Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the final turn to the 2014 NFL Draft. Who will be the 15th player selected?

The good news is that we already know what we’ll be talking about in Checkdown next week. For me Thursday marks the end of the second worst period of the football year; the dead time between the end of the minicamp and the beginning of training camp being the worst. I prefer to discuss, analyze, criticize what is real, rather than talk about what might, ought or should happen. So, good times coming.

With that said, this week, like last was not as slow a news week as might be expected. The continuation of voluntary workouts brings with it more player profiles, The Mike Adams trial ends in an unexpected manner, turmoil in the NBA leads to some reflection in the NFL, a newcomer’s complementary comments about a new teammate leads to some bad feelings in his old city and two former teammates get into a bit of tiff. But make no mistake, the top story in terms of both quality and quantity of information both this and next week is the NFL Draft.

The Draft, Part I: did the NFL have to delay the draft until May?

The given story line is that a scheduling conflict involving Radio City Music Hall was the reason why the league pushed the draft back into May. The upside to this misfortune would be that an additional couple of weeks of hype would extend professional football’s grip on the national consciousness. How fortunate. Information has now surfaced that the alleged conflicting event won’t occur until next year. And though to do so probably won’t win any additional fans and might possibly create additional hardship for some of their employees, the assumption in most quarters is that the move to May will be a permanent one as the NFL’s marketing strategy appears to be to exert dominance over the sports calendar year round. As far as I can tell, no one is saying that the extra two weeks will make a positive difference with the teams’ abilities to make good decisions. There are a number who are putting forward the possibility that the opposite will occur.

The Draft, Part II: what will the Steelers do, how will they do?

This gets right to it doesn’t it? The question of who the team will take first (and subsequently) can’t possibly be answered at this time, but, of course that doesn’t stop just about everyone to take their best guess. A less daunting question would be whether the team will go offense in the first round or defense. The assumption here is that if offense it will be a wide receiver, and if defense a cornerback, leading to discussion of the relative value of each.

We also try to see ahead by looking more intently to the past. Steelers.com finishes its series on the draft by highlighting the best picks made in Rounds, Five, Four, Three, Two and One. With the focus falling solidly on GMs at this time of the year, Hombre de Acero takes a detailed look at some of the past performance of Kevin Colbert. Back at Steelers.com they continue to revisit the famed 1974 draft with emphasis on the fact that as great a group as it was, its impact was not keenly felt immediately; a caution for those hoping for instant salvation from this year’s draft.

The Draft, Part III: tendencies and trends

There are so many ways to slice and dice it all. How about a group of possibilities based upon the best measurables from the Combine; Combine All Stars if you will. Then there are the tendencies of teams to skew either toward offense or defense across the entire league over the past ten years (the Steelers have trended toward offense during that time). Or maybe your interest is in how draftees break down based upon major college programs. Certainly of interest to many based on how the conversation has gone over the past few months is whether height is the new speed.

Running backs: endangered species? BTSC community member and fellow Alley Cat viewing companion Bill Steinbach alerted me to this MMQB piece by Andrew Brandt detailing the devaluation of running backs in the draft and through their careers. The bitter irony is that, unlike any other position group, early success may actually reduce the possibility of realizing an upgrade on succeeding contracts. With the Steelers likely set at its top two running back positions, there is no concern about this area lacking any great depth in the draft. One area of concern is a trend for running backs to suffer sophomore slumps, and whether that might in any way effect the performance this season of Le’Veon Bell.

The Draft, Part IV: aesthetics; the Momma Factor

What factors make for a successful draft pick? Height? Weight? Speed? Durability? Work Ethic? Football Intelligence? The values of these variables have been analyzed and debated endlessly. But what about how pleasing a prospect is to the eye? The data on this aspect of player evaluation is a bit thin, and some would say that this is in the same category as picking your NCAA Tournament bracket based upon which team’s mascot would beat the other in a fight. But I’m sure that Rebecca Rollett, who no doubt worked feverishly compiling the Best Looking Player Mock Draft, would say that the work is its own reward.

The Draft, Part V: memories

Hines Ward shares his draft day memories here.

Antonio Brown

The team’s number one wideout was both directly and indirectly in the news this week. First he bumped heads with former teammate Ryan Clark over remarks made by Clark. He then parted ways with his agent Drew Rosenhaus. It may be a little disorienting how quickly Brown has gone from a hardworking, up and coming low round draft pick to the veteran leader of the receivers room and a rising star in the league. This was verified by veteran newcomers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Lance Moore who acknowledged looking toward Brown for leadership among the receivers.

Lance Moore

Moore stirred up a little trouble for himself in his former home of New Orleans when comparing Ben Roethlisberger to Drew Brees he noted that Ben had the much stronger arm. He made that comment when expressing how fortunate he was to have gone from playing with one Super Bowl winning quarterback to another.

Munchak

Having had the opportunity of meeting with his new coach, Kelvin Beachum gave his impressions of how he and his linemates are responding to Munchak’s approach and leadership. What stood out was that, unlike their former coaches, Munchak had actually played and excelled in the league giving him a level of credibility that others could not match going back to Russ Grimm. Nothing here to blunt the high expectations associated with the Munch.

Youth movement on defense

There were probably a few more stories this week focusing on aspects of the Steelers defense than the offense. One points out that the days of the Steelers D being the oldest in the league are over, with Troy Polamalu now being the elder statesman and the only Pro Bowler among the likely returning starters.

