Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

Justin K. Aller

The focus shifts as the Steelers’ receive their roadmap for the 2014 regular season.

Turning the corner

Is it September yet?

Shamarknado

…is it just me or are the pieces falling into place for another exciting era of Steelers football?

How long until the season begins…135 days???....AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!

PaVaSteeler

It’s subtle, but these excerpts from the comments thread of a Neal Coolong piece earlier this week reveals a shift in focus as the off season continues. To this point the orientation has been backwards, as if looking at the team through a rearview mirror. Steelers Nation has been defining itself in terms of the results, inadequacies and potential of the past. The conversation has been dominated by what needs to be done to change the outcome.

Though it is still more than four months before the beginning of the season, basically three months before the start of training camp and with the draft, OTAs, minicamp and probably a few more free agent signings still ahead, anticipation and excitement for the 2014 campaign has begun to become palpable. While it can be expected that some will continue to cling and fret about the shortcomings exhibited recently, we, as well as fans throughout the league no doubt, are moving on to the promises and possibilities of the future. What’s changed?

The release of the 2014 schedule and the beginning of Phase 1 workouts.

2014 regular season schedule

The opponents for this season were known months ago, so no great revelations there. But now we have the configuration of the road map. We know that we open with Cleveland and that our divisional games are more front loaded than in previous seasons. We know that in spite of two mediocre seasons the popularity and dogged loyalty of the fan base means that Pittsburgh still scores a maximum amount of primetime exposure, including both matchups with the Ravens. We know that those who have complained about the bye week coming too early are now pacified by an off week that comes as late as the law allows. We now have a picture of and can plan for how we our plan our lives during the fall; in stadiums, sports bars or our living rooms. Clear your schedules for the evenings of September 11th and 21st, October 20th, November 2nd and 17th. And if you’re an optimist you might want to program some flexibility on Sunday evenings throughout December. You just never know.

However, care must be taken to not try to read too much into the schedule at this point, particularly as it pertains to ‘easy’ or ‘difficult’ matchups, ‘trap’ games and the like. Six years ago, the second under the leadership of Mike Tomlin, based upon a barely adequate 9-7 regular season and a disappointing early exit from playoffs and facing the most difficult schedule on paper anyone had seen in thirty years, the denizens on this site declared the Steelers dead before the season even started. The early returns in September seemed to have confirmed the assessment. Of course, Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl that year.

One thing that is proven true year after year is that teams that seemed strong or on the rise one year may fall off the table the next (think Texans and Redskins), weaker teams become stronger (Chiefs, Dolphins), and then there is matter of fluctuations within the season itself. Playing the Steelers in December was a different proposition than playing them in September. I agree with Ed Bouchette who advises that the proper attitude is to just play the schedule without assumptions.

Phase 1

There was not so much as a football in sight, but the Steelers began voluntary workouts this week setting the collective process of preparing for the season in motion. As is the case with spring football there were only three issues of relevance to report; a lot of players showed up, though attendance was voluntary; no newcomers, who you would hope to be present, chose to blow it off starting any sort of controversy; and no one hurt themselves so far.

Three of the newbies, Mike Mitchell, LeGarette Blount and Lance Moore were interviewed and said all of the things you would hope they would say; ‘glad to be here’, ‘Its all about the football’, ‘Its about getting that seventh Lombardi’. Actually, I think Mitchell miscounted and talked about getting number six. This is forgivable given the fact that he is late of Carolina and Oakland places that haven’t had a whiff of a Lombardi and haven’t seen one in over thirty years respectively. Anything above three might seem incomprehensible. The Blount interview, where he waxed upon the possibilities of his collaboration with Le’Veon Bell in the running game is what prompted the comments above by Shamarknado and PaVa. As we move away from the abstract calculations and begin to see these new additions within the context of the Steelers locker room the logic of these acquisitions makes more sense and creates more excitement. These are role players who are here to complement and enhance the work of Troy, Bell and Antonio Brown.

Darrius Heyward-Bey

This free agent newcomer made the news off the practice facility, as he was involved in the kind of feel good, give back story that makes you feel that he might fit in just fine in the Pittsburgh organization. He purchased stadium lights for his high school in Owings Mills, Maryland. Maybe there is some insight here behind why they signed him.

Pouncey

It also helps to generate excitement by trotting out the fit and trim rehabilitating veteran who appears that he will be ready to go at full strength in time for the season if not much sooner. Also encouraging is the story of how Tomlin kept Pouncey engaged with the team during last season, a story did not reach the light of day until now and paints an interesting picture of a program that didn’t devolve or panic while navigating very rough waters.

Cam Heyward

Cross Heyward off the list of short term contract concerns as the team picked up his fifth year option after a timely breakout season in 2013. A long term deal may be eventually coming as well.

