The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted tight end Mark Bruener with the 27th-overall pick in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft. He would go on to play for them for nine years, through the 2003 season, before finishing his career with five seasons on the Houston Texans.
He would catch 152 passes in his career for 1333 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns, but of course he was much more of a contributor than his receiving numbers show, as there are no blocking statistics available. Bruener was the sort of player who did a lot of the unseen and unappreciated work.
Which is perhaps why he was so suited to being a scout, a role that he has now held with the Steelers for as long as he played for them: nine years. Missi Matthews spoke to him recently at the NFL Combine to get his take on the process of the February underwear Olympics regarding his role and what things have changed since he played.
“The outside things, with regards to the amount of commitments that they’re asking the players to do” are the things that have changed he said, rather than the on-field and medical portions. “Media obligations, interviews, maybe there’s additional psychological evaluations, maybe there’s more time for interviews with the players. That I would believe has changed”.
Bruener has a very specific role at the Combine for the Steelers as it concerns the on-field work. “My job is to make sure that I do not miss one of those 20s. I’m a little superstitious”, he admitted. “I kind of try to sit in the same seat, and over the years there’s been the same group of scouts that have sat in that section, so we have an affiliation to each other and it’s nice to see everybody and catch up”
I saw somebody recently post on Twitter an image of General Manager Kevin Colbert sitting by the 40-yard line hand-timing, one of the few general managers who do this on their own. But they also have Bruener at the 20-yard mark, and Mike Butler the son of Hall of Famer and BLESTO founder Jack Butler at the 10-yard line.
“I always try to sit in the same spot, I always have my bag on the left side of me, and I have my stopwatch and I have my two pens in case one of them goes out, and I have my clipboard with my sheet. I would say I’m not superstitious but I am and I’m prepared, because I have to be”.
Not that it has mattered in pressing moments. “I’ve never been asked in a meeting when we’re evaluating a player, ‘what was his 20 time?’”, he joked, “but there’s going to be a time when that’s going to happen, and I need to make sure that I’m ready. Because as soon as you let your guard down, that’s when it comes back to bite you”.
The Steelers have one of the most consistent and stable scouting staffs in the league headed by Colbert, Brandon Hunt, and Phil Kriedler. Bruener and Butler are two of their longest-serving scouts, along with Mark Gorscak and Colbert’s son, Dan Colbert.