Its not over. Viewed from the perspective of their past practices, the Steelers could be compared to a substance abuser whose obsession has abated solely because a lack of resources. Pay day will come after June 1st and the team is likely to go on another bender. If you're looking for an outsider's perspective on the team's free agency activity then you can find it here. In the mean time we find ourselves in a frenzy fueled by the fevered imaginations of Steelers Nation and the punditry as everyone puts in their two cents concerning their preferences for the draft upcoming in May. It is a time that shows us the best and worst of a medium with an insatiable 24/7/365 appetite. You'll be fine as long as you remember you are in the middle of a high speculation/low information twilight zone.
The week's best story
We can argue over what might be the week's top story, but I'd rather start with what I think we can agree is the best. The team has generally received high marks for its maneuvers in free agency this spring, but most would agree that their top acquisition was not a player but a coach. Hall of Famer Mick Munchak coming to join Mike Tomlin's staff has been the best development in 2014. Coach Munchak spoke at length this week about his decision to come to Pittsburgh. I'm betting that (if you haven't seen this already) once you read this piece, and the accompanying video your sense of enthusiasm and anticipation will go up a few notches.
A story that has been developing over the past few hours has been a perceived change in status of Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey. What's interesting about this is that none of this has been driven by anything Pouncey has done or said. The key players here have been Cleveland Brown's center Alex Mack, Pouncey's brother Mike and Munchak. Mack was offered an expensive contract by the Jacksonville Jaguars (which Cleveland matched given Mack's Transition status). The deal has been viewed as setting the market for elite centers of which Pittsburgh Pouncey would be considered to be a member in good standing, and whose contract is up next year. It is common practice for the Steelers Pouncey would be a candidate for an extension this year. Meanwhile, Miami Pouncey has signaled that he would like to revisit his compensation as a result of current events.
And Munchak? There is general agreement that Munch is as good as it gets in bringing out the best in his charges. So we shouldn't be surprised that some would conclude, mistakenly I would think, that he can make, as my mother was fond of saying, a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Consequently, what do we need an elite center for, when we can throw any old boob out there and save a few bucks? Adding to this narrative is that Pouncey has fallen into that dreaded category embraced by some (too many) fans that I call the William Gay, He Rubs Me The Wrong Way So I Don't Like Him And, Therefore, He Must Be Cut/Traded/Killed. (With Troy extended and Ziggy Hood, Emmanuel Sanders and LaMarr Woodley gone, there have been openings, and Pouncey appears in the running for this season's poster child. And in case you're a bit dense, in the spirit of full disclosure, count me as one who could care less about who you don't like.) This is not to say that there isn't cause for legitimate concern here. But if some decide to embrace the possibility advanced by Neal Coolong of a trade, are you ready to own the potential consequences? Only one of Pittsburgh's six Super Bowl victories came with cut rate talent at center, and Justin Hartwig did his part in nearly scuttling Super Bowl 43 with his holding call in the end zone. The continuing danger contained in the conversations that occur at this time of the year is that the flaws of the players we know never can measure up to the imagined perfection of untested potential.
Moving on to the other elite caliber offensive lineman on the team. An encouraging progress report on third year guard David DeCastro that would suggest that we've just seen the tip of the iceberg with what this player has to offer.
The new Steelers running backs coach is at the other end of the spectrum in that of all the moves made by the team this off season, he is the one that is most likely to be overlooked. As we get the opportunity to learn more about him we find that he is particularly well suited from an experiential perspective to manage two high potential running backs like Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. Makes one wonder whether the team's decision making was influenced by Saxon's presence on the staff.
Eddie George and the 'Le' backfield
Prudence would suggest to refrain from projecting the success of an individual or group of players before they actually take the field (I do live in the Washington area), but when Eddie George starts making comparisons of Bell and Blount to Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack, its hard not to get a little excited.
Second year running back Le'Veon Bell made a list of players around the league who are expected to make a leap forward from their first year performances. Stories like this might make you stop and think about the difference a year can make. A year ago Isaac Redman looked to be the most promising returning player, running behind an offensive line with huge question marks related to an epidemic of injuries and scheme. The best tight end was in dry dock and given the level of punishment that Ben absorbed on a regular basis, quality depth at quarterback was a legitimate concern. Even with the loss of its number one receiver, that segment of the offense was viewed as its strength as a matter of default. Today despite the presence of who is conceded to be no worse than the number two receiver in the league, that group is now considered the weak link in comparison to what some are thinking may be one of more potent duos of running backs moving behind what a few are acknowledging as possibly being one of the best offensive lines in the league. Makes you wonder how that happened.