Golden, Brown, Garvin and Ebernasty

Then there have been the promising role players who have been largely absent from our consciousness because of the low profile created by the fact that they have yet to have the opportunity to grow into larger roles and are not in urgent contractual circumstances. There is nothing to indicate that Robert Golden has been anything but a solid contributor. But with so much attention given to Troy’s pro bowl season and new contract, Ryan Clark’s departure, Will Allen’s exit, return and resigning, the rise of Shamarko Thomas and the signing of Mitchell, it’s a wonder anyone remembered this kid was still alive. Justin is the other Brown who is part of the receiving corps. Arthur Moats and Lawrence Timmons are not the only linebackers on the roster who have hybrid capabilities, as Terence Garvin shows some promise in that regard. And there are those whose calculations concerning the offensive line may have overlooked Nik Embernate.

Ben

Roethlisberger made the news a good bit this week, in part concerning continued speculation over the possibility of a contract extension. If I had the power to do so I would make a couple of these pieces required reading for some.

This piece emphasizes what some must think is a coincidence, namely that the Steelers went to four Super Bowls behind Terry Bradshaw, and three (thus far) behind Ben. Those who keep suggesting that Ben be traded or similar incomprehensible nonsense, because there must be two or three guys available every year who can be coached up and accomplish similar, need to read this as many times as necessary until their football IQ reaches a minimum acceptable level.

If that doesn’t work, add to the diet this film room segment from Paper Champions.

If you are among those who project dark motives and possibilities to the fact that an extension hasn’t been inked by the team and Ben’s camp, then maybe this piece may give you some pause.

The Draft. Part I: Mocks

You probably noticed by now that the Checkdown doesn’t do mock drafts. Part of the reason is purely practical. How does one possibly keep up when everyone and their pet gerbil is putting out a mock every few minutes. But more important is that I have little faith in the information available to and the perspectives of the mock drafters. My feelings on the matter came from intuition and common sense. Jack Bechta brings a little more in the way of evidence.

Take for example health and medical conditions. The media and the general public have no right to know this information, and a prospective employer who leaks it could find themselves in legitimate legal trouble. There may be character issues that may come to play and would not be publicly broadcast as well. Then there is the issue of ‘fit’. You get the impression that many believe these players to be basically one size fits all, with the only consideration for the team being area of need or best player available. But you may have to take into consideration issues like climate (hot/cold, indoor/outdoor), scheme, surrounding talent and so forth. The bottom line is that many mocks are undertaken with huge amounts of information unavailable with predictable results.

The Draft. Part II: The Steelers approach

As Anthony Defeo points out the undisputed greatest player in franchise history, Joe Greene, was greeted with bewilderment when he was selected as Pittsburgh’s first pick in the 1969 draft. Nobody had ever heard of him. Even with savvy organizations such as Pittsburgh you have to acknowledge that luck and misfires are still very much part of the equation. For every Bradshaw or Ben there is also a Unitas and a Marino.

Steelers.com continued to provide a look back to the famous 1974 draft, universally acknowledged as the greatest draft class in the history of the league.

Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated speaks to the success of the Steelers’ approach to the draft historically, but raises the question of whether that formula will continue to work for the team.

A couple of weeks ago Neal provided an analysis of the draft success of the team from rounds one through seven. Steelers.com is involved in a similar endeavor starting listing some of successes with undrafted free agent rookies, then going back in history with selections from Round 8 and beyond, from the days when the draft went into double digit rounds, and then the successes at Round 7

The Draft. Part III: Expanding the draft (and playoffs)

The league continues to try to leverage its advantages. Roger Goodell is throwing out the possibility of the draft being expanded to four days as opposed to three. Why? Apparently because we haven’t reached saturation with this event, and it is competitive with the spring sports schedule, including the playoffs in basketball and hockey as well as regular season baseball. Of greater relevance is the possibility the owners may decide to expand the playoff lineup to 14 teams commencing with this season.

The Draft. Part IV: What happens on draft day

Jerry Angelo, former GM of the Chicago Bears gives his take of what happens on draft day.

The Draft. Part V: Evaluating the draft

Daniel Jeremiah sets criteria for how to determine whether or not a draft class has been successful.

The Draft. Part V: Starter Velocity

One of Tony Villiotti’s draftmetrics pieces that, well…perhaps you ought to read it yourself.

The Adams trial

Almost a year after the event the stabbing incident involving offensive tackle Mike Adams has come to trial. It appears that the defense strategy is to bring into question Adams’ character given his past indiscretions and the circumstances under which he had to persuade the team to consider selecting him. While being out and about legally intoxicated falls short of being a high crime, it is possible that, regardless of the outcome, Adams, who has committed an even higher crime in the eyes of some in Steelers Nation of inconsistent play, may come away from this with his reputation nicked.

Contracts series

Published too late to be included in last week’s Checkdown, Dale Grnic’s series concluded with a look at kickers and other team specialists.

New addition to Heinz Field

For those of you fortunate enough to be attending games this season you will notice that Heinz Field will have added another HD video board.

Kendall Simmons

The former starting right guard shared his draft day memories.

Moms and Mexico

The team held clinics in Pittsburgh focusing on orienting mothers to youth football, and one in Mexico City feeding the high level of interest in Steelers football in that nation.

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