PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mike Tomlin isn't talking like a coach in the market for a quarterback.
Even with Ben Roethlisberger's status beyond his upcoming 18th season unknown. Even with backup Mason Rudolph in the final year of his contract. Even with Josh Dobbs and Dwayne Haskins on one-year deals.
After general manager Kevin Colbert said Monday the Steelers could “absolutely” add another young face to the mix during this week's NFL draft, Tomlin sounded like a coach who believes the Steelers have already selected one.
“It’s exciting from a coaching perspective with one of those guys (in the quarterback room) being a 22-year-old guy like Dwayne Haskins who was viewed globally as having first-round talent just a short time ago,” Tomlin said. “We’re excited about working with him and seeing what his skillset is and helping him, as well.”
The Steelers picked up Haskins in January after a spectacular flameout in Washington. Taken with the 15th overall pick in 2019, Haskins lasted less than two seasons in the nation's capital. Washington cut him last December after uneven play on the field and uncertain judgment off it.
He will get a chance to start over with Pittsburgh, though the Steelers insist they are not in a hurry to start over at quarterback. The 39-year-old Roethlisberger restructured his contract in March to offset a salary cap hit of nearly $42 million, a move Colbert praised for its selflessness because it set an example veterans such as linebacker Vince Williams, defensive tackle Tyson Alualu and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to follow. Williams returned after getting cut as part of a salary purge while Alualu and Smith-Schuster both opted to come back rather than leave after hitting the open market.
The decisions reinforced the idea the Steelers remain in win-now mode, meaning the draft is likely to address their most pressing needs — particularly along the offensive line — near the top of the draft rather than begin the quest for Roethlisberger's eventual replacement.
Colbert called the class for centers “unusually deep," a good thing because Pittsburgh is in the market for one after perennial Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey retired in February. Improving a line that struggled to generate anything in the run game last year — when the Steelers finished last in the NFL in yards rushing and yards per carry — is a priority, though Tomlin cautioned adding talent isn't the only possible solution.
“We’re capable of performing better than we have, players aside,” Tomlin said. “Schematics, formations, the things that we do to give ourselves a strategic advantage need to be improved, and that’s some of the things that we’re working on.”
Pittsburgh let offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner's contract expire and promoted quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to the position. Canada's had some success in generating an effective ground game in previous stops, most notably on the other side of the building the Steelers share with the University of Pittsburgh. The Panthers averaged 225 yards on the ground during Canada's one-year stop in Pittsburgh in 2016.
Getting better production on the ground is vital if the Steelers want to take some of the pressure off Roethlisberger. Having a back that's a difference-maker would help. They haven't had one — at least, not consistently — since Le'Veon Bell opted to sit out 2018 in a contract dispute.
Bell was a second-round pick in 2013. The Steelers haven't taken a back higher than the third round since. There's a chance that changes this time around.
“I think if you look at the Hall of Fame runners, most of those guys were taken in high rounds,” Colbert said.
Just don't expect the Steelers to trade up from the 24th overall pick to grab a running back or anyone else. Pittsburgh has five picks in the top 140. Giving up a couple to move up a few spots in the first is sub-optimal for a club in need of immediate contributors.
One thing the Steelers won't do after having more than 100 video conferences with potential prospects is get caught up in what goes on ahead of them. Colbert called mock drafts “a complete waste of time.”
Instead the Steelers will spend most of Wednesday coming up with a list of 24 players that could be available when they pick 24th. Odds are the one still available when they are on the clock is the one they'll take, regardless of position.
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