Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is approaching his 30th NFL draft. None offered more depth than the Class of 2014. But there is also a downside.
"I fear it's also the most immature," Colbert said Thursday morning at the NFL Scouting Combine while speaking to the media at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Steelers are considering using additional resources on the player development side of their organization to steer incoming rookies. Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin first will complete evaluations of prospects.
A major piece of that puzzle falls into place this week, when the Steelers -- and all NFL teams -- are granted interviews with 60 prospects over the course of the seven-day event.
"It's an ongoing process. You talk to their college coaches, personal liaisons. How they handle the private interviews is huge. It's a huge leap. I don't think a lot of them understand it until they actually get on the playing field and see the increase in the quality of play.
"The emotional part of being a college kid and getting on the field and one day being a pro is significant."
Many of the top 2014 prospects are underclassmen -- a record number left school with eligibility remaining in hopes of being drafted -- and several of NFLDraftScout.com's prospects with an elite rating also carry character questions. No. 1-ranked defensive end Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina, a junior, is chided for a marginal work ethic and questioned about his love of the game. He also was cited for excessive speeding violations twice in December. There are well-documented maturity doubts to wade through when formulating a final grade for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, another projected top-five pick.
"A big part of the evaluation is what they do in big moments," Colbert said. "For quarterbacks, what are they doing on third down? For a pass rusher, what are they doing when you need a sack? ... What are they doing in big moments?"
Colbert said the scouting department is working to remove the emotion of the hype and evaluate to make decisions based largely on football but without discounting maturity level.
"They'll grow physically," Colbert said. "But if you fail emotionally early, it can be career-ending."
--The NFL is reportedly considering penalizing players for use of the N-word during games. That prompted some intriguing comments on ESPN by Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who said club owner Dan Rooney requested during the 2013 season that players not use the word in the locker room or have it be part of music played.
Clark said, "Mr. Rooney actually talked to (cornerback) Ike Taylor about it this season. Ike and Mr. Rooney have a very good relationship. He told Ike, 'I don't want you guys using that word.'
"Ike went around to specific people and said, 'Listen, this is what Mr. Rooney told me.' He's the ambassador. We call him Old Man Rooney. He has a lot of respect, and because of the way he has treated us as players, as black athletes, also treated coach Tomlin as a black coach, you know it's coming from a place of love."
However, it wasn't long before it was happening again anyway.
"You stopped hearing it immediately that day," Clark said. "But after a while it came back because it's the culture. After a while it comes back because this is what these guys have grown up with."
--Marijuana use in the NFL is a hot topic lately and Clark has kept the discussion going, saying teammates and other players turn to the drug to help with pain and stress.
"I know guys on my team who smoke," the 12-year veteran told ESPN's First Take. "And it's not a situation where you think, 'Oh, these are guys trying to be cool. These are guys who want to do it recreationally.'
"A lot of it is stress relief. A lot of it is pain and medication. Guys feel like, 'If I can do this, it keeps me away from maybe Vicodin, it keeps me away from pain prescription drugs and things that guys get addicted to.' Guys look at this as a more natural way to heal themselves, to stress relieve and also to medicate themselves for pain. Guys are still going to do it."
Clark later pointed out on Twitter that he was not a user.
"I don't smoke marijuana. I won't smoke marijuana," he said. "The NFL shouldn't push marijuana, but I'd be a fool to say that people don't use it."
Earlier, New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie said it's fruitless for the league to try to enforce a ban on marijuana. Clark agreed.
"It's 100 percent true. They're fighting a losing battle," Clark said. "The testing isn't stringent. There is one random test during OTAs and minicamps during the offseason, and everybody will be tested early in training camp. After that, there are no more tests. So guys understand the ways to get around failing a drug test."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--The Steelers worked out new three-year deals with safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller, keeping the key veterans under contract through 2016 while gaining some much-needed salary cap space.
The team also re-signed safety Will Allen, his agent announced on Twitter. Allen was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 11.
Polamalu's extension reduces his 2014 salary-cap number from $10.8 million to $6.3 million, with the deal worth $20 million over three years, according to NFL.com.
The team was intent on working out a restructured deal and avoid having to release the 12-year veteran leader of the defense. While injury-plagued in recent seasons, Polamalu, who will turn 33 next month, played every snap last season and recorded 85 tackles, two interceptions and forced five fumbles.
Miller was due to have a cap number of $9.5 million in 2014, with USA Today reporting the new deal cuts that figure to $6.1 million. He will reportedly earn base salaries of $4 million in 2015 and 2016. He finished fourth on the team with 58 catches for 593 yards and one touchdown last season, while continuing to serve as a key blocker in the ground game.
Allen served as the primary backup to Polamalu and Ryan Clark last season, and in addition to five games played with Dallas he actually saw action in 17 regular-season games. He could be in line to compete with second-year player Shamarko Thomas for a starting role if Clark leaves via free agency.
To save additional salary-cap room, the Steelers also released tackle Levi Brown, cornerback Curtis Brown and linebacker Larry Foote.
--The Steelers used their transition tag on linebacker Jason Worilds. By designating Worilds a transition player, Pittsburgh has the right of first refusal to match any offer sheet he may receive from another team.
The transition tag is $9.754 million.
Worilds (6-foot-2, 262 pounds) was originally drafted by the Steelers in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Virginia Tech.
In his career, Worilds has started 21 of 57 regular-season games played and registered 121 tackles (90 solo), 18 sacks and three forced fumbles. Last season he set career highs in starts (11), tackles (54), sacks (8) and forced fumbles (2).
Worilds then signed his transition tender the following day. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports first reported the team and Worilds have made progress in negotiating a long-term deal. ESPN's Adam Caplan confirmed the report by CBSSports.com.
Players expected to be unrestricted in March:
--Wide receivers -- Plaxico Burress, Jerricho Cotchery, Emmanuel Sanders.
--Running backs -- Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones, LaRod Stephens-Howling.
--Offensive linemen -- Fernando Velasco, Cody Wallace, Guy Whimper.
--Defensive linemen -- Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Al Woods
--Linebackers -- Stevenson Sylvester, Jamaal Westerman.
--Defensive backs -- Will Allen, Ryan Clark.
--Special teams -- Punter Mat McBriar, long-snapper Greg Warren.
DEFENSIVE LINE: The run defense was terrible. Only Cameron Heyward stood out among this group. Brett Keisel is done, Ziggy Hood is a UFA, nose tackle Steve McLendon is a bad fit.
LINEBACKERS: They have no depth and there aren't enough good starters. A strong area has slumped.
CORNERBACK: The Steelers have not been able to develop good corners or keep the young ones they had. Need to restock big-time.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Dan Rooney
- Troy Polamalu