Opening Statement: "With the two seven round draft selections, starting off with the defensive end from Pittsburgh, Greg Romeus, he's a player who only played two games this past season. He had a back injury, but really more recently, an ACL injury. He's in the middle of rehabbing right now. And then middle Linebacker, Nate Bussey from Illinois, he's a guy that has versatility. You see him playing a lot of nickel-will for Illinois. We think he will be a guy that can contribute right away in the kicking game. In regards to Greg at Pitt, he'll be a guy we have to take through the rehab and follow step by step to see where he's at prior to training camp. We're pleased with both of those selections as we try to took at not only position needs at this point in the draft, but some critical factors and really a projection to where we see these players."
At this point how do you keep up with Greg's rehab?
"You find out…fortunately his surgery was performed right there in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers' medical facility is. You're able to, at least, just touch base and get updated information prior to the selection, but we'll have a pretty good handle on where he is at. We felt pretty comfortable prior to the selection of knowing where he was at with his rehab. Who did the surgery, etc."
Is the policy the same as with rehabbing veterans, where you can be updated on their progress through a third party?
"It would be similar to that. It would be identical now that he is a New Orleans Saint."
Can you talk about getting quality guys? Did you come in this morning thinking defense, that we have to get defense?
"Coming in this morning, I would say there was a long wait with the selections that took place prior to us picking. I think our feeling with the seventh round, would probably be the same at the sixth round. Our feeling was, is there a player that stands out? Greg's grade was uniquely different than the rest of the board at that point. Probably and mainly because of his injury. It was really trying to find guys that we think that would make our football team. At that juncture, we discussed a receiver, we discussed a few other positions as we got into the seventh round and then after the first pick, prior to the last pick we made. There was a handful of discussions and they centered around some traits that maybe we felt would give someone an edge."
So five out of six for defense?
"I think a little bit, these last two, I think we did feel this. We felt in this Draft that there was a pretty good clump in the middle rounds of running backs. We also felt that there was a pretty good group of graded linebackers in there. What happened with the selection of Mark (Ingram) in the first round, kind of got us off that middle group of linebackers and we really didn't think Martez would be available in the third so when he was we selected him. Johnny Patrick, shortly there after. All in all, we say this every year, but we're excited to add new players. We'll see where they are at. Certainly, the challenge for this group, differently than any years past is that they will be possibly behind with the fact that we are kind of in a holding pattern, waiting to see when we can begin the process of teaching them and getting them up to speed."
Is it tougher than when what you just said, then maybe to have someone rely on to come in and play right away? Or is that something you can't judge yet?
"I'll give you an example, I don't know if any of us in '06 would have thought that Marcus Colston would be able to play for us as a receiver selected in the seventh round. You guys who were here for that rookie mini camp, certainly, we saw at that point, I don't know if we would have thought that training camp he would be ready. There's a big learning curve. I think some players handle it, maybe more easily than others. It's hard to predict. You hope guys can jump right in, but I think it is hard to put a handle on. You pay attention to the test scores and you find out what you can, as far as their mental makeup. Do they learn football, often times players may not score well on a test, but he is extremely smart from a football IQ standpoint. We just have to wait and see."
This was kind of a unique draft for you guys. You did get a lot of guys that fell pretty far, high value picks but they also met with what might have been your three or four of your biggest needs.
"I think, to some degree yes. There are three players that we didn't have a good feel for where they might go. There were thoughts that Mark Ingram might go first round, but specifically Cameron Jordan, Martez Wilson, and Greg Romeus from Pittsburgh. It's easier when there are positions that, as you head into the draft, you might like to address. It becomes more challenging when the third and fourth round, all of a sudden it might be a player that you would consider yourself a deep-add or not necessarily a group you wanted to address. With that being said, you're excited about it. I've said this before, it's always this time of year that you get excited about new players and I think two, three, four years down the road, you get a really good grade, (you see) how this class can handle the transition and the ability to play in the NFL. We will be excited to get started with them."
