There's news, actually a good bit of it but you have to dig for some of it, read between the lines for some and if you accept that the actual truth of some things won't be known for months then its interesting times. We've experienced the second week of OTAs, heard the perspectives of a number of players, the evolution of the Haley offense is a topic of wide spread interest, the Cowboys' slip is showing and a former Steeler coach passes away.
It would be understandable if you had no idea who this man was. Austin, who passed away at the age of 84 on Thursday had the distinction of being the last coach of the pre-dynastic Steelers. Put another way (and this is pretty amazing when you think about it) this disciple of the Vince Lombardi coaching tree was the last Pittsburgh Steeler head coach to have a career losing record, to fail to lead his team into the playoffs and to not win at least one world championship. This was forty five years ago. Our own Hombre has an excellent comprehensive profile of the Austin regime and how it fits into the development history of the franchise at his Steel Curtain Rising site.
A number of story lines are developing, two center around the offensive line. The first involves the growing optimism and excitement generated by the new zone blocking scheme. It will be months before we'll be able to see how this system actually works and separate fact from fantasy, so expect this story to have a lot of energy for a good bit of time. The second involves the placement of the teams two offensive tackles, who will play left or right. On the other side of the line where the system is stable and somewhat inscrutable, the attention is individuals. Specifically the stock of defensive lineman Al Woods and safety Robert Golden have gone up. What is evident in a number of stories is that the level of optimism is clearly on the rise. Some are talking of the possibility of getting that seventh Lombardi without being openly sneered at; quite a change in just a few weeks. Of course, what time of the year better than this for optimism to be on the rise? And perhaps the most important story of all, no injury report this week.
The Zone Blocking Scheme
Steel34D did readers of this site a great service with his outstanding tutorial on the intricacies of zone blocking. If you haven't read it yet then do yourself a favor and check it out.
The big story here is that he is spending a lot of time working at center. If he manages to master the position then we can speculate on the following. Beachum becomes Trai Essex 2.0. By this I mean he has taken position flexibility to the maximum extent possible for an offensive linemen, that is, capable of playing all five positions. It's hard to calculate his value to the team even as a nonstarter. Obvious its important that he can be plugged in anywhere and give a quality effort, especially given the injury history of this unit. But its also allows for the possibility that fewer linemen need to kept on the roster, allowing other options across the spectrum. It could also mean that the likelihood of Doug Legursky, who is likely the better center but less capable elsewhere, returning has gone down.
Spence's status to this point has been unclear as to the success of his rehabilitation and a timetable for his return. Spence was available to the media this week with the picture emerging being far more optimistic than many have feared. What is the truth of the matter? The only responsible answer is time will tell.
With, hopefully, the worst behind him, the conversation is returning to his upside and how he has handled his rehab and preparation for the coming campaign. Its likely that barely a glimpse of his potential has been visible so far. The recover appears to be full. Hard not to get excited about what may be possible here.
People are interested in his story now as he becomes the new face of the nose tackle position. With James Harrison gone McLendon's story is probably most similar in terms of what it says about perseverance in the face daunting setbacks. We are all curious if the story will continue to draw parallels to Harrison now that he has the opportunity to play a key role on the big stage.
While the absence of Casey Hampton catapulted McLendon into the starting lineup it also threw the Beard into the rocking chair. Keisel is now trying wrap his mind around the fact that he is the elder statesman among the defensive linemen. Anyone who has ever found themselves going from being the youngest member of a group to the oldest in what seems a blink of an eye can understand. Keisel also has gone on record to say that he feels that this might be the year that they collect the seventh Lombardi.
The second year safety garnered a lot of attention when he was placed right behind Troy Polamalu on the depth chart. This had two immediate impacts for Steeler fans. First it derailed, at least temporarily the Shamarko Thomas freight train that was picking up quite a bit of momentum. Many thought that it would be Thomas who occupied the position that Golden now mans. Second it serves as a reminder that even without rookie additions the Steeler secondary is plenty deep.
We were just talking about the depth of the defensive secondary. Given his late start in the sport and the fact that his alma mater, the Citadel, is not in the habit of developing NFL caliber players it is possible that Alen may have a larger upside than many of his peers. He also possesses an endearing humility that is sure to make him a fan favorite if he continues on this trajectory.
NFL.com and the NFL Network are focusing their attention on Ben Rothelisberger and the Todd Haley offensive system. It appears to be slowly dawning on a lot people that the loss of Mike Wallace may not be the crippling event that some imagine it to be.
And speaking of Wallace, one has to wonder whether he has the awareness to realize the nature of the unsavory baggage that has come as an unintended consequence of some of his career choices. Seems like anything he says is candidate for national coverage and then he spends a good deal of time backpedaling from his remarks.
Chuck Noll (cont)
The campaign to place the Emperor in a more just position in the ESPN coaches survey relative to serial con man Bill Belichick continues apace. Hombre reports good news in that Noll is gaining and that there exists opportunities for those who have already voted to vote again. Remember that you can get information about the campaign from Hombre's own site, here at BTSC and Anthony Defeo's site.
Steelers on syndicated radio
And speaking of ESPN, the Steelers games will be available on radio nationwide thanks to an agreement made with the World Leader.
The gang of four
Bill Barnwell at Grantland.com speaks to combination of the impact of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and the emergence of the talented and relatively cheap cohort of quarterbacks (RGIII, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson) and how their presence may eventually result in running previously untouchable quarterbacks such as Phillip Rivers and even our own Ben to the margins much faster that it had been previously imagined.
Jack Bechta weighs in with another in the series of interesting pieces chronicling some of the challenges that players face as they attempt to survive in the league. This time the emphasis is on health.
I don't know, maybe it was some sort of cosmic accident that resulted in the Dallas draft board becoming public knowledge, but don't we have to entertain the notion that all things considered that it may just be that they are simply that inept. When you consider the discrepancies between how Pittsburgh valued players in comparison to the Cowboys and the information in Rebecca Rollett's latest article you have to begin asking questions about competence.
PaVaSteeler shared a bit of his family history in honor of the holiday this week. A really good article (I think).