Cam Heyward

The transition of Heyward to veteran leader has been swifter and even more disorienting than that of AB. A year ago there was debate over whether Cam was a first round bust, and on the national stage only now is awareness slowly dawning that he made the leap last season. Heyward asserted the need for creating transparency as the defense moved into this new era. He also held forth on line mates Steve McLendon and newcomer Cam Thomas expressing confidence in the ability of the former to bounce back from a season that was marred by injury and the position flexibility of the latter.

Brett Keisel

As it stands at the moment conditions would seem right for the return of the veteran defensive end in June. While there is no discouraging news concerning Nick Williams and Brian Arnfelt, their combined experience is pretty much zero, and Williams is coming off an injury. Only McLendon has a year’s worth of experience (and barely) starting in the Steelers’ system. Bringing Keisel back could make a big difference.

Hebron Fangupo

Easily winning the award as the forgotten man of this unit, Fangupo surprised last summer when he beat out Alameda Ta’amu for a roster spot. Might he surprise again this year and play a larger role than any imagined?

Linebackers

Jarvis Jones and Vince Williams each gave progress reports on their off season preparations, both hoping, based upon being acclimated to the rhythms of the demands of the game, to be able to make significant leaps in 2014.

Safeties

The changing nature of the offensive game has placed great demands on the safety position in the defense. And while the expectations remain high for Shamarko Thomas, Pittsburgh has relied heavily on acquiring veteran talent to man the final line of defense.

The Adams trial

Less than a year ago some wondered whether it would be possible for anyone to receive a fair trial in the Pittsburgh area if they were opposite anyone associated with the Pittsburgh Steelers. So it is fair to say that the acquittal of the alleged assailants of Steeler offensive tackle Mike Adams was something of a surprise. The relevant question going forward is how this outcome might impact Adams professionally moving forward. Indeed, what has not been adequately explored is what impact this incident has had on Adams over the course of the past year, and could it have been a factor in his inconsistent performance during the 2013 season.

A fan’s appreciation

It can be difficult for fans to relate to the players they follow sometimes. We are often encouraged to think of them as disposable commodities and many of us are all too willing to oblige. Others are understandably resentful of young men, sometimes spoiled and possessing distorted perspectives, seemingly obscenely well compensated relative to so many of their fans who struggle to get by or who live in fear of that one thing going wrong that might cast them and their families into the abyss. Under such circumstances it may be hard to see the players as being fully human, and vulnerable in as many ways as we are. A change in the life of one of our own has led to a new appreciation for those who play this game.

The Sterling affair

The travails of Los Angles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has cast a light on sports ownership, not only in the NBA, but across the spectrum of professional sport. As might be imagined, this situation has served to renew and enhance appreciation for the Rooney family and how they conduct their business, while also bring greater attention to those like Washington owner Daniel Snyder and the ongoing controversy over the team’s name.

But one of the more interesting responses to this whole business comes from a Green Bay Packers fan who suggests that the public take this opportunity change the ownership structure of sports teams altogether. Harvey Wasserman’s solution may seem extreme and is unlikely to be implemented, but that does not mean that it doesn’t possess some degree of merit.

The proposal is that all sports go, like the Packers, into public ownership. Wasserman isn’t the only one fantasizing in this manner. I’ve heard second hand that Newt Gingrich is on record as suggesting that a solution for the Clippers mess is for the City of Los Angles to take ownership of the team. What right does the public have to seize these assets? Because the public is already, in so many cases already providing the lions share of the operating funds for these enterprises in the first place. First, as tax payers we provide these franchises with generous subsidies and tax breaks in order to provide them with a platform from which to do business. After you subsidize them, if you are fortunate enough to be able to attend the games these organizations will then gouge you for the experience. Overpriced tickets, overpriced parking, overpriced food, the list goes on. And then there is costs borne by all of us as sponsoring corporations pass on their advertising and marketing costs to their consumers.

And if you don’t go along with this program there is always the threat that the team will take its ball and go elsewhere; a fate that has been experienced by the good citizens of Baltimore, Cleveland (twice), Houston, Oakland, Los Angles (three times), Chicago, Dallas (twice) and St Louis. Buffalo could be next. And what were the crimes that brought these municipalities to this point? In most cases a lack of blind loyalty to organizations producing a product that was mediocre at best, or an unwillingness to whore themselves out any further.

The larger point is that no community should be held hostage by one man or a small oligarch when they play such a central role in both the operating expenses and the consumption of the product.

Developmental league

NFL executive Troy Vincent announced the league’s intention to pursue the creation of a developmental league. The last large scale effort of this type was NFL Europe. You have to wonder if some of the impetus for this resulted from the court decision that ruled in favor of the football players from Northwestern University. College football is the current developmental league for the NFL. Might this be a way for the league to hedge its bets?

Hard Knocks

The Steelers have been selected as finalists to be featured on the HBO reality program. I find myself in agreement with head coach Mike Tomlin in terms of his reservations about participating. But I also guarantee you that I and probably most of you reading this would inhale every minute of the program. And for that reason alone it would be hard not to pick Pittsburgh. It would be a ratings bonanza.

Terry Hanratty

The other former Steelers quarterback named Terry and Butler, Pa., native has been selected to announce the Steelers second round draft selection at Radio City Music Hall.

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