It's Combine time. And is there trouble in the South Side Paradise?
The current focal point of the NFL universe is Indianapolis when the NFL Combine is now in full swing. The Steelers, an organization that enjoys maintaining a low profile, find themselves in the uncomfortable glare of the spotlight amidst reports of a "fractured" locker room. Meanwhile speculation grows as the team delays decisions on free agents and contract restructuring until a clearer picture emerges of the available rookie talent on display this weekend. Fractures are also appearing among the media and fans as opinions vary widely as to the current state of the Steelers. Some believe that the window of championship level performance has closed and a radical overhaul is necessary. Others contend that even if some players are lost to free agency or cap issues that the team remains competitive. With so many unanswered questions no definitive answers are likely forthcoming in the near term.
Those who are closest to the situation; players, coaches and members of the front office argue in favor of the notion that the team is still Super Bowl capable. This was the gist of Colbert's remarks and responses at his press conference conducted at the Combine. You might be tempted to think that Colbert and other members of the Steeler family that are close to the situation would move the argument to their point of view. However, to fit the argument the competence of Steelers leadership, whether it be Tomlin, Rooney and also Colbert is being called into question PaVASteeler captures this cleverly here. But the idea of the demise of the Steelers is a better story for many media types and some fans just aren't happy unless they're unhappy. So don't expect the needle to move much.
The Steeler linebacker finds himself and his work ethic at the center of what was likely the top Steeler related (and NFL) story of the week. The Post-Gazette's Ron Cook quotes an "anonymous" teammate as stating that Woodley "...was awful. He wasn't in shape." The resulting drama and firestorm has not only caused aspersions to be directed at Woodley, but has dragged in teammates, management and the reputation of the team in general, with one reporter stating that the Steelers were now "worse than the Jets" in terms of locker room discord. Ouch. The veracity of the allegations against Woodley as well as the integrity of the source have been challenged by Steeler Management (Colbert), veteran players (Ryan Clark, Antonio Brown and Ike Taylor) and even some in the media such as Stephen A. Smith. Smith and others point out that the nature of Woodley's injury (hamstring) would cause difficulties in maintaining cardio fitness. Players and management were concerned that the source would air dirty laundry in public and to do so in a "cowardly" manner by not claiming their remarks.
The outspoken Clark became a lightning rod for criticism himself for calling out the source on national television. Some accused Clark of engaging in precisely the type of public character assassination and fracturing that he was supposedly attacking. It was suggested that Clark was using the occasion to inflate his own resume and promote himself for future television work.
While Clark was holding forth on the NFL Network, Brown was center stage on ESPN essentially confirming that the Steelers locker room has been divided. The picture that appears to evolve is that of fracturing that occurs despite the efforts of veterans to hold the situation together. And, it may just be me, my interpretation of his remarks indicated to me that whatever divide exists that perhaps he and Mike Wallace were on opposite sides of it. Check the video out in Neal's piece and you decide.
In more upbeat news, Neal Coolong conducted an interview with Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator. In that piece and a followup article LeBeau revealed the need for the team to secure the services of a young safety to eventually replace aging veterans Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. He acknowledged the need to improve the defenses ability to generate turnovers. And he sang the praises of some his rising young players, most notably cornerback Cortez Allen and linebacker Adrian Robinson. Let's also not forget that the context of the attention being given to LeBeau was centered around a ceremony honoring Coach Dad as a Hometown Hall of Famer.
Dwyer who became a father for the first time this week got some attention from Steelers.com and our own SteelCityRoller. What was significant about the piece by SCR is that he took on the criticism that has been leveled at Dwyer that he lacks the stamina (or drive) necessary to merit serious consideration as a feature back because of the perception that he was taking himself out of games. The article points out that he was instructed to take himself out of games at certain points. If true then its safe to say that Dwyer is probably held in higher esteem by his teammates and coaches than a number of fans and may be more a factor in the future of the offense then some currently believe.
Perhaps another reason that the Woodley thing has drawn so much heat is that Steeler Nation may be feeling particularly vulnerable about the linebacker situation at present. Only Lawrence Timmons performed at or above expectations consistently this past season. One reason for this is that this particular position group was hit especially hard by injury over the past year. Consequently the position is perceived to be thin and believed to be the focus of Pittsburgh's top draft choice. But it was interesting to note that LeBeau pointed to safety as his area of focus, maybe because the situation at linebacker could be more hopeful than we think.
Interesting to note that the change in perception surrounding Jason Worilds has changed rather radically since last spring and summer. Its fair to say that many thought Worilds to be a bust, because he had been shelved for some time with an injury. As the season wore on and he got healthier fans began holding him in higfher esteem, and at this point many feel confident enough with his play that they are comfortable suggesting that he can adequately step in for James Harrison if he departs.
Chris Carter, Stevenson Sylvester and Sean Spence (and Woodley) could be viewed in similar terms. Each is currently trying to come all the way back from injury, and could demonstrate the ability to contribute at a high level when completely healthy. Add Adrian Robinson who LeBeau is high on and all of the sudden the situation is no longer so dire at this position.
The name of this free agent receiver, most recently employed by the Chiefs has been coming up for three reasons. First the increasing perception that Mike Wallace will shortly no longer be with the team and the need to replace him. Second, his local ties as a Woodland Hills graduate. And third, his relationship with offensive coordinator Todd Haley whom he played for at both Arizona and Kansas City. The downside is money and time. A Breaston signing would almost certainly mean having to part ways with some veteran players whom the team may otherwise be able to keep. And even then it probably wouldn't be the best offer available. Such a deal probably wouldn't come to fruition quickly, begging the question of whether the wide receiver would wait to make deal paying less money.
It was something of a rough year for the 2012 draft class both on and off the field. If you had to guess last spring who the difficulties might center around I suspect that second round pick Mike Adams would have been high on your list. Many considered the circumstances surrounding his selection controversial and considered him a character risk. Adams didn't make it through the year unscathed but what setbacks he did suffer were honorable, occurring in the line of duty. As of now the gamble made by Steelers brass appears to be paying off as Adams looks to play a big role in the future of the evolving Steelers offensive line.
Seems to me that the biggest thing going for the NFL Combine is that it takes place when many fans are starting to experience serious withdrawal symptoms from being deprived of the sport. And also being a bit information starved concerning the new crop of rookie players preparing to seed the teams with fresh new talent. Otherwise its hard justifying getting all amped up over guys running the 40, bench pressing and negotiating cones. Matt Bowen makes the case for the value of the Combine.
A new reason to love the Terrible Towel
From this point forward the towels will be manufactured in Pittsburgh by a Pittsburgh based company. The article linked here mentioned that previously the towels had been produced "out of state". Hmm, I wonder if they meant China?
Former Steelers prep for coaching careers
Levon Kirkland and Willie Parker both participated in the NFL-NCAA Coaching Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina this past week. Kirkland who is a head coach for a high school and Parker who was a coaching intern for a college in West Virginia attended the third annual event in the hope of advancing their coaching careers.
As of now it appears that Foote will be the first Steeler free agent to be retained by the team. The veteran inside linebacker has acknowledged that his agent and team officials are in contract negotiations.
Evaluating the Steelers
A lot of folks have an opinion on the state of the Steelers. There isn't much of a consensus, with views ranging from they're toast (nfl.com) to maybe not (cbssports.com and yours truly) to something in between (si.com and Sporting News). I guess you can take your pick.
Pittsburgh Super Bowl
Previously, I polled the group concerning you thoughts about a Pittsburgh Super Bowl. What makes the concept plausible is the outdoor cold weather Super Bowl planned for New York next year. The issues and contingencies involved with this endeavor are covered here.