The way it was timed it might be understandable if you thought it was a pattern. Two weeks, two Steelers legends move on in a bittersweet manner. In an interesting twist, on other fronts the talk is how the Steelers appear to be the same that they've always been; this in spite of all the hang wringing and sullen talk emanating out of Steeler Nation these past months. A rookie was signed after the club explained that because of the financials they would be waiting until June to sign their newcomers. Thought player safety was going away or at least to the back page, think again.
Last week Joe Greene announced his retirement from the Steelers organization. Though he had long ago ceased being an everyday presence in the consciousness of fans, it resonated as sad news. The consolation was that Greene was in good health and we could believe and hope that he would make an appearance from time to time in the years ahead. Then, less than a year after he was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame, Jack Butler passed away. In this case the sadness is associated with death and loss; he is gone now. The consolation comes in the sense that he lived to be properly recognized for his contributions as both a player and in innovation the process of player evaluation. He got to experience a well earned victory lap before exiting the stage. And so the sadness is softened by a sense of justice served.
Earlier this week the Steelers created the expectation that they would wait until after the 1st of June to sign members of their rookie class. The strategy was based upon the salary cap windfall that would be realized because of the terms of Willie Colon's contract. A few days later the club announced that they had come to terms with fourth round draft pick, safety Shamarko Thomas. When you are fully aware of the Thomas' circumstances it is not a story of inconsistency but the kind of story that will reinforce the pride that many feel in supporting the Steelers organization as well as earning Thomas legions of fans who will be rooting for his success for reasons that go beyond his ability to contribute to the win/loss columns. But besides the human interest dimensions a lot of voices locally and nationally are suggesting that Thomas has the capacity to be the first year player to have greatest immediate impact on the team this season. Nobody really knows at this point and a lot can happen between now and September, but for now the needle is pointing up for Thomas on multiple levels.
The Steelers GM participated in a Q&A with season ticket holders. The questions that were field were not atypical of those that a frequently raised here and throughout Steeler Nation. They included, the status of Sean Spence, the state of the salary cap, draft philosophy as it relates to issues such as character, best player available and need. See some of his responses here.
Le 'Veon Bell
Another rookie whose stock seems to rising a bit after some decidedly mixed initial reviews is the running back out of Michigan State. Neal Coolong provides us with a video assessment of Bell's play.
In February 2012 I wrote that the CTE/player safety concerns would be a story that would not be going away any time soon. Over the past fifteen months if has flared into the spotlight and then receded into the background like an irritating static for weeks at a time. Maybe it was because it was a slow news week but the issue took center stage in a big way this past week, being feature in Post-Gazette, the Washington Post and Grantland. Former Steelers such as Mike Webster and Jason Gildon have been featured in the discussion. My guess is that a year from now it will still be a significant part of the conversation.
Normally during his career with the Steelers safety Troy Polamalu would skip the team's OTAs, opting instead to conduct his own training regimen on the West Coast. Because of the tremendous leadership vacuum created with the release of several highly influential veterans, Troy decided to join the team for off season workouts. The question being raised is what will Troy decide to do this year. The need for steadying veteran leadership continues. However, after having suffering a frustrating, injury plagued season last year the question arises as to how Polamalu might evaluate what the best course of action may be to insure that he can get through the season in top form. Might he decide that would be best for him to return to the old routine?
The events of last week made it pretty clear that Max Starks would not be riding in at the last minute to help out the offensive line. That still left open the question as to where he might land. This week we find Max in talks with...Pittsburgh West. Anyone surprised?
Same Old Steelers
While the local discussion has been focused upon whether or how much the Steelers have deviated from the norm, some national observers are suggesting that at the end of the day whatever changes that have occurred in the Steel City are basically trivial. They argue that what we be seeing from the black and gold this season will be pretty much the same; LeBeau's defense, Ben running the offense, headaches for opponents all around.
Support Emperor Chaz
It appears a matter of destiny that Chuck Noll will never get the full credit that he deserves for being one of the greatest and most successful coaches in the history of the game. But our own Hombre informs me that they have a survey going on at the World Leader (ESPN) and may be possible that he finish behind Belichick. There's disrespect and then there's insult. Here's the link to Hombre's site and the information you'll need to vote in support of Noll. Please act in the interest of justice.
Jack Bechta has been running an insightful set of articles written from his point of view as a player representative speaking to the pitfalls players face managing their careers. This week the subject is endorsements and the special problems that football players have in securing product endorsements, such as that many players are not recognizable because they are always wearing helmets.