After three months of silence, Steelers fans were finally able to hear from head coach Mike Tomlin ahead of the 2021 NFL draft. Alongside Tomlin was Steelers’ general manager Kevin Colbert who both gave opening remarks before taking questions. Based on the questions, the “Players Mentioned” article is able to make a brief return! To qualify as one of the “players” I kept the names highlighted limited to members of the Steelers’ current roster. Remember these are players mentioned in response to specific questions during the Q&A period. Whether it was Mike Tomlin or Kevin Colbert speaking will be noted.
Justin Layne & James Pierre
Getting into things other than the draft, Coach Tomlin was asked about the breakdown of playing time of Justin Layne and James Pierre. It was noted that Pierre recived the playing time in the playoffs.
Tomlin: “Yeah, I don’t know if the breaking point was that clear, regular season Layne, playoffs, Pierre. We’ve followed the growth and development of young players on the practice field over the course of the season, and as the season wore on, we just got more comfortable with what we were seeing from Pierre. Now, is it a rise in his level of play? Is it a decline in Lane’s level of play? You know, I really can’t speak to that. There was a feeling that he was moving in the right direction, and that’s why we made the decisions that we made. In terms of what that means for 2021, we will see. How 2020 ended does not define how 2021 is going to work out or even begin for that matter. They’re both capable young players. We’ve got other capable young players. We intend to potentially add to that, so we’ll see where the roads lead us.”
Kevin Colbert was asked another question about the need to address the cornerback position in the upcoming draft and he made mention of both Layne and Pierre.
Colbert: “The corners are deep. Again, we talk about this every year, and every year it seems to be continuing, the trend in college football, again, becoming more horizontal. There’s more corners. We always say we have 12 starters on defense and 12 starters on offense because of a slot receiver or a slot corner, and that goes all the way back to the college game. So there’s a lot of depth at the wide receiver and the cornerback position. As Coach mentioned, James Pierre came on and did a nice job for us last year. Justin Layne had done some good things on the field. They’re both young, ascending players. Can we add to that spot? Absolutely. Again, we talked about — in Steve Nelson’s case, Steve was a valuable player for us. However, we had to make some tough salary cap related decisions that I mentioned earlier. Steve Nelson is a starter-capable NFL corner. We just couldn’t keep him under the current setup that we had or the current setup that we’re dealing with from a salary cap standpoint, and we had to make some tough choices.”
Vince Williams & Alex Highsmith
Both Tomlin and Colbert were asked about the re-signing of Vince Williams and the depth of the draft at both the linebacker positions. During the response, Coach Tomlin brought up Alex Highsmith.
Colbert: “Yeah, just to answer that, the inside and outside depth is very good. The outside depth, when we’re looking at outside linebackers, we’re looking at most of the time college defensive ends because most teams are 4-3 and we have to convert them up. But that’s a deep, deep group. The inside backers is a deeper group than it has been, much like the centers. We’ve looked and we just say, wow, this is a pretty good group. The one that’s not is at defensive line. It’s very lean. But in Vince’s case, I’ll let Coach speak to that. Vince wanted to end his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers for however long he has left. Again, we had to make tough decisions, and that was extremely tough, because Vince has been a starting player and helped us win a lot of games and he’s a big part of the fabric of our team, and we value that tremendously. And for him to want to come back, it’s very important and very much appreciated by us. I’ll let Coach address that, as well.”
Tomlin: “Yeah, Vince Williams is a Pittsburgh Steeler. Vince Williams bleeds black and gold, and really his decision to come back is really just an example of an opportunity for him to display that. I can’t say that I’m surprised by that, knowing what I’ve known about Vince and his level of commitment, not only to the game of football but to us and how we go about our business. You know, in regards to the loss of Bud and the expectations and the depth and things at that position, the linchpin of that entire discussion is the natural maturation of Alex Highsmith from year one to year two. You know the standard of expectations that we have for our young players, moving from one to two. He could be the poster boy for that. We need a significant rise in terms of all areas of play from him, but I also think it’s reasonable to expect it given what he’s been exposed to, given the quality young man that he is and his work ethic and the environment that we intend to put him in. I think it’s reasonable to expect him to rise up and meet the challenges that you mentioned.”