You and Mickey Loomis both talked about the need to add to the front seven. Is that something that you felt you would have been okay with if you left this draft and didn't get?
"Yeah, I think we felt like we would be at least be able to add a player with either the first round selection or the two third round selections. Signing Shaun Rogers was a start but I think we felt confident that we would be able to find a player in those first three picks."
Were you able to bring the two first rounders here today?
"They were here today and they've left."
You were allowed to meet them? Shake hands?
"We were allowed to do everything you would do, introduction to the program, players had a chance to once again tour the facility, say hello to the coaches, scouts, ownership, Mickey Loomis, myself. I know they had lunch here and all of that. What they were prohibited from doing was sitting down and meeting on football or any of those activities. Both of those guys were in and both of them have left."
"Correct. Yesterday at some point, we were prepared to be able to give them certain things and that just changed."
Do you have to be on standby for undrafted free agents in case another ruling comes out?
"I think absolutely. Because our scouts right now, normally, this would be a pretty busy time. We would wait for this seventh round to finish up, and when it was finished, you would spend three or four hours on the phone securing positions with players. That's different this year. We have to be on standby for any change that would immediately all of a sudden put us in a recruiting mode, but right now, there's no contact."
In Romeus' case, is your latest information that he could be ready for training camp?
"I would say that it would take him up to, when you look at the injury, we've had some players here for instance, and I'm just trying to reference a guy like Deuce (McAllister), who had an ACL injury. It's going to put him into the latter part of June, early July, and this would be a player that we would have to monitor in the early weeks, just as we've had some of our players that have had early fall ACL's as it pertained to the following training camp. That time frame is pretty predictable in that it's something that we're going to have to monitor, and all that we knew going in."
Maybe like when Jimmy Wilkerson tore his ACL?
"Similar, and he probably had one of the better or quicker recoveries. I know he worked his tail off to do that. I think that's very accurate. It's very similar to when the injury occurred and then the time frame. We just have to be careful when that time comes and monitor his progress."
Where do you feel like you are roster wise coming out of the draft? Do you feel like you need to address something later on, potentially a free agent?
"I think the biggest uncertainty is that just that there is a number of players on that board in there that are potential guys that we don't know if they are restricted or non restricted. In other words that would be the one thing that is uniquely different today than normal post-drafts. There is that uncertainty as you go through the depth chart with a good number of our players, so we don't know. We wait."
Have you ever had a draft with this few picks or a draft where you had to wait this long?
"That was probably the longest wait that I can recall between what was the third round yesterday and then patiently waiting for four, five, and six, but with that being said, we are excited. We are excited about this group we got and that's pretty common dialogue at this time of the day with every coach, GM, scouting department, so I'm always somewhat reserved, but we will see how these guys do. But I thought our scouts, Rick Reiprish, Ryan Pace, and his group, did a great job this year. We have been very consistent and very deliberate with our process. It takes a while. Mickey had a lot to do with our ability to all of a sudden jump back up there and get in the picture for Mark Ingram. That's exciting, it's contagious in that room when something like happens and we had a chance to call Mr. Benson. Because right after the selection of Cam Jordan, there was the feeling like Day 1 is finished, some people are maybe not in the room, and all of a sudden we are back on the board. Mickey was fantastic. He was great through these three days, but certainly through that first round. He did a great job. For these scouts, and I've said this before, there has been a years worth of work that goes into the grading of these players and so if I could paint this picture for you, there are seven or eight area scouts with there collective group of a dozen to fifteen players. They've got two or three they like, and they have to prepare for a draft with the idea that maybe, as you look at this list, you've got, West Coast, Southeast, Midwest, East Coast, Southeast again, Midwest, that there's an area scout, or two or three, that didn't have one of his players drafted but they've got to come prepared each season with the idea that they've given us a clear picture on a handful of these guys. I think that's the challenge with their jobs, and I think they do it very well."