The film room: Blount and Mitchell
Joe Greene and the Steeler Way
How does one assess the progress made by Pittsburgh in free agency? Ed Bouchette comes at the signings of two receivers last week in a manner that illuminates the Pittsburgh Steeler way of team building. The Steelers signed Darrius Heyward-Bey, while Washington made a big splash in signing DeSean Jackson. Pittsburgh almost certainly couldn't afford Jackson, this is the reason that many probably thought the team passed on a player that many fans in Steelers Nation may have preferred. Bouchette proposes that money would not have been the issue at all, that the team would have passed anyway. To the frustration of many the Steelers don't, even if they could, throw money at big name free agents. Instead they
spend wisely, stay the course, don't let fans influence anything and be patient with your plan and with those who work for you.
Its an approach that many feel is boring, to be frank, at this time of the year, but it is a strategy that does have the tiny advantage of actually working more often than not. He quoted Steeler great Joe Greene as validating this in a conversation that you can find here. So they will pass on some big names that we might wish they hadn't, they won't fire people at the drop of a hat, and they won't be listening to the likes of you or me (though they will probably be unfailingly polite while they ignore us).
The Steeler Way: part two
Leaders from the players union (NFLPA) and the league met in New York this week to address the question of how to establish and maintain a respectful workplace. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked to give his take on the issue. His response was to refrain from engaging in a lot of rule making in this regard. And the reason for that would be that the Steelers have already set the ('ahem') standard for maintaining a respectful workplace.
Neal has been running a series that offers a round by round analysis of what has gone right and wrong about the Steelers' draft picks in recent years.
The misleading and the silly
Pressure to produce content, generate hits and buzz may influence many to fly into the waiting arms of misinformation and myth according to Jack Bechta. To make his point he provides analysis of recent stories that have surfaced concerning recent NFL transactions.
As for the silly, one only need reference Ed Bouchette's recent blog Q&A. The questions via Twitter near the end are, inadvertently, hilarious.
Assessing the need
There is little in the way of doubt over the need for this team to improve at a number of positions in order to be playoff capable once again. However, there is less unanimity when prioritizing need in the glaring immediate sense, balanced by the team's long term needs. Anthony Defeo argues for going for a cornerback in the first round of this year's draft. Dale Grdnic has a series going that looks at the various position groups (here, here, here, here and here) with an eye towards using contract data to determine where the potential needs will be over the coming months.
The greatest draft class
A bit of history as we get a glimpse of the Steelers 1974 draft class, the one that produced four Hall of Famers and serves as good a point as any when earmarking the team's transition to greatness.
Tomlin and Wheaton
The second year receiver got what was most likely a welcome vote of confidence from his head coach. Wheaton's rookie year was one of the more disappointing of last season's first year players, but it came with an explanation. The Oregon State alum started out behind due to NCAA regulations, and then lost further ground due to injuries during the season. Nonetheless, some choose to believe that one reason why the team didn't put up more of a fight to retain the services of Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery was their faith in Wheaton.
It has been spoken of earlier in this piece as well as others that there is an expectation, a need, for second year players such as Bell, Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas to make that leap. But, arguably, while all of these leaps are important, Wheaton's or that of one of the other two second year receivers is likely to prove most crucial to the team this year, which accounts for the traction that the receiver debates have garnered over winter months.
Ike Taylor's unusual career path
Taylor's journey which has led him to be one of more respected players at his position league wide may have made the difference in whether he could have suceeded in this league. Could you imagine him being a running back with those hands?
The non anointed's pathway to the NFL.
Hundreds participate in regional tryouts to get a shot at getting to an NFL training camp. You might be surprised what established stars took this route into the league
The business of football
If you think that the players are making out like bandits under the new CBA you just aren't paying attention. In the business of football the players almost always eventually lose.
Speaking of that Steelers class of 1974, Grossman was the honored guest the Mel Blount Youth Home Annual Celebrity Roast.
And speaking of Wheaton. He joined Jason Worilds, Cortez Allen, Kelvin Beachum and others in running youth and adult football camps in Mexico.
The Stewart family
Bill Stewart, one of Mike Tomlin's coaching mentors and former head football coach at West Virginia passed away of a heart attack. This video chronicles the ongoing relationship Tomlin has with Stewart's son.
The Browns take center stage in a Kevin Costner vehicle that opened in theaters this weekend. It has a happy ending, proof positive that it is a work of make believe.
Pittsburgh's preseason game schedule was released this week with contests with the Giants, Eagles, Bills and Panthers.