If the Steelers draft quarterback, ‘we have to get that right,’ says GM Kevin Colbert

Recognizing that they would likely replace franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after the 2021 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers began searching for a successor in earning last fall.

General manager Kevin Colbert said he and his scouts watched the top passing prospects play at least two times. In some cases, it was three. Even seven games in one case – likely Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, who made it convenient to scout since he also happened to play his home games at Heinz Field.

The organization carefully mapped out a plan to meet with the best prospects at the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine and on campus at each school’s pro day. Then, each member of the early-round hopefuls – Pickett, Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, Matt Corral and Sam Howell – was brought to the team’s UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for an official visit.

Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin would not tip their hand Monday on whether the Steelers will take a quarterback with the No. 20 overall pick when the draft begins Thursday. But if they don’t select one in the first round, it won’t be because of a lack of information.

“Quarterback is the most critical position in our sport,” Colbert said at a pre-draft press conference. “We have to get that right. Could we add somebody? Yes. Could we start the season without adding anybody? Yes. We’ll see where it all goes. ”

The Steelers spent more time this year evaluating the position than in the past out of necessity. When the organization brought back Roethlisberger for a 19th season in 2021, it was presumed it would be his last in the NFL.

“When you had a quarterback like Ben for that many years, you knew that (quarterback) wasn’t going to be the preference high in the draft, and you didn’t spend as much time at the position because you probably weren’t going to entertain it, ”Colbert said. “We did spend more time on that position (this year), and it was necessary. It was a good process. The exposure of the scouts and I had in the fall, we scouted with that intentions. ”

Tomlin entered the process after the Steelers’ season concluded with a wild-card playoff loss at Kansas City. He was front and center at the all-star games, combine and pro day visits, often dining with players and their families.

“I enjoy the process of having a heightened urgency at a position,” he said. “It seems like last year when we really chopped up running backs in a similar way. The process we’ve gone through of getting to know the quarterback pool has gained some attention, but it’s not an irregular process for us getting to know the pool within the pool. ”

Tomlin has stated on multiple occasions that he would like his starting quarterback to have mobility – and all of the top prospects have some degree of pocket and scrambling awareness. What Tomlin is also trying to determine is how these quarterbacks handle pressure situations.

“That is the ultimate competitor’s position,” he said. “Those that run to and not from competition and those that embrace competition and the intensity of it and the anxiety maybe associated with it, they have a leg up. There are pedigree-related things per the position – arm strength, accuracy. That’s evident. It’s either present or it’s not. That intangible quality associated with competition is something that is valuable. ”

The Steelers added former No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky in free agency to compete with Mason Rudolph for the starting job this season. His addition in March, though, didn’t lessen the Steelers’ preparation or signify that they would bypass a quarterback in the draft.

“Anything we did in a free agency doesn’t preclude us from drafting a player at that position,” Colbert said.

The tragic death of Dwayne Haskins two weeks ago left another roster opening for a quarterback. The Steelers like to take four to training camp.

Tomlin said it was too soon for the Steelers to determine how they would replace Haskins.

“Our energies have been on paying proper respects and supporting his family,” Tomlin said. “We haven’t approached it from a business decision-making standpoint. We just feel like that is the appropriate mindset to have as we sit here today. ”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at jrutter@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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