope.

"This is a big year for (Hope)," Cowher said. "He has been great. He has been here (working out) way before (the conditioning program) started last week."

Asked if he is comfortable with Hope, Cowher responded by saying, "He has not played a lot. There is an inexperience that exists there. I think he has flashed. He was not a consistent football player a year ago. We discussed that, him and I.

"So, I think the second year right now in this system, he will feel a lot more comfortable with the calls, with his understanding of his responsibilities."

Cowher said signing veteran free agent safety Sammy Knight "is still an option."

"There is not a question about that. We had some initial talks with him. We will continue to talk," he said.

Drafting a quarterback in the first round -- Florida's Rex Grossman has been linked to the Steelers for several weeks by several outside sources -- would be out of character for the team. The Steelers haven't used their top pick on a quarterback since selecting Mark Malone in 1980.

Plus, it likely would break Colbert's perfect streak. He has drafted a rookie starter with each of his first three No. 1 picks as the team's director of football operations. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress (2000), nose guard Casey Hampton (2001) and offensive guard Kendall Simmons (2002) started a total of 33 games in their first years.

Still, Cowher acknowledged last month at the NFL owners' meetings in Phoenix that the team can't ignore starter Tommy Maddox's age (32 before the start of the season).

"He may have a lot of years left," Cowher said. "It's hard to say. But, yeah, we would look at it. You can't diminish his age."

Asked about the possibility of using a premium pick on a quarterback, Cowher said, "I think so. We need someone. I think we need to look at that."

Colbert said yesterday that no team can count on getting lucky with a late-round pick.

"If you get a fifth- or sixth-round guy who turns out to be a good player," he said, "you've probably screwed up."

Neither Colbert nor Cowher pinpointed the team's needs and targets in the draft, but the the chief ones are known to be safety, cornerback, quarterback, defensive end, running back and outside linebacker. That's a truckload for a team that has 25 victories in the past two seasons, and Colbert said the team won't ignore a good player, even at a position that is currently well-stocked.

"If a guy is that good and you think he's that good, I don't know how you can pass him," he said.

Added Cowher: "Your strength this year may be a question mark next year."

Colbert said the team's drafting philosophy leans toward the need, if a need player and a good player at another position are nearly equal on the ranking board.

"But that's why you want to have those options. As long as they are all within reach, then you would probably favor the need," he said.

  • Notes: Backup outside linebacker Clark Haggans will miss the spring minicamps after having ankle surgery today, but he may return in time for summer training camp that is tentatively scheduled to begin July 25 at St. Vincent College. Cowher said Haggans, who was the team's regular dime pass rusher last season, delayed having the surgery while surveying the restricted free agent market. ... Running back Jerome Bettis and tight end Mark Bruener are recovering well from surgical procedures on their knees. Bettis is expected to return later this month from Los Angeles, where he is conducting his annual workouts with noted track coach Bob Kersee. Bruener has been working out regularly at the Steelers' training facility on the South Side. Cowher said Bettis and Bruener may participate in some of the coaching sessions that begin May 19, but he added that their situations in regards to the roster "will certainly be affected by what takes place this weekend." ... Safety Mike Logan, who had knee surgery near the end of last season, is expected to be recovered in time for summer training camp, if not the minicamp that runs from June 9-12. ... The offseason conditioning program began last week, with 48 players in attendance. Cowher said it was one of the best first-day turnouts in recent years.

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