You say it's common rhetoric for every GM and front office to say we love our guys, but I assume some years it's truer than others?
"We got our guy."
I assume some years you go in thinking you didn't get some of the players you wanted?
"I think part of our job is to worry. I do think that we were able to address some spots and some players fell to us that we didn't anticipate. And you know that because when you begin to discuss first round cloud of players, for instance, six or seven guys, then you begin to discuss the third round cloud of players. A guy like Martez Wilson for instance, when we are discussing third round cloud of guys or players a week ago, he technically wasn't in that cloud or discussion, and yet the discussion revolves around is he a guy that we put in our first round cloud. That type of thing. Cameron Jordan was at the top of that cloud, but you kind of say alright, let's assume he's taken, then next, next, next, and you go through that process. Really, starting with the first round, we were a bit surprised that Cameron was available to us at twenty four, and very pleased that he was."
How far up the board do you think Romeus would have been without his injury?
"I heard that a few of the guys on the telecast, depending on if you were listening to the NFL Network or ESPN. I do think that Mike (Mayock) does a very good job, he watches a lot of tape. This was a player who was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year two years ago. That would just be, and a guess on my part, if I were to just speculate, it would just be that. I don't know, I think he would have been drafted higher than he was selected or earlier than he was selected today, and a lot of that really would be in the eye of the beholder or the team. That would be hard to say, but certainly earlier."
Was there anything about Romeus' personality, the way he dealt with hardship, on and off the field, a specific interest to you?
"What happened was that he came off the back injury and shortly after his second game, he injured his knee. You go back and you begin to really look closely at his junior year film. You have a mark on him, you recognize that this player might not be ready, initially, and yet you make a selection like this with, not just the immediate future but the long term future as well, when you look at a good rehab and someone…the difference with his injury is when you go visit with your doctors, they can foresee a healthy knee when the recovery is over. There are some players with the injury grades that the injury is there and it's going to be there next week, two months from now and two years from now, that weighs on your mind as well. You are at least able to envision a healthy player with a full recovery. I think that's important."
You met him though right?
"Yes. I think the makeup was good. It was solid. All of those things were good.
Do you see Bussey playing strong side or weak side?
"He's definitely a weak side linebacker, and if you put the tape on you would see him in what is a nickel defense, if you will. But he's over the slot receiver carrying the verticals. He's a guy we think is pretty physical. He's got pretty short area quickness. He's a guy that would weigh today probably 238 to 240 in that range. He'll be able to, we think, play on special teams. We worked him specifically last week and we kind of knew with possibly that second seventh round selection, which happens to be the exact selection that we selected Marques (Colston) with, really the compensatory seven that year, that this would be a good or wise pick for us because we felt like he'd be able to come in and contribute in the kicking game right away. We hope he can be a core special teams player and then we'll go from there.
How would rate the NFC South draft picks and where you all are this year?
"That's a good question, I typically stay away from ranking drafts and I really mean this. It's much easier for us to sit in here and say, "Hey let's go back and rank '07, '08 in the NFC South draft or '06." I think it's challenging to do that today and each team has gotten a certain taste. So when the boards are put together, if you travel to Carolina or Atlanta or Tampa there would be some similarities and yet a third of the boards would have some differences so, you know, I think we just have to see and certainly when you watch Atlanta's selection of the receiver early on, he's a player we had highly graded. Cam Newton's a player we had highly graded and obviously the defensive end from Iowa was someone we thought a lot of and had in for a visit. So, you're more familiar with those early selections and then as the middle and later rounds unfolded it's harder to say, now we could sit in there and say hey, cause we do it all the time, a selection is made and there's kind of a pained look on everyone's face because it was a player we all liked. And that might be in the division, and it might be out of the division. So, that takes place throughout the course of the draft, you're always hopeful about a player and then when that name comes off the board, typically myself, Mickey or someone else would say, "Who just selected him if we didn't hear it because you'd want to know who got that player. I think that happens a lot."