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Transitional periods like the one currently underway among the Steelers defensive unit begets an advanced level of leadership. The Steelers' core veterans have barely played together over the last several weeks, therefore, have not been given the chance to lead this new group to its final identity.
In listening to Lance Williams' recent Steel Curtain Radio podcast, he discussed leadership as a non-measurable entity that cannot be proved to exist or be absent.
Whether that was following up with a recent Alan Robinson article that discussed a supposed lack of leadership among the Pittsburgh Steelers remains to be seen, but it's two sides of an interesting issue.
Not to suggest Williams' point is since you cannot physically see leadership, it must not exist. Or that Robinson is saying an alleged lack of leadership is the reason the Steelers are staring down the barrel of the worst start to a season under coach Mike Tomlin.
The issue is a combination of both things. Leadership is convincing a group the best interest of that group is the goal each individual wants to accomplish. And in doing that, the leader essentially eliminates his or her own position. It's not smacking guys over the head or making an elaborate scene before games.
We notice flamboyance and authority far more easily than we notice leadership. That is, until leadership isn't present.
Leadership is not larger than any one individual, but rather, the example that one individual lives, breathes and follows every day. If the Steelers defense is suffering a lack of leadership, it's likely not something we can witness outside of the locker room and within the conversations they have among each other.
We are able to see the results of a lack of leadership on the field, and to Williams' point, that's when things become more conjecture in nature as opposed to scientific.
Younger players not knowing their assignments is a stand-alone issue. One possible cause of that is a lack of leadership, as a leader knows the role of each member of the group, and is able to communicate that clearly. Does the lack of former great leaders like James Farrior and Aaron Smith plague this team?
Leadership is much more akin to learning than it is to being taught. We see leadership in a team's ability to learn from past mistakes, and make efforts to correct. Maybe this group - the next wave of Steelers' defensive units - just simply hasn't been given a chance to do that yet on a broader scale.
With and without Farrior and Smith on the roster, they haven't been there. Injuries have ravaged this group on a level we probably don't fully comprehend, being our attention is so often pulled into the weeds as opposed to 10,000 feet above the ground. Those guys didn't practice much last season. Neither did James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, two guys who naturally become figures of leadership due to the skill they possess.
They haven't had any time together. The younger guys replacing them haven't had much time together either. Leadership must emerge, but based on the needs and the skills of this individual group. Loads and heaps of respect are and should be placed on Farrior and Smith, but this team is no longer about them. A leader from within the current group must find a way to call out this new group's identity, and get all associated with it to buy into the direction to which they're going.
This defense will continue to appear more as individuals both succeeding and failing in their individual tasks as opposed to a unit succeeding as a group until that leadership void is filled.