Nose tackles won't fall off Steelers' radar
INDIANAPOLIS -- Worried that Casey Hampton's new contract will cause the Steelers to forget about drafting a nose tackle who could still be his eventual replacement in an aging defensive line?
Kevin Colbert, the team's director of football operations, said Hampton's new three-year deal -- $21.3 million with a $6.5 million signing bonus -- won't have any effect on what the Steelers might do with their first pick in the NFL draft.
"Absolutely none," Colbert said as he stood inside Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the NFL combine that began yesterday. "We said that anything we did in free agency is not going to change our philosophy of trying to draft defensive players."
Which means, Colbert said, the Steelers will not rule out the possibility of still drafting a nose tackle with the 18th overall pick, especially if one they like is available.
And they should have a shot at two -- Dan Williams of Tennessee and 365-pound Terrence Cody of Alabama.
"Short of a quarterback and a tight end, everything's wide open," he said.
Colbert won't talk specifically about any player at the combine, much less a nose tackle, but he called the entire crop of defensive lineman "the best I can remember in the 26 years I've been doing this."
It starts with Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh and Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy, defensive tackles who could go 1-2 in the draft. But it doesn't stop there. According to NFLdraftscout.com, four of the top 14 prospects and nine of the top 30 at the combine are defensive linemen. One of those is Penn State defensive end Jared Odrick, who can also play nose tackle.
"It's not only depth," Colbert said. "But it's the quality of that depth, as well."
By re-signing Hampton, the Steelers eliminated the urgency to find a nose tackle immediately. But, because Hampton will be 33 in September, that doesn't mean they won't be willing to draft a player they can groom to be his successor.
Especially when the Steelers have a long history of rookies rarely playing, much less starting in Dick LeBeau's defense. Even Troy Polamalu, their five-time Pro Bowl safety, sat for most of his rookie season before he was used only in substitution packages.
"I'm assuming our defense is no more complicated than anyone else' in the NFL," Colbert said. "Sometimes, we expect young players to step in and be impact guys. But it's more the exception than the rule.
"Not only is the competition stepped up dramatically but so is the learning curve. When we get young players playing a significant amount of time early, we think that's a bonus."
The Steelers started the process of re-tooling their defensive line last season when they drafted defensive end Ziggy Hood on the first round. Then, after releasing defensive end Sunny Harris, a sixth-round pick, in the final cut of training camp, they re-signed him to their active roster in October. They are hoping to further his development in the offseason.
"I don't think you can determine a player's success until two to three years down the road because there's a big adjustment," Colbert said. "The younger the player, the harder the adjustment because he might be skipping part of his development, which would be his senior year. I don't think you can honestly judge how a player did or didn't do until two or three years down the road."
Or about the time Hampton retires.
First Published February 26, 2010 12:00 am