<
>

Why Steelers don't mistake kindness for weakness at NFL combine

play
Experience of interviewing prospects at the combine (2:20)

ESPN NFL front office Insider Mark Dominik talks about the experience of interviewing prospects at the NFL scouting combine and the importance of gathering as much information as possible. (2:20)

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Pittsburgh Steelers kick off the NFL combine experience in earnest at 9:30 a.m., when general manager Kevin Colbert addresses the national media. But the work begins much earlier than that.

Here are 10 things to know about how the Steelers will approach this week from a business standpoint and how they evaluate players.

Steelers will consult reps of several in-house free agents, but maybe not all: Teams can’t meet with free agents from other teams until the negotiating window opens March 7 -- at least officially (wink, wink). But they can meet with in-house free agents -- of which the Steelers have nearly 20 -- to discuss re-sign interest.

Basically, if you’re the agent of a Steelers free agent and you don’t meet with the team at the combine, that’s probably a bad sign.

Team can gather league-wide intel: The entire NFL world descends on Indianapolis this week. Prudent teams use the resources here to gain an understanding of developing trends in free agency and the draft, as well as evaluating draft talent.

The Steelers, for example, can research what free agent left tackle Kelvin Beachum might get on the open market. That helps the team decide if he will be worth re-signing.

Several hands are involved in the combine-free agency process: Colbert is heavily involved, of course, but he won't necessarily be the point man on preliminary negotiations. He has director of football and business administration Omar Khan and football administration coordinator Samir Suleiman for that. Agents will typically deal with one of those two early on.

With a prospect, the Steelers want 'snapshots of his personality': The Steelers value the 15-minute windows for a team to interview a draft-eligible player. They won’t go heavy on Xs and Os here. That’s for in-house visits. At the combine, "you are really are just trying to get a feel for their personality, their parents, siblings, what their background has been, what their educational background is and where they stand in school, some of the legalities," Colbert said. "Sometimes we get into football, but most of the time we save that for the visits when we bring them back here."

These interviews can make-or-break chances: Colbert said he’s crossed a player off the Steelers’ list based on one 15-minute meeting. In that case, Colbert knows the player simply won’t be a good fit. "Right, wrong or indifferent, sometimes you form quick judgments," Colbert said. Sometimes, a personality trait can be difficult to change.

The team will do about 60 interviews: The Steelers try to identify players who interest them, and who will be available. For example, the Steelers probably won’t interview Laremy Tunsil, a potential first overall pick. He won’t be available to them. The Steelers get a jump on this process at the Senior Bowl, where they interviewed close to 60 players.

Sometimes, the GM is pleasantly surprised: Some players shine in interview settings, and it makes an impact. "All of a sudden you don’t anticipate much and you come out and you are super impressed," Colbert said.

Steelers look for Heath Millers -- kind off the field, edgy on it: Colbert has a quote from Art Rooney II in his office -- 'Don’t mistake kindness for weakness.' That was the case with recently retired Miller, who is soft spoken in the locker room but a beast on the field. "You can be a good person and be a good player, a great player," Colbert said.

Yes, the Steelers will use analytics in the draft process: Colbert wants to learn something he didn’t know from his analytics head, Karim Kassam. "Tell me something unique," Colbert said. "You want as much information as you can get. Those guys can take the data and interpret it in different ways than we historically have been able to do. It’s a piece of the puzzle, no more than that."

The Steelers will load up on info on players -- even quarterbacks: The Steelers are set for the next four-or-five years with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but they will have inches-thick files on every quarterback prospect in this draft. Why? It builds a file for present or future use. With the free agent quarterbacks as potential backups or third-stringers, the Steelers know they did their homework on those players years ago.