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Building blocks: Colbert deserves credit for assembling winning team


January 17, 2011
By Buck Frank,

Who deserves the game ball for the Steelers' 31-24 comeback victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday in the AFC playoffs?

Safety Ryan Clark definitely is a candidate, along with wide receiver Antonio Brown, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or even linebacker James Harrison.

I'd give it to the person most responsible for having all four of them in Steelers uniforms, a person most Steelers fans wouldn't even know if they passed him on the street.

Article Photos

Mirror photo by J.D.?Cavrich
James Harrison is one of many impact players Kevin Colbert has brought to Pittsburgh.

Director of football operations Kevin Colbert rarely gets much of the credit for the Steelers' success this past decade - it usually goes to the players, coaches and the Rooneys - but the Pittsburgh native has done a tremendous job in filling the Steelers' roster with players who fit the team's personality.

Colbert is essentially the general manager of the Steelers and oversees the personnel area of the team. His work was on display in fine fashion against the Ravens.

Brown, a rookie sixth-round draft pick, made the key play in the game, rookie third-round pick Emmanuel Sanders caught four passes for 54 yards, second-year receiver Mike Wallace had three receptions, rookie center Maurkice Pouncey played like a veteran and second-year defensive end Ziggy Hood had five tackles and a sack.

What is remarkable is that all five of those players were not with the Steelers two seasons ago when they won their last Super Bowl. The Steelers have maintained their success by drafting quality players to fit their schemes.

That was the Steelers' way back in the 1970s when they rose to the top of the NFL with four Super Bowl titles, and nothing has changed since then.

While other teams add high-priced free agents to try and build a winning team, the Steelers continue to build through the draft and use free agency in a supplementary way. The Ravens tried the free agency route to bolster their receiving corps by bringing in Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh before this season, and both had terrible games Saturday with key drops by both of them.

The Steelers' top signings this year in free agency were Antwaan Randle El, Larry Foote, Byron Leftwich, Arnaz Battle and Will Allen, and all are in backup roles.

The Steelers start seven original draft picks on defense, along with Harrison, an undrafted free agent who originally signed with the Steelers, and Clark and James Farrior. On offense, only Jonathan Scott and Flozell Adams are starters who are not original Steelers, although both are filling in for Steelers draft picks Max Starks and Willie Colon.

Colbert has been with the Steelers since 2000 - nose tackle Casey Hampton was his first draft pick - so only Hines Ward and Aaron Smith are from predecessor Tom Donahoe's era.

In the AFC Championship Game, the Steelers will face another team, the New York Jets, who made big moves in the offseason by signing LaDainian Tomlinson and Jason Taylor and trading for Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie. They also traded for Braylon Edwards during the 2009 season.

The moves have certainly paid off for the Jets, who have also drafted well the last several years and are playing in their second straight AFC Championship Game.

But you can't argue with Colbert and the Steelers' way. This will be the Steelers' fifth conference championship game appearance in 10 seasons, and only the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles can claim as much success.

Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or

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