PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert isn’t concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic from altering his team’s preparations for the 2020 draft.
Colbert is well aware there are far larger issues facing the country than whether he and coach Mike Tomlin get to bound from pro day to pro day or bring potential prospects into the team’s facility for interviews. So the Steelers will find a way to deal with it. Just like everyone else.
“What we’re going to do, the visits that we had planned when we got back from owner’s meetings and pro days, we’re going to do video/audio type (interviews) with that player,” Colbert said Tuesday evening. “That’s good access. It’s not as good as sitting down with the guys … (but) we’ll make the most of it.”
Besides, in a way the restrictions in place in an effort to stem the pandemic’s growth are forcing NFL clubs to take an old-school approach. Colbert pointed what the Steelers did while putting together a dynasty in the 1970s as proof the evaluation process doesn’t necessarily need to be as exhaustive as it is today.
Back then the team’s brain trust — including scouts Bill Nunn and Dick Haley and player personnel director Art Rooney Jr. — simply put their heads together to come up with the players they felt fit into what coach Chuck Noll was building. The results led to four Super Bowls in six years and included the 1974 draft class that produced four Hall of Famers, a number that doesn’t include rookie free agent Donnie Shell, who will be inducted this fall.
“There was no extensive interviews,” Colbert said. “There was no combine. There was no physicals. They just drafted what they thought were the best football players and I tell my guys that’s the best draft in football history.”
The Steelers don’t have a first-round pick for the first time in a half century after dealing it to Miami in September for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. The move worked out beautifully for Pittsburgh as Fitzpatrick’s electric play helped keep the Steelers in playoff contention even without injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Colbert believes it’s “highly unlikely” he could come up with a trade package attractive enough to get Pittsburgh back into the first round. It’s a circumstance he’s more than happy to live with considering Fitzpatrick is under team control for at least three more seasons.
The Steelers used free agency to address needs at tight end (Eric Ebron), fullback ( Derek Watt ) offensive line ( Stefen Wisniewski ) and defensive tackle (Chris Wormley). They also signed three players from the XFL and could add more with the ability to add undrafted rookie free agents cloudy at best with travel limited during the pandemic.
“With some of the unknowns we’re facing with college free agents, we may not have the medical information we need,” Colbert said. “Knowing the XFL players in a little more detail helps (fill out the roster).”
The draft will go on as scheduled in late April but what happens after that is anyone’s guess, the Steelers included. Typically teams hold rookie/first-year player minicamps shortly after the draft, with organized team activities beginning in late May. Maybe not this year.
“Nobody knows what our calendar is right now,” Colbert said. “No changes have been made. That’s something that continues to be monitored and watched. What we have done as an organization is be prepared for whatever. Nobody knows what the next step is.”