PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 12: Max Starks #78 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is helped off of the field after getting injured against the Atlanta Falcons during the NFL season opener game on September 12 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Let me be the first to announce this; the offseason is over! Your patience is about to be rewarded. Yes, it'll be a few days yet before the activity at Latrobe commences, but rookies have already reported for a few teams, and football news is pouring in. A lot of things to cover today, but let's start with what is essentially a non-news news item.
Steelers don't make the news.
They did a piece on this at Nice Pick Cowher yesterday, but it certainly bears repeating and expansion. It was reported that Tomlin instructed the team to "Stay out of the papers" at the conclusion of minicamp. But that statement was probably just for the benefit of the newcomers.
There has been a flood of news reports over the past couple of weeks of incidents and dysfunctional behavior involving NFL players. Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Dez Bryant, Kenny Britt, the list goes on and on. Meanwhile in Steel Town all is quiet (knock on wood). Think about it; when was the last time there was a DUI, nightclub incident, domestic violence complaint or a speeding ticket that involved a Steeler? Yes, Manny Sanders was found guilty of littering, and we are still on pins and needles awaiting word on the fine and/or suspension coming from the Commissioner's Office. But besides that, what? This is neither luck (well maybe a little bit) nor an accident.
One of the things that Mike Tomlin has been pounding home year in and year out to his team is to not be "that guy" who makes the papers for all the wrong reasons. One thing that is beginning to become clear with the Steelers under the leadership of Tomlin; Rome wasn't built in a day. Fans identify a problem and want to see solutions instantly. If that doesn't happen then there is a tendency to think that either the team is unaware of the existance of the problem or they are doing nothing to address it. But few of the big issues are solved with quick fixes; its a process that may take a number of years for the effort to bear fruit. Take the offensive line. The group that is likely to take the field in September took three years to assemble, part of the reason being that resources are limited and there are other prioritiies to consider as well.
In the case of keeping Steelers off the police blotter, this involves a change in culture that common sense should tell us takes some time. But I think it's safe to say that things are working out. If Weslye Saunders and Manny Sanders represents the nadir of player behavior then I think the team is in pretty good shape. This is obviously impossible to accurately quantify, but the lack of distractions that this represents will probably provide a competitive asset somewhere down the road.
Max Starks and Jonathan Scott
Big news involving the offensive line over the last 48 hours. On Wednesday the Steelers resigned tackle Max Starks to a one year deal. This was a move that many were hoping for and my guess is that no was expecting it to take place this soon. Apparently a favorable medical report may have been a key factor in the decision. Delighted citizens of Steeler Nation predicted that the handwriting was on the wall for Jonathan Scott, and sure enough the other shoe dropped just a day later when team released the 5th year tackle on Thursday. To say that the Nation is ecstatic would be an understatement. For the second consecutive year it appears that an area of weakness is being transformed into a strength. When you have a unit where the key backups were once more or less competent starters this engenders a lot of confidence.
Neal Coolong did a nice analysis of the possible implications of these two moves. Many believe that the re-acquisition of Starks made Scott expendable. And some are also saying that the rapid timing of the moves could signify anything from respect and consideration for Scott to have the time and opportunity to catch on with another team to a financial consideration in the negotiation with Mike Wallace. I would add another factor. Trai Essex.
Many in the Nation hold Essex in low regard, and perhaps not without good reason depending upon what you focus upon. Until the resigning of Starks Essex was the only offensive lineman on the team, and a member of a very small minority league-wide who owned two Super Bowl rings and who had played in a third. With a group that is certainly talented, but also very inexperienced, this is not a small consideration. Without Starks or Essex, preferably both, in that offensive line room then this group may well be a bit too young to support a championship run this year. Essex brings an incredible level of position flexibility. How many players are you aware of who can step in and put forth a credible effort playing every single position on the O line? Remember he received a game ball for playing center in the Rams game this past season. That kind of ability can make a lot of people expendable. Maybe they can carry fewer linemen than would otherwise be the case with benefits being realized in other position areas. Essex has lost a lot of weight and appears to have brought a different attitude to the job if the reports recorded earlier in the off season are accurate. And Mike Tomlin, the William and Mary graduate, appears to like smart players and in this regard the Northwestern grad qualifies. Also Beachum shares similar qualities of high intelligence and potential for position flexibility as well, making the early reports of his demise perhaps a bit premature.
