When Big Ben talks, Colbert listens to his wishes
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PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Steelers' director of football operations normally does not listen to opinions from outside his staff regarding which players the team should pick in this month's draft.
Ben Roethlisberger is an exception. When the quarterback said in mid-January that a tall wide receiver was on his wish list, Kevin Colbert listened.
"I'm glad that Ben is willing to talk about it, talk about things he'd like to see for his team," Colbert said yesterday between sessions at the annual NFL meetings, "because for me that shows some growth in his willingness to accept more of a leadership role, and there's nothing wrong with it."
He listened, perhaps, but it does not mean a tall receiver will land at Roethlisberger's feet in three weeks.
"Again, we're going to try to get good players to help at all positions," Colbert said, "and if a tall receiver happens to be a good receiver and a value pick, that's something we'll definitely consider."
Colbert spoke yesterday for one of the final times before he "shuts things down" until a few days before the April 26-27 draft, an annual self-imposed moratorium when neither he nor his scouts speak publicly.
A tall receiver may have to take a ticket behind other needs such as offensive guard and tackle, a defensive end, a linebacker, a cornerback or even a running back. Colbert did not tip his hand, but he will have only six draft choices plus rookie free agents in order to fill the Steelers' many needs.
They received no compensatory picks among the 32 issued by the NFL to 15 teams yesterday. The only other way they could acquire extra picks would be through trades. Six, though, should be enough, Colbert said.
"I think it can help it greatly. There's no question, if we have six picks at our disposal, there's certainly six picks in this draft who definitely can help our team at all levels.
"I wish we did have more picks, but we'll make the best use of those six."
One perception of the Steelers is that they are headed slightly downhill after losing four of their final five games last season, including a home playoff game to Jacksonville. They lost guard Alan Faneca and linebacker Clark Haggans, and signed no one to replace them this offseason.
"You can look at it any different way you want," Colbert said of the suggestion his team may be slipping. "The reality is we didn't finish the way we wanted to finish. The reality also is we'll have some players on the team improve and take the next step."
Those players could include linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley, who will take over in his second year for Haggans at left outside linebacker, and other young players such as wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington, tackle Willie Colon, guard Chris Kemoeatu (Faneca's apparent replacement), halfback Gary Russell, safety Anthony Smith and others -- among them even the quarterback.
"You saw a drastic improvement at the most critical position last year when Ben had his career year," Colbert said. "That's exciting because he's probably still on the ascension, and you can never discount that. For every player you're going to lose -- and that's going to inevitably happen -- we're also going to add six new guys to this team.
"Hopefully, they'll enhance your roster. Hopefully, more are ascending than descending, and we think that will be the case with us."
It's also possible the Steelers' so-called window of opportunity has come and gone, albeit after delivering a fifth Lombardi Trophy little more than two years ago. They were 15-1 in 2004, 11-5 in 2005 (plus four wins in the postseason), 8-8 in 2006 and 10-6 in 2007, winning a tiebreaker against Cleveland to earn the division title and a playoff berth.
The Steelers' goal, unlike some other teams, is to remain competitive every season and have a shot at the end to win it all. They delivered in 2005.
"I think we have gone up and down," Colbert said. "We've never really bottomed out. We've gone from 9-7 to 13-3 to 10-5-1 to 6-10 and back up.
"It's hard maintaining. I think every year we're going to have a chance to win a championship, and we want to try to maintain that level. We're never going to have that go-for-it-all mentality, because it will take you to the bottom if you don't reach that goal."
First Published April 1, 2008 12:00 am