Colbert: Randle El worth the gamble
Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said the team "absolutely" gambled with its choice of Antwaan Randle El in the second round of the draft, but he believes it was a chance well worth taking.
"There's a little more risk involved with him," Colbert said, "but there's risk with all of them. Every draft pick is a gamble. As much time and money that we put into evaluating players, you really don't know what you get until you get them and have them for a year or two."
With Randle El, the Steelers have a wide receiver who played only one game at the position at Indiana.
"He is going to play a position he practiced and played at the Senior Bowl, played a little bit at his university, but really hasn't played," Colbert said.
But Colbert and the team's coaches and scouts don't have to let their imagination wander far to see Randle El performing special feats as an NFL pass catcher.
"He's a unique athlete," Colbert said. "He's really a three-sport athlete. He was drafted out of high school in baseball, played Big Ten basketball and played quarterback. Everytime he went on the field, he was the best chance they had to win.
"They moved him to wide receiver to try to help him for his NFL career, but then they realized they had to have him back at quarterback. He meant that much to them.
"Then, you add to that what he did at the Senior Bowl where he showed promise in minimal time. Then, you add to that he's a competitive, upbeat kid who's willing to do everything to win. And he can return (kicks). There are so many things the kid can do. When you're around him, everybody just seems to respond. I don't know how you can lose with a kid like that."
Randle El is one of a handful of players acquired by the Steelers this off-season to replace holes left by free agency. Gone are slot receiver Bobby Shaw, fourth cornerback Jason Simmons, kicker Kris Brown and inside linebacker Earl Holmes.
The Steelers are hoping Randle El can compete and eventually stake a claim to the slot position at wide receiver. LaVar Glover, whom the Steelers took with their first pick in the seventh round, will compete with Payton Williams for Simmons' job, and Todd Peterson was immediately signed when Brown left for Houston.
The most significant vacancy was left when Holmes left for Cleveland, scuttling coach Bill Cowher's hope to keep the league's No. 1-ranked defense together for at least one more season. James Farrior became Holmes' replacement when he accepted the three-year, $5.4 million contract that Holmes rejected. Colbert said that Holmes "absolutely" could have stayed if he accepted those terms.
"When we looked at that situation, we said the only way we can lose is if we don't get either one of them," Colbert said. "Our preference was to keep the defense intact and have Earl stay, but only at the numbers that we thought were doable for us.
"When we didn't reach that agreement with him, we had Farrior in place, ready to go. What we lost in leadership and continuity with Earl, we think we've gained in age, speed and versatility."
Colbert said it is fair to describe Farrior, 27, as more athletic than Holmes, 29. Plus, Farrior can play outside linebacker in an emergency, although that is not in the team's immediate plans.
The Steelers do not plan to sign any additional veteran free agents until after June 1 when the team expects some significant players to become available in the next wave of cuts around the NFL.
"I don't think we're looking for anything, but we'll look at everything," Colbert said.
Meanwhile, he's happy with the roster as it's presently constructed, but he said that he won't know for several months if the right decisions were made.
"I don't think we lost any ground," he said. "Whether we gained ground or not, that remains to be seen."