Thomas Tull and The Dark Knight Rises
The Steelers connection with the new Batman movie which opens this weekend is not trivial. Thomas Tull who is CEO of Legendary Entertainment and the Executive Producer for The Dark Knight Rises is also part of the Steelers ownership group was instrumental in arranging for the movie to be filmed in part in Pittsburgh as well as to include current and former Steelers such as Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Mike Wallace and Bill Cowher as part of the cast. The benefits for Pittsburgh and the team could be considerable. The participation of the Steelers have been mentioned in articles appearing in the New York Daily News and Grantland.com. Contemplate the following:
Bringing the production of such a high end movie (in terms of popularity and hype) can result in some significant economic windfall; not only in terms of the direct benefits of participating in the production for actors and crew, but also the enhancement of Pittsburgh's image as well as establishing the city as an attractive location for other film projects.
The Dark Knight trilogy looks to be more than a passing fad, rather it has all the earmarks of being a popular culture classic. What does this mean? For one thing it means that the Gotham Rogues (a cinematic euphemism for the Pittburgh Steelers) and the individual participants such as Ward will be cemented as pop culture icons, maybe for decades. This is something of a step beyond just the Hall of Fame because it transcends football. Think that might impact the growth of Steeler Nation?
This movie is going to make a ton of money, maybe one of the all time blockbusters. Tull is as passionate about the Steelers as he is about his movies. Think some of that money is going to find its way to the Steelers organiztion?
The superstar safety appeared on the Dan Patrick radio program and attracted national attention when he acknowledged that he has lied about suffering concussions in order to continue to play. What is newsworthy about this is not what he did, but that he was honest enough to have admitted it.
The reasons why athletes would do such a thing may be a bit misunderstood. Yes, there is a macho culture that encourages the notion that a player who doesn't play through getting his bell rung is some sort of sissy. In addition, we only recently have had the knowledge of the extent of the dangers associated with concussions. But there is another reason that is not often discussed. Fear.
When my daughter was playing college basketball she quickly returned to play after suffering a concussion because she feared that she might lose her job. Just think about all the articles and comment threads that disparage players because they are 'injury prone', 'can't stay on the field', 'fragile'. There is tremendous pressure on players from coaches, peers and, yes, fans to play through injuries. The fear of losing one's job is an ever present odor in the nostrils of players and fans seem largely oblivious or indifferent to this fact. Are players going to fake their way through concussions? Damn right!
The former team captain is actively pursuing the goal of retiring as a Pittsburgh Steeler. If you check out the comments thread of Neal's piece on Porter published Wednesday you'll get a pretty good idea of the wide spread popularity and respect J-Peezy still commands among the members of this community, but some aspects of his actions as a Steeler were overlooked. Ron Cook has a fine piece in Friday's Post-Gazette which highlights not just the fearsome nature of what he did to opponents, but the kind and considerate leadership that he demonstrated to his team. This included leading the team to get Dick LeBeau throwback jerseys as a tribute. It was a gesture that left the Steelers defensive coordinator in tears. The Nation is not going to yawn through Porter's retirement.
Ask The Steelers
The question and answer feature on Steelers.com continued this week with part two of sessions with Antonio Brown, Cameron Heyward, Ryan Clark and Baron Batch. Two responses by Brown raised my eyebrows. When asked who he thought would be the breakout teammate this season, his response was Baron Batch. When asked which of his teammates provided the greatest assistance in his development as a player, he answered, Byron Leftwich.
Catching the games
With a fan base spread out throughout the world, seeing the Steelers play is not a given for everyone. The NFL has introduced a feature that will allow fans to have access to live streaming HD video of NFL games around the world. Of particular interest to me and a lot of fans is that the package includes preseason games, a feature that is usually not available in a sports bar. A slightly disquieting question is whether this may have a long term impact on the sports bar culture.
Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck
Both players signed contracts this week. This should mark the beginning of the dominoes falling among the 1st round draft choices meaning that we should expect a deal for David DeCastro soon; probably before the beginning of training camp.
Ray Rice, Matt Forte and Wes Welker
These players joined Drew Brees as having agreed to deals at the 11th hour in contract disputes with their various teams. This along with RG III and Luck would seem to establish a pattern of waiting until late to get deals done. If so, this may bode well for those who are nervous about the Mike Wallace negotiations. CBS Sports has also reported that these negotiations are progressing in a positive manner.
The magazine listed the most valuable sports franchises with the Steelers being ranked 21st overall. Of NFL teams the Dallas Cowboys were ranked 1st, 3rd overall. Which just goes to show that money can't buy either happiness or success.