We started the Check Down during the off season, so this week marks the first in season edition. There were many weeks over the past few months when the challlenge was to find enough newsworthy material to fill a column. This week I could fill this piece with just what has transpired today (Friday). It's an exciting time; anticipation, trepidation and the lust for revenge hang in the air. The scheduling of Denver to begin the season was a smart piece of marketing by the league. Now that the season opener is past there is a lot of buzz developing around this game. What this rematch has meant for Steeler Nation is that we have really not moved on from the event that ended last season. It would be great and not a little cathartic if the Steelers can manage to thump the Broncos, and maybe a bit more of a downer than normal if they fail.
Like last week we began with a couple of somewhat light, off beat items. Justin Halpern and Brian Huntington have a fun piece on Grantland.com entitled Honest NFL Logos. Just to give you a taste of what's there, the logo for the Browns reads: "Cleveland, No Hope". For the Patriots: "Pure Evil". And for the Steelers: "Throw the F**king Ball Ben". The other 29 are just as honest and hilarious. Also at Grantland, Bill Barnwell has a piece entitled The Bottom of the Barrel predicting who may be likely to be competing for the number one draft pick next spring. As is the case most years one of the teams on this list is liable to surprise and actually make the playoffs.
Two pieces have appeared late this week featuring the Steelers Hall Of Fame defensive coordinator; one by Peter King in SI.com, the other by Ed Bouchette in the Post-Gazette. The big news from my point of view is that LeBeau will be celebrating his 75th birthday on Sunday; pretty amazing, don't you think? Both pieces addressed LeBeau's role in the playoff loss in Denver and how he maintains his vitality and relevance. For example, he purposely hangs out with some of the younger players in order to stay current with their mindset.
As reported by Steelers.com and our own Neal Coolong, the team waited a few days longer than expected but finally moved rookie guard David DeCastro to the Injured/Reserve, Designated to Return List. To fill his roster spot the Steelers signed cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, a second year castoff of the Oakland Raiders. Two pretty interesting questions concerning this move. There was some concern that the Steelers were thin at cornerback, as well as having a general shortage of defensive backs because of the one game absence of Ryan Clark. Is that the primary purpose of the move or might it be special teams or a combination of both? The 'common wisdom' concerning this anticipated roster move was that Trai Essex would be brought back. Is that idea dead and we've seen the last of Essex, or should this be viewed as strictly a situational move with other moves to come based upon evolving circumstances?
As this is written there is something of a difference of opinion concerning the status of OLB James Harrison for the Denver game on Sunday. Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette has declared him as out for the game, and BTSC has basically endorsed that thought. The rationale is that players who don't practice on Friday typically don't play that Sunday. Harrison has experienced some swelling and discomfort in his surgically repaired knee and was held out of both the Thursday and Friday practices. However, pieces by Theresa Varley at Steelers.com and Ralph Paulk of the Tribune-Review are more non-committal; both saying that Harrison's status is a "game time decision". According to Dulac a official decision should be made by the time this published on Saturday. If Harrison doesn't go, Chris Carter will step into the starting role. Jason Worilds has returned to practice this week and should be available in some capacity.
I'm sure glad that the team kept six running backs on the roster. Right now FB Will Johnson and RBs Jonathan Dwyer and Chris Rainey are the only guys healthy enough to definitely be able to play in an unlimited manner on Sunday. Isaac Redman is working through an ankle injury and Baron Batch has a groin injury that kept him off the practice field on Thursday. The X factor will be Rashard Mendenhall. The estimates on his return have ranged from Halloween to this Sunday. From some of the reports made this week it would not be a total shock if he were to participate on a limited basis against the Broncos. It would be shocking if played extensively. Unless something is announced declaring otherwise, he will be available in uniform on Sunday.
As most Steelers fans have known from the time that the location of this game was announced, S Ryan Clark will not play due to his sickle cell blood disorder. Clark has leveraged the national attention that condition has attracted this week with a press conference announcing the establishment of Ryan Clark's Cure League in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). This is not the first effort of this kind. Former Pirate great, Willie Stargell established a foundation devoted to addressing the disease, but that ceased operations thirty years ago.
Good and bad news in relation to #1 wideout. The on the field news is good. Both Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley appear to be pleased with Wallace's grasp of the offense and his conditioning. MW has been spending extra time this week with wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomerie making certain that he was up to speed with Haley's new system. Of course, questions remain as to how effective he'll be under game conditions. For now it appears that the further you are from the Steelers Camp, the more concerned you are with one person whose opinion carries great weight in Steeler Nation making his thoughts known.
