Steelers minicamp set to begin, a line must be drawn

Jared Wickerham

Measure them as football players when they have pads on, but draw a line between winners and losers and make it clear it's their choice which side they're on, Coach Tomlin.

Put the foot on the pedal, Coach Tomlin. Grip the steering wheel with the hand adorned with your Super Bowl ring, and let the motion of what's coming at you reflect in your mirrored sunglasses.

"Football in Shorts" does not mean the opportunity to lay down your standards in the form of a line on the field, daring the 2013 Steelers to pick a side.

One side is for the talent, the strong, the champions among this group.

The other is the one for those speaking anonymously about locker room strife, or the conditioning of teammates.

Draw it thick, Coach. Leave no doubt which side on which you expect the 53 men who will make up the roster of your team to stand at the end of August. That foundation is laid while they're wearing shorts, jeans, khakis or camouflage.

The Steelers have more than 90 players attending their mandatory minicamp, starting today, in Pittsburgh. Many of those players were a part of the Steelers' 8-8 season last year. Perhaps more pointedly, many who were on that team last year are not back this year.

Some left for more money. Others were deemed unworthy to come back. All of them were a part of a squad that finished at the defining point of mediocrity; a .500 record.

Too many close games lost. Too many moments in which failure replaced success. That team squandered several chances to add their names to the growing legacy of outstanding Steelers teams of the past. The 2008 team, one of the glorious six championship seasons in the franchise's history, forged its legacy by winning those games.

Now, the alumni of that remarkable season are being strongly advised to keep that season where it belongs; out of their line of sight and in their memory banks at the same time. The messages sent in that minicamp serve no purpose other than to establish the baseline of acceptable conduct between the lines of the field, the walls within the South Side facility and the open air of everywhere else.

That message is simple: expectations are not optional. If this team is going to go 8-8 again, it's going to be due to things outside their control. It will not be because of late-game fatigue, mental mistakes, a lack of conditioning or locker room discord.

If this team finishes with its seventh postseason berth in the last 11 years, it will be because of the mentality established at their first full-team practice, which starts today.

The clothing these players are wearing means nothing. If they don't receive that message outside of pads, how will they get it when those pads are laced up?

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