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Patience may be Pittsburgh Steelers' ally in NFL draft Saturday

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PITTSBURGH - Kevin Colbert is patient while negotiating contracts. He doesn't rush to judgment when assessing college players. He'll gladly wait two or three years for a player to develop, as long as that player finally realizes his talent.

Being patient in the NFL draft? That's difficult for the Steelers' director of football operations.

Winning the Super Bowl means the Steelers won't draft until the 32nd and last pick in the first round Saturday, unless they trade up or down. It's a long wait for a team that consistently relies on the draft to build most of its roster, especially during a year when the Steelers acknowledge they must draft well.

"We need it to be a special draft because we lost a couple of guys in free agency from a good team," Colbert said.

With salary cap restrictions preventing them from actively seeking another cornerback, wide receiver, defensive lineman and offensive lineman on the open market, the Steelers can't miss in the early rounds, especially when they're drafting so late. They also got a late start in draft preparation because they were still playing a month after more than half the NFL's teams finished their seasons.

While this draft isn't overloaded at the top with talent, Colbert believes there is enough depth that a team that chooses well can reasonably expect to add starters during the first three rounds, especially at cornerback and outside linebacker.

Most years, the Steelers know what they're doing on draft day.

They've won two Super Bowls in the last four seasons thanks to a lineup filled with Pittsburgh draft picks such as Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith and one-time rookie free agents Willie Parker and James Harrison.

This draft is especially challenging because their first pick - unless there's a trade - will be only one pick away from being a second-rounder.

"The frustrating thing is just waiting that long," Colbert said. "It may get to the point where we don't want to wait and we want to trade up. We will look at all those scenarios, we will talk to all of those teams ahead of time, get some parameters and see where it goes. If somebody wants to jump ahead of Detroit (in the second round), they may come to us."

The Steelers traded down in the draft (Hampton) and traded up (Polamalu) in the first round with success in the not-so-distant past, and Colbert won't rule out doing either. The Steelers have nine picks, one in each of the seven rounds plus compensatory picks in the fifth and seventh.

Coach Mike Tomlin leans on Colbert's patience, calling himself "a degenerate gambler" who sometimes needs to be talked out of taking big risks.

"The guy has to talk me off the ledge," Tomlin said. "I am impulsive by nature. He's got a lot more patience than I do."

So what will Tomlin do during the long hours Saturday night while those other teams are drafting?

"I'm going to detail my training camp schedule," Tomlin said.

If the Steelers draft multiple players at any position, it may be along the defensive line - all of their starters are 30 or older. The departures of cornerback Bryant McFadden and wide receiver Nate Washington in free agency also created openings.

This might be the year the Steelers do something they haven't done since the modern NFL draft began in the merger year of 1970 - draft a centre in the first round. They've drafted two of the best centres in NFL history in Hall of Famer Mike Webster (1974) and longtime All-Pro Dermontti Dawson (1988), but neither was a first-rounder.

There are several first-round-worthy centres, including Eric Wood of Louisville, Alex Mack of California and Max Unger of Oregon. Justin Hartwig, their starter, is entering the final season of his contract.

According to Colbert, the only positions the Steelers have ruled out at No. 32 are quarterback and running back.

"There are going to be more (offensive linemen going) higher than in previous years, but it doesn't have the depth that it had last year," Colbert said. "I don't think there are as many offensive linemen as there have been, especially compared to last year. Again, there will be starting-calibre players available across the board."

Once teams begin picking, Colbert is curious to see how much patience he has.

"Would we trade up? Yes. Would we trade down? Yes," Colbert said. "Nobody knows at this point."

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