Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

A founding father of Steelers Nation passes on. A rebuilding team sets a cornerstone. OTAs come to a close.

Over the past several months the Steelers community has taken a series of body blows as a number of key people have passed away. Things reached a climax as in the span of about a month the Nation was hit with a one/two punch, first losing Bill Nunn, and this weekend Chuck Noll. One can only hope that we've hit bottom, at least for the time being. In other news, if the Steelers are to return to championship form in the second decade of the 21st Century one of the likely key contributors was inked to a long term extension. The OTAs phase of the preparation for 2014 ended on an upbeat note with some additional rookie contract signings, some spectacular play from a newcomer and some fisticuffs as rule number 10 was shattered. It was really a pretty good week, except for...

Chuck Noll

You can't really call it a tragedy. There was a sense with L C Greenwood and Dwight White of lives that concluded a little too soon, but in the cases of Noll, and Bill Nunn before him, well, we should all live so long and accomplish so much. And in the case of Noll it could be considered a blessing to be released from a mind and body that had betrayed him. However, the concern expressed in my tribute and hinted at or stated explicitly in many others is whether his legacy will be appreciated and preserved.

At various times there have been attempts at assembling a Steelers Mount Rushmore; a monument to the key founding fathers of what we have come to know as Steelers Nation, the Steeler Way and other characterizations of a culture of excellence that has in many ways transcended football. My version would include Art Rooney Sr., Dan Rooney, Joe Greene and Noll. It would seem impossible and not a little sacrilegious to rank anyone higher than the Chief, but if anyone could it would be Noll. It was and could still be possible for the Steelers to exist but in a much different state than it exists today. The version that we are all a part of and celebrate could only have been possible through the influence of Chuck Noll.

Much of this is obvious and easily seen, but over the past couple of days I have dug deeper and realized that the impact of Noll has gone far deeper in my own life and, indeed that of an entire region and many with ties to that region. Like so many in Steelers Nation, though born and raised in Pittsburgh (many others have no other ties than the team itself), I left the area decades ago and currently have no plans on returning. Most of my family and friends from there are either deceased or have left the region as well. Its worth asking what, beyond a finely tuned sense of nostalgia, continues to bind so many to the Pittsburgh area and each other. There are some wonderful things about Pittsburgh to celebrate, and, just as importantly, there have also been many things such as the collapse of the steel industry that could have had a stronger destructive effect on that community and how we've come to feel about it. Were it not for what Chuck Noll built it is difficult to imagine not just communicating with you on this site, but whether I would enjoy the level of engagement I have with my hometown, its current inhabitants and ex-pats at all. There are those rare occurrences when something we would normally associate with one aspect of life; sports, arts, business and so forth has impact so profound that it transcends its boundaries and has a great influence across the culture. Chuck Noll was a Master Teacher that helped elevate an entire region not from a classroom, but by leading a football team.

My hope would be that on some frequency Coach Noll is lounging around with the Chief, Nunn, Jack Butler, Dwight, LC, Mike Webster and others sucking on cigars and discussing the issues of Eternity. Godspeed.

Maurkice Pouncey

The All Pro center signed a long term deal binding him to the team through 2019. This move has all kinds of significance. There had been conversation about Pouncey throughout the spring with concerns about his durability, whether he would be considered an affordable asset, and even some character concerns.  The size and length of the contract and the presence of the top level of the organization (Dan and Art Rooney, Colbert and Tomlin) at his press conference for better or worse puts all these issues to bed. Pouncey is now 'A Steeler', and he is now one of the faces of the franchise.

Rookie signings

Third and fourth round draft picks Dri Archer and Martavis Bryant signed on the dotted line this week, continuing the non drama that are rookie contracts in the new era of the CBA. As I write this only Stephon Tuitt remains unsigned. There are no indication there are any problems.

Jason Worilds

There are indications there may be a problem here. There are reports that Worilds was offered and rejected a long term contract with the Steelers. They'll be time to sort this out.

OTAs

They concluded this week, and its fair to say that the general consensus is upbeat. You really have to search for any troubling news, there have no significant physical setbacks to speak of, it appears that spirited competition is breaking out everywhere

Team building and Heinz

In what has become a tradition in the Tomlin Era, the team bussed over to Dave and Busters in Homestead for a day of playing games and bonding. They also held one practice at Heinz Field to introduce newcomers to their game day home.

Shazier

Just when you thought the excitement over the first rounder had subsided, he made headlines with a spectacular, leaping interception that showed off his 42" verticals, and in one defensive set lined up against Antonio Brown.

Cam Heyward and Weslye Johnson

Seems that both men's reputations were enhanced as they got into a knock down, drag out. Heyward apparently had to restrained by a number of players and coaches. Having seen Heyward at training camp in recent years this should not be viewed as unusual. He goes off. Personally I consider that a good thing.

Mitchell, Moore, Blake and Blount

It appears that Mike Mitchell continues to impress. He and we are now getting anxious to see him partnered with Troy. That will occur this coming week in minicamp. The reviews on Lance Moore are also pointing up. He appears to have won the confidence of the younger receivers, and just as important, Ben Roethlisberger.

Antwon Blake is the key as to whether there will be grumbling over a draft strategy that seemed to disregard the team's needs at cornerback. For things to go south with this player would mean that Lake, LeBeau and Tomlin would have to all be wrong. Certainly possible.

LeGarrette Blount would appear to be making himself at home. His facemask has been the topic of some conversation and he has been outspoken about the potential of the emerging offense and his role in it.

Offensive line

Pouncey's signing puts this unit front and center and Scott Pavelle offers some sage advice moving forward.

Training Camp

The schedule for training camp was released this week. A key feature are the joint practices that will be conducted with the Buffalo Bills this year.

Throwbacks

Hoping you had seen the last of those bumblebee/prison outfits? Too bad for you. They will be back this year.

Top ranked players of the 1970s

A few Steelers made the list of the top 20 players from the decade of the 70s. Guess who made number one.

Deshea Townsend

His house made headlines this week.

Noll tributes

Tributes are piling up. here are some representative samples. And one from Dan Rooney

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