By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers have the 17th pick in the first round during the 2013 NFL Draft, and General Manager Kevin Colbert said Monday afternoon that the club has identified a pool of about 150 players who could end up being selected at that spot Thursday night.
The NFL Draft begins at 8 p.m. Thursday, so the Steelers should pick around 10 p.m. and could go in several different directions. They have needs for a pass-rushing outside linebacker, a safety and a running back. The Steelers have not taken an outside linebacker in the first round since flopping with Florida’s Huey Richardson at No. 15 in 1991. The last safety taken first was Troy Polamalu at No. 16 in 2003. It’s unlikely that the Steelers will take a running back No. 1 after selecting Rashard Mendenhall there in 2008.
“Obviously, we finished 8-8, and we weren’t good enough,” Colbert said. “And as I’ve stated before, the talent that we had assembled was an 8-8 team. Any explanation other than that, I think, is incorrect. So, the plan was to be able to upgrade the team that we’re going to put on the field in 2013. … All we try to do is add as many good players as we can.
“There are going to be subtractions every year … so, it’s not uncommon that there is change. Sometimes, it’s due to finances, (and) other times it’s just the need for a change. In our case, if we had the same team that we had last year, it would be silly for us to expect different results. So, it’s our job to try to improve that. And all we can tell the fans is that we’re working toward that end, but you can judge us next February if we got the job done or not.”
The top outside linebackers in the draft this year include Oregon’s Dion Jordan, LSU’s Barkevious Mingo, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, and Georgia’s Alec Ogletree. Jones could be available when the Steelers pick at No. 17, thanks to a slow 40-yard dash time at his pro day.
The leading candidates at safety are Kenny Vaccaro from Texas, who has been compared to Polamalu, Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien, Florida’s Matt Elam, LSU’s Eric Reid and Syracuse’s Shamarko Thomas.
The top running backs include Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, UCLA’s Jonathan Franklin, Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell and North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard. Lacy could be the only first-round pick, so if the Steelers pick a running back it’s likely that he will come in a later round.
Colbert, who was joined by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin for Monday’s pre-draft press conference, did not rule out signing any players other than the 25 who will be brought in by the weekend. The Steelers have eight draft picks, including one compensatory selection in the sixth round, and also are expected to sign more than a dozen undrafted rookie free agents after the three-day draft. Colbert said the door also has not been closed on any players who were on the roster last season and still available, such as nose tackle Casey Hampton and offensive tackle Max Starks.
Tomlin said that there have been no surprises, positively or negatively, with the injury rehab of offensive tackles Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams. And both players should be ready for training camp.
The same can’t be said for tight end Heath Miller (knee) and inside linebacker Sean Spence (knee), who was injured during the 2012 preseason. Miller was injured during the 15th regular-season game in 2012, so it would be a stretch for him to be available to start the season. Spence had an extremely serious injury where multiple ligaments were damaged to end his rookie season before it even began, and his status is up in the air for 2013 as well.
“(Spence) is continuing to work and doing a nice job attacking the rehab, but we know that this is going to be a (long) process in terms of marching his way back,” Tomlin said. “But we like his demeanor and his availability throughout this process.”
Note: Colbert said that Tomlin instituted a program three years ago where player’s families were brought in to meet with the Steelers management and coaches so the team could “get to know the kids that we drafted.” This year, he said, the Steelers have tried to meet more families prior to the draft, which could help the team get a better read on a player’s character.