Jerome Bettis stated on his blog that he was worried that Wallace might suffer an injury such as a hamstring due to his lack of practice time with the team. Also on the bad news front is the report that contract negotiations aimed at achieving a long term deal for Wallace are stalled with the likely consequence that with the window for wrapping things up just about closed (The Steelers don't typically conduct contract negotiations during the season as a matter of policy). This means we can look forward to this being a topic of discussion throughout the season and an issue during the 2013 off season. Joy.
Casey Hampton and Max Starks
Who would have bet a couple of months ago that these two guys would be on the active roster, much less starting on opening night? Each has played solidly in limited preseason action. And both have talented guys to step in and either relieve or replace as necessary in Steve McLendon and Mike Adams. A nice feel good, low stress story about two decorated veterans who may be beginning their last rodeo for the Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger garnered national attention by stating that circumstances dictate he will miss a game in the regular season in order to be on hand for the birth of his child. The big story here, in my opinion, is that there is a controversy about this decision. And this likely coming from many of the same people who had been critical of Ben's 'loutish' and 'irresponsible' behaviors in the past. I have a hard time imagining that this is an issue for the Rooneys or Tomlin. If it is for others it just goes to demonstrate how out of whack the priorities are for some.
Charlie Batch's job status has been the source of controversy for some throughout the preseason. On Tuesday the Steelers' 3rd string quarterback participated at an event at Monessen High School designed to promote good sportsmanship and respect.
NFl head coaches from Tomlin to Bill Belichick have commented about the just completed roster cut down period being the most unpleasant aspects of their jobs; speaking movingly in having to tell players who have worked hard and done everything asked of them that their dream is over. On the other side of the equation this a time for great joy for the relatively few lucky ones who landed a spot on their first NFL roster. Steelers.com allowed us a glimpse into the lives of Robert Golden and Kelvin Beachum as they were able to celebrate their good fortune.
Two things happened this week to remind us that the Pittsburgh Steelers are celebrating their 80th Anniversary this season. One Wednesday night a new team flag was unveiled and it was announced which two home games would be throwback days where the new/old jailbird uniforms will be worn, allowing the team to triumph as the Washington Redskins (October 28th) and the Baltimore Ravens laugh themselves to death.
Speaking of the Ravens (and the Browns). Former Browns/Ravens owner Art Modell passed away this week. Modell may have played as big a role as anyone in shaping the modern NFL. For certain, he played a huge role in shaping the AFC North heavily influencing the development of three of its four teams (Browns, Ravens and Bengals). His firing of Paul Brown was influencial in the events that led to the creation of the Cincinnati Bengals. Baltimore might not have a professional football franchise if he had not moved the Browns to Baltimore in the 1990s. And that move has had Cleveland mired in football Hell ever since.
Feelings about Modell have been mixed. A friend of mine, a Browns season ticket holder related a story to me of the last days of the old Browns franchise in Cleveland where incensed fans stood outside of the Browns locker room after games screaming for Modell to show himself so they could...well, we don't want to think too deeply about that. My friend also shared the rumor that there was actually a contract taken out on Modell by irate Cleveland fans. And even many in Steeler Nation did not take kindly to the move in empathy with their long time rivals in Ohio. Nonetheless he played a huge role in moving the NFL past Major League Baseball to the pinacle of popularity in the nation.
As has been the case all year this has once again thrust itself into the forefront of our consciousness. If you are Goodell hater (and in Steeler Nation who isn't) you may get some perverse enjoyment watching him twist in the win with the ups and downs of this issue.
I was reacquainted with the problems I have with the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday night. You have to give it to Jerry Jones; the Cowboys haven't been competent or relevant for over a decade and a half. They have been as successful as the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Browns. Yet year after year we have been bamboozled into believing that they should be in the same conversation with the Steelers, Patriots, Ravens, Giants, Eagles and other teams that have actually been winning at a high level. With the victory over the defending champions we're going to have to listen to more of this crap throughout the season. Who knows. Maybe this year they might actually luck up.
And then there was the shot of some flunky cleaning his glasses as he sat in his box. Only its worse. The flunky as it turns out is his son in law. Perhaps it isn't as bad as it looks.