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Colbert: 'These players can make you better'

Posted Jan 27, 2014

The Senior Bowl is when the Steelers' coaches and management become involved in the scouting process.

In Kevin Colbert’s estimation about 70 or 80 percent of the players on the rosters for a typical Senior Bowl are capable of upgrading a team at the next level. The trick is to determine “where they fit, if they fit,” Colbert said.

“That’s the excitement of these types of games,” the Steelers’ general manager continued. “These players can make you better.”

Those players can do so in a wide variety of ways, from becoming a first round draft pick or by simply providing a better alternative as the fourth running back on a 53-man roster.

The challenge for NFL clubs is to determine who fits best and where.

That explains why the Steelers were so involved at Senior Bowl week, which concluded with the South’s 20-10 victory over the North on Saturday in Mobile, Ala. All of the Steelers’ scouts were present at the outset of the week for Senior Bowl practices, and so were all of the team’s coaches, with the exception of newly-hired offensive line coach Mike Munchak.

“The biggest difference in this evaluation is the coaches now join the process,” Colbert said. “Art (Steelers president Art Rooney II) spent a day with us, which usually he will do. This is the point where he starts to get involved, as well.”

It helps to have as many eyes as possible on the proceedings, because you never know what you might see at the Senior Bowl.

Colbert recalled Florida State linebacker Vince Williams getting the Steelers’ attention at last year’s event after showing up as a mid-week roster replacement for an injured player.

“He came in on Tuesday and joined practice, and right away he kind of jumped out,” Colbert recalled. “Everyone was asking, ‘Who’s this new guy?’ We had grades on him, and then he started to do some things, he practiced very hard.

“He was late to the party but he stood out. As a late addition it was impressive that he was able to be that guy who was pointing things out pre-snap. He practiced really well.”

Williams wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, but the Steelers showed up for his Pro Day at Florida State. Then they brought him to their South Side practice facility for a pre-draft evaluation. And then they made Williams their second pick on the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, a selection the player justified by starting 11 games next to fellow FSU-product Lawrence Timmons at inside linebacker.

It all started for Williams and the Steelers at the Senior Bowl.

“Because of his communication and vocalization, I amended our evaluation,” Colbert said.

The Steelers communicated with over 50 players, in Colbert’s estimation, via personal interviews at the Senior Bowl. They had conducted such sit-downs previously.

“This time Coach (Mike) Tomlin was involved,” Colbert said.

What the Steelers saw at the Senior Bowl, for the most part, were higher-caliber players than those they had evaluated in previous all-star games such as the East-West Shrine Game, higher-caliber players who were motivated to continue establishing themselves as such.

“You can use (Pitt defensive tackle) Aaron Donald as an example,” Colbert said. “For all the awards he had won – the Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, and Outland trophies – he won another one last week, which was the Most Outstanding Player at Senior Bowl practices.

“By choosing to play in this game and compete, these players showed they had something to prove.”

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