INDIANAPOLIS – Offensive linemen opened the proceedings at the NFL Combine, so Steelers GM Kevin Colbert had to make nice when asked about them Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Of course, after drafting Maurkice Pouncey first in 2010, and David DeCastro first in 2012, the Steelers certainly can’t draft another interior offensive lineman in the first round this year, can they?
“Certainly can,” said Colbert. “At No. 17, we’re going to have a lot of options available to us and we won’t close the door on any position in any round because that would be short-sighted.”
The Steelers’ line appears to be set at every position, with the possible exception of left guard, where Willie Colon is coming off his third consecutive injury-wracked season and Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky are free agents.
It just so happens to be the position that this draft’s two best guards – Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper – played in college.
Warmack measured 6-2, 317 on Thursday, and Cooper measured 6-2½, 312.
Warmack is a pile-driving muscle man from Alabama whom some consider to be the very best prospect in the entire draft.
It’s highly unlikely that a guard will be drafted first, but it’s also unlikely that Warmack will fall to the Steelers at pick 17. That’s what makes Cooper a potential target, and the Steelers met with him Wednesday night.
A four-year starter at North Carolina, Cooper is an athletic move guard in the mold of DeCastro, or, dare anyone say, Dermontti Dawson.
Playing at a Pouncey-esque 285 pounds last season, Cooper anchored a UNC line that rushed for an average of 193.8 yards per game, the best average at the school in 18 years.
Cooper has bulked up since the end of the season via an “eat, eat, eat” diet that added almost 30 pounds.
“I do feel the difference,” he said. “I feel the power. I feel I’ve got just a little more butt behind me and I’m ready to be more of a physical player.”
That’s been the slight knock on Cooper, and he’s heard it. So he said his aim Friday is to put up 35 reps in the bench press “to show I’m a complete guard who can play in any system.”
The Steelers have used plenty of the more finesse-oriented zone-blocking schemes along the interior the last few years. They’ve never had the mobility at tackle to become a full-time zone team, but they do now and could make that jump. Cooper played in a primarily zone-blocking scheme last season.
“But prior to my senior season we were a big power team, and even this year we had multiple power plays,” Cooper said. “I feel comfortable in a zone scheme, a power scheme, whatever they ask of me I feel I can do it and do it well.”
Cooper said his favorite part of playing football “is pulling, and I love getting out in space.” He said that aspect wouldn’t be lost if he played with the Steelers in a strict zone scheme, as new OL coach Jack Bicknell has intimated.
“I really don’t have a preference,” Cooper said. “I’m just stating that I’m comfortable in either of those schemes.”
And Cooper stated that case very well. He put his new Communications degree on display Thursday as he showcased intelligence and charisma from the podium.
The guess is he impressed the Steelers those same characteristics on Wednesday night.
But, another guard? In the first round?
“If we think they are a significant-enough player, and we want him at No. 17, we’ll take him,” said Colbert.
NOTES – In regard to the recently published anonymous quote that LaMarr Woodley “was awful last season,” and the subsequent media brouhaha, Colbert said, “I’m not concerned about our locker room. Coach (Mike) Tomlin and I have had the opportunity to speak to our players, sometimes more than once, since the season ended. We have a very good finger on the pulse of where we stand from a team standpoint. We’re comfortable with that.” … Colbert said that linebacker Sean Spence has not recovered from his horrific knee injury from last preseason “and quite honestly, we have to keep our fingers crossed that he does have a recovery. That will be determined over the next few months.” A source close to the team said the Steelers have grave doubts about Spence’s recovery and that Larry Foote will be re-signed.
(To read the complete transcripts of combine interviews with Kevin Colbert, click here.)