Center Maurkice Pouncey runs a drill at the NFL's scouting combine in Indianapolis, Feb. 27, 2010. The Steelers drafted Pouncey in the first round of last year's draft.
By Gerry Dulac Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
INDIANAPOLIS -- Making it to the Super Bowl has not been a deterrent for the Steelers and the players they have selected with the No. 1 pick in the subsequent NFL draft, even though they have been selecting at the bottom of the 32-team heap.
They're not all the way in the basement this year -- the Green Bay Packers ensured that when they beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV -- but recent history has suggested they are still able to find quality players who develop into significant postseason contributors, if not sensations, even from the bottom of the pile.
For the Steelers, the process starts in earnest today when the NFL Scouting Combine begins at Lucas Oil Stadium, a six-day series of tests, interviews, medical exams and drills in which coach Mike Tomlin and his staff will try to unearth the next Santonio Holmes or Ziggy Hood -- the players they selected after Super Bowl appearances in 2005 and '08.
"For me, I'm looking at pedigree that jumps out at me, things you can't coach," Tomlin said. "Just start the process of getting to know the draft class personally, what makes them tick, their issues and things of that nature. Just start the information gathering process in terms of putting together a profile on these guys. But, in terms of the physical activity I'm just simply looking at pedigree."
Tomlin and director of football operations Kevin Colbert struck it big last year with center Maurkice Pouncey, whom they selected with the 18th overall pick after missing the playoffs in '09. Not surprisingly, the romance with Pouncey began at the combine when he wowed Tomlin, Colbert and offensive line coach Sean Kugler with his intelligence, recall and schematic understanding during an interview session.
Maybe the same will happen this week with one of the top cornerbacks in the '11 draft, allowing the Steelers to immediately address a position in dire need of an upgrade.
But that is what Tomlin is trying to do at the combine -- assess the quality and depth of the position and identify its top candidates. After all, they got a slow start on their draft preparation because of the Super Bowl.
"At this point in the process, I'm trying to, more than anything, get a sense of what the class is about, the strengths of the class," Tomlin said. "No question we're going to have an interest in corner, but I don't know that there's been a year that I've been here that I can't say that."
A lot will depend on what happens with Ike Taylor, their best corner who is an unrestricted free agent.
The Steelers likely will try to re-sign Taylor, who will be 31 in May, because they don't have anybody ready to step in if he leaves. Bryant McFadden, the other starter, was picked on repeatedly in '10, particularly in the Super Bowl, and the coaches seem content to use William Gay as a nickel back, not a starter. What's more, Keenan Lewis, a third-round pick in '09, was passed on the depth chart by seldom-used Anthony Madison in the dime defense.
One player who could develop is Crezdon Butler, a fifth-round choice last year who should get more of a chance in '11.
"I don't view those guys any differently than I view any of the young guys that we have in other positions," Tomlin said, referring to Lewis and Butler. "We expect those guys to improve, to be better players in 2011 and take the necessary steps to do so. That doesn't mean that we might not present them with some competition. That's part of it."
The Steelers will not be in position to draft either of the cornerbacks who are considered the best in the draft -- Patrick Peterson of LSU or Prince Amukamara of Nebraska. But they could find themselves with an opportunity to draft Jimmy Smith of Colorado (6-2, 205), Brandon Harris of Miami (5-11, 195) or Aaron Williams of Texas (6-1, 195) -- players whose first-round position could be solidified with a good showing at the combine.
But, in '06, they traded up from No. 32 to No. 25 to take Holmes, considered the top receiver in the draft.
"It is a physically taxing position," Tomlin said of cornerback. "You have to have a great deal of God-given ability and belief in that. Now, how do you measure their belief in their ability? Not by what they say, but by what you see on tape: how they play, how they respond to positive things, how they respond to negative things. All of that helps you build a profile, if you will."