Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

Justin K. Aller

The long march began this week with the first OTAs. Its football in shorts but that beats no football at all.

This is the point in the year when most of us redirect our gaze from the rear view mirror and fix our attention resolutely, for better or worse forward to the upcoming season. These pre training camp activities are always something less than hoped for but there is usually enough to glean from the limited media reports and the interviews to fuel speculation, hope and dread alike for the long weeks leading to late July. In other news, June 1st seems to have come early this year. The campaign in support of Chuck Noll continues, and the NFL plans to change the date of the draft.

OTAs

They started this past Tuesday. As Willard Taylor said in an article earlier this week the 'A' in OTA does not stand for answers. So whether you see the glass as half empty or half full in any particular category or altogether says more about your mindset than the reality of a 2013 season that hasn't even begun to unfold. If there was one clear positive concerning the week it would be attendance. As far as I know everyone who is contractually committed to the Steelers and physically able to participate was present. Some who weren't physically able to participate showed up as well. It should also be noted that the number of the physically unable to perform was much lower than last year this time. And while the failures of 2012 continue to cast a shadow over the proceedings, the focus was solidly and pretty much exclusively on football, as opposed to contracts and other business matters that shared the stage last year.

Tomlin

The head coach set the tone for the week's activities and perhaps the entire season through the phrase "More work, less talk". The mantra was dutifully picked up and repeated by Steeler veterans throughout the week. He also short circuited the tendency by media and fans to read more into this phase of preparation than is reasonable. When asked if he was impressed by efforts of any of his players on the first day, his curt reply was "Not at all. Football in shorts." Steelers.com has the video of his interview, and given the limited media access the Pittsburgh site is probably the best source of information on the OTAs. There are plenty of video interviews, plus photo galleries of each days activities.

Troy

One of the big questions raised last week was whether Troy Polamalu would show up for this week's workouts. Troy's participation in last year's OTAs was an anomaly for the All Pro safety who had customarily preferred to follow his own workout routine on the West Coast. The fact of an injury plagued 2012 campaign raised questions in the minds of some as to whether he might prefer to return to the tried and true as far as his preparation routine was concerned. On the other hand his presence in Pittsburgh last year was thought to be motivated in part by a leadership vacuum caused by the separation of a number of long time veterans from the team. Given the departure of more veterans this off season in concert with a number of questions concerning the state and direction of the team the case could be made that the need for the presence of stable, veteran leadership from the outset was perhaps even greater this year.

Troy did show up and with the added sweetener of reportedly being in the best physical condition he had been since his college days. This news would go a considerable way in allaying the fears that Troy was in a permanent state of physical decline; one of the reasons fueling the pessimism of so many concerning the immediate future of the team. The possibility of a fully healthy Polamalu would certainly alter the equation going forward. It should also be noted in his interview available here, that he spoke in rather glowing terms of rookie Shamarko Thomas.

Heath

A big surprise to me is that Heath Miller showed up to the workouts and spoke to the press. Miller was reported to be walking unimpeded and without a brace. The media insisted on attempting to pin Heath down concerning when he would likely be able to return to the field. Miller insisted that he could not provide an answer at this stage of the process. It was frustrating as several attempts were made to ask the same question a number of different ways in the hope of getting a different answer. As of now it remains unclear as to exactly when Miller will be returning to the starting lineup, but his presence impresses me as a leadership act.

Woodley

Linebacker LaMarr Woodley held his first extended interview since the comments that surfaced that accused him of being "fat" surfaced months ago. Woodley chose to take the high road by not focusing on who may have been the author of such comments or providing sustained attention to the substance of those comments.

Draft signees

The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) has taken the drama out of the process of signing rookie draft picks, so the signings of rookies Markus Wheaton, Vince Williams, Justin Brown and Terry Hawthorne should have been pretty ho hum. However, the team had gone on record saying that due to certain conditions related to salary cap that rookies would not be signed until after June 1st. The first contradiction to this course of action was the signing of Shamarko Thomas. The rationalization would have appeared to be Thomas' special family circumstances. Today we can only assume that June came early this year as several Steeler rookies now have financial settlements in time to celebrate the Memorial Day Weekend.

Injuries

It must be time for football because we're talking about injuries. It was said that the greatest fear going into these organized team activities was the possibility of injuries. Jarvis Jones and Terry Hawthorne both tweaked pre-existing conditions, a hamstring in the case of Jones, and knee troubles that led to surgery to remove bone chips in the case of Hawthorne. It is unclear how long either player will be sidelined but it is unlikely that the difficulties are of a long term nature. It certainly doesn't rise to the seriousness of the torn Achilles that has removed the 49ers Michael Crabtree for the season. So, comparatively speaking, and knock on wood, things aren't so bad.

Chuck Noll

Hombre de Acero has been leading the charge to realize some justice for the Emperor, former Steeler head coach Chuck Noll in the ESPN survey of the greatest head coaches ever. Since this effort began last week there has been progress, Noll has moved up from 5th to 4th place. However, he still trails Bill Belichick a situation I personally find to be totally unacceptable. The effort to rectify this situation continues. You can access Hombre through this link. Anthony Defeo is also involved here. And the ESPN link is here. If you haven't weighed in consider doing so over this long weekend.

Ben

And speaking of the World Leader, they recently released their 100 Best Players in the NFL. As you may know Ben Roethlisberger was selected 61st on the list. As Dale Lolley has pointed out, to suggest that there are 60 players in this league who are better or more crucial than Ben is pretty insulting to Ben. Lolley theorizes, and I agree, that Ben is likely to use this slight as fuel for his efforts this season.

More on OTAs

Cornerback configuration

There is a report that Pittsburgh may align cornerback Cortez Allen against larger slot receivers taking advantage of Allen's size while assigning William Gay to the outside. It's pretty much understood that with today's high octane offenses, you need to be able to put more than two quality corners on the field so this should not be considered surprising.

Who has impressed so far

Though it is just football in shorts some players have, nonetheless, made some positive impressions on observers. Some of the names may surprise. They are listed here.

Offensive Line

There's been a lot of concern and conversation about this unit. Here's a report concerning their off season.

Moving the draft

The NFL is reportedly moving the NFL draft back to Mother's Day weekend next year, allegedly because of a scheduling conflict with Radio City Music Hall. But like Peter King of SI.com I am skeptical of the reasons given for the change. I suspect we're just talking about greed. The ultimate thought would be to move back the league year across the board such as beginning the free agency period in April instead of March. In the short term there would be an expansion of the evaluation period meaning that team personnel would be on the road extra weeks assessing and reassessing talent. For three additional weeks there will be fodder for the NFL Network in the form of mock drafts and other ways of Making (Stuff) Up. On the other end it has been mentioned that such a move would serve to eliminate rookie mini camps. No doubt they would draw heavy ratings going head to head with the NBA and NHL playoffs. But its a bad idea.

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