Ben Roethlisberger & Dwayne Haskins
Kevin Colbert was asked about if, and at what point, the Steelers would be interested in drafting a quarterback. Colbert’s answer went into the philosophy of drafting Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, and Tomlin interjected a response which included Dwayne Haskins.
Colbert: “Again, wide open to all of it. If you look at our current depth, obviously we have four NFL veteran quarterbacks on our roster, which I feel great about. We also have really three of those four that are in the last year of their so-called deals when you look at it realistically. It’s an unusual group in that we do have four. Can you add a young one? Absolutely. We always have to be on the look for that next guy and try to predict the value of taking that player at that position, because most likely a young quarterback won’t play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021. Again, we’ve got four veteran guys that we’re going to try to sort through. Could you add someone that could be more guaranteed to be here for the future? Absolutely. And that’s our job, to try to value that. It goes all the way back to Ben. Ben wasn’t a sure pick when we were sitting there at 11 because we had more pressing issues than a quarterback because Tommy Maddox had done some good things for us. It wasn’t like we couldn’t have started the season with Tommy. When Ben was there for us, it would have been a huge mistake not to take him. So we’ll always be open to adding what we believe is the most critical position, but again, we feel good about having four vets to work with at this point.”
Tomlin: “And it’s exciting from a coaching perspective with one of those guys being a 22 year old guy like Dwayne Haskins who was viewed globally as having first-round talent just a short time ago. We’re excited about working with him and seeing what his skill set and hoping him improve is, as well.”
Both Tomlin and Colbert were asked about the evolution of the linebacker position in the NFL.
Tomlin: “You know, in terms of the physical makeup of the linebacker position, I think it’s been widespread in college ball prior to evolving and becoming more widespread in our game. I believe it’s probably less of an issue now, to be quite honest with you. I think it was a significant discussion when we drafted Ryan Shazier, when we drafted him years ago and he was kind of an outlier or precursor to who is a common discussion now, a guy that’s capable of running with anyone and covering and playing in all circumstances. I think that’s more the norm now than it was then. So I think there’s less significant discussions about the makeup or the look of them, and that’s just what they look like. In terms of the draft pool, I think there’s a lot of guys, and guys that we’re excited about, and I’ll let Kevin kind of speak to that if he wants to.”
Colbert: “Yeah, I agree with what Coach said. The game has changed, as I mentioned. It’s more horizontal, and Ryan was ahead of the curve when we took him. You’ve got to keep pace with what’s going on and what we have to defend in this league. But it’s not different from what’s going on at the college level, so a lot of those guys — it used to be in the old days who could take on that fullback. Well, there’s no fullbacks for the most part. Who could take on a guard. Well, most of the time they’re running past the guard instead of taking them on. So we value that. But they also have to have a certain amount of innate intellect, of football intellect, if you will, because inside linebackers, there’s not a lot of time to make decisions. They have to react. So the instinctive part of being able to play that position we think is a natural act. There’s things they can be taught. The lateral ability of those players is very important. The ability to not get — to be able to cover and not get caught in situations where they can’t cover just physically, that’s important. What we remind ourselves really and will continue to remind ourselves is we’ll have Devin Bush back this year, and that person that’s going to be paired with him will have the advantage of having him there because he’s still a significant player that was taking real positive steps prior to his injury, so we’re excited about that, as well.”
Chuks Okorafor & Cam Sutton
Coach Tomlin was asked point-blank who his starting left tackle and right cornerback are at this time.
Tomlin: “You know, depth charts this time of year are funny. They don’t mean anything. They’re not worth the paper they’re written on. Chuks will be the guy that’s probably penciled in in late April at left tackle, Cam Sutton will get first opportunity at right corner, but it means absolutely nothing. And quote me on that.”
For a full recap of Mike Tomlin’s press conference, check out our podcast recap below:
Mike Tomlin’s interview can be seen here:
#LIVE: GM Kevin Colbert & Coach Tomlin address the media ahead of the 2021 #NFLDraft. https://t.co/SXw3zlAvxJ— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 26, 2021