PITTSBURGH (AP) — The steady stream of bold-faced names out the door has finally slowed.
Troy Polamalu. Ike Taylor. Brett Keisel. All three part of a defensive core that led the Pittsburgh Steelers to two Super Bowl wins and an appearance in another.
All three now retired or cut.
Throw in the departure of cornerback Brice McCain and the startling decision by linebacker Jason Worilds to call it a career at age 27 and another typically light-spending approach to free agency and it seems pretty obvious what the defending AFC North champions need to focus on in this week’s draft.
It’s just not obvious to the Steelers. Sure there are glaring needs in the secondary and at outside linebacker. Yet the franchise long ago abandoned the idea of treating its roster like some kind of economics class, where supply and demand are in a perpetual battle for equilibrium.
Besides, general manager Kevin Colbert figures asking a college kid to take over for somebody such as Polamalu — who stepped away earlier this month after a dozen often spectacular seasons — is an exercise in foolishness.
“You’re wasting your time trying to replace a guy like that,” Colbert said before adding that Polamalu is a “once in a lifetime” player.
Pittsburgh doesn’t need a once-in-a-generational talent so much as a sea of healthy, capable bodies to fit into their revamped 3-4 defense, a unit that figures to feature some new tweaks by recently promoted coordinator Keith Butler.
They could use an outside linebacker to pair opposite Jarvis Jones. A physical cornerback to pick up where Taylor left off would be nice.
Still, Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin aren’t going to head into Thursday night’s first round with a gameplan. Considering all the variables at play, it’s kind of useless.
“If we pass up a great (player) to fill a position of need, it will be a mistake,” Colbert said. “It will bite us, someway, somehow.”
What to look for as Pittsburgh tries to find a group that can make an early impact for a team that faces the NFL’s toughest schedule in 2015.
CHARACTER COUNTS? The Steelers have not shied away from prospects whose personal history is pockmarked with missteps. Three years ago they chose offensive tackle Mike Adams, running back Chris Rainey and defensive lineman Alameda Ta’amu. Only Adams lasted with the team for more than a season. Colbert stressed the front office handles each player’s issues on a case-by-case basis. That might mean good news for troubled cornerback Marcus Peters, who was kicked off the team in Washington but could still be on the board when the Steelers make the 22nd overall pick.
SACK HAPPY: Pittsburgh needs Jones to stay healthy and become the pass-rush threat the Steelers envisioned when they took him in the first round in 2013. A legitimate threat on the other side to complement Arthur Moats and the seemingly ageless James Harrison wouldn’t hurt. Colbert believes the group of edge rushers available is as deep as it has been in years.
MISSING BELL? The Steelers signed DeAngelo Williams in March to give third-year running back Le’Veon Bell a veteran backup. With Bell suspended for the first three games next season as discipline for his DUI and marijuana arrests last fall, finding another back in the draft seems likely. We talked about adding depth there in free agency and/or the draft,” Tomlin said. “We may go ‘and’ as opposed to ‘or.'”
MOCK THIS: Colbert and Tomlin try to build up a cocoon around the team’s training facility during the week of the draft to try and dull the incessant buzz of rumors and speculation that Colbert feels is passed off as news. “We don’t believe in mock drafts and what people are saying about other teams,” Colbert said. While Colbert certainly understands why the league has stretched the draft out to three days while making it one of the marquee events of the league year, the din that accompanies it can be a bit much. “It’s really bad for our profession, for whatever means they use to get information out to try and influence a draft, talk about a kid’s test score, a kid’s injury, a kid’s character,” he said. “It’s disrespectful to our profession and … disrespectful to the kid.”
NO WORRIES: With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger now signed for the next five years after agreeing to a new deal last month, don’t expect the Steelers to search for Roethlisberger’s replacement just yet. Quarterback is one area taken off the board. And it doesn’t seem Pittsburgh will try and land a high-profile wide receiver. While Antonio Brown is reportedly unhappy with his current contract, Brown — who led the NFL in receptions in 2014 — attended offseason workouts with his teammates this week.