Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

Joe Sargent

The wider football world is beginning to catch on that something is brewing in Pittsburgh.

It's now less than two weeks until the start of training camp and the beginning of the next phase is clearly in sight. Hopes that we would get away completely clean (no injuries, arrests or scandals) this off season and particularly during the hiatus took a hit with a late breaking story this weekend, but, at least for the moment it appears that this is likely as much about the pathologies and costs of celebrity as it is anything more serious. But we'll see.

Meanwhile, its been a better week news wise than last. Chuck Noll received a significant honor, a milestone was reached on compensation for head injuries, there is both good and bad news emanating out of Cleveland and there are signs of a slow realization outside of Steelers Nation that (no guarantees of course) Pittsburgh may be primed to reassert itself on the field of play in 2014.

Breaking news

It was reported Saturday that there was an altercation at a Miami nightclub where twin brothers Maurkice and Mike Pouncey were celebrating their birthday. An accusation of assault was leveled against the brothers and some of the bouncers at the club by an individual in attendance. Without knowing anything other than what I've just read at this early stage of things I'll make the following four points.

1. Reserve judgment until the facts have been sorted out. I think Homer J's comments made in Neal Coolong's first piece would be the wisest course, and he does a very good job of explaining why. That being said...

2. I have a bias against those who flee to social media to report that they have been done wrong by some celebrity. What immediately comes to mind is back in 2011 when someone came on this site to launch a campaign against Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney because, apparently, Mr. Rooney would not submit to having his picture taken with this fan just prior to a Monday Night game between the Steelers and 49ers at Candlestick Park. This aggrieved individual decided to use BTSC to launch a smear campaign against Rooney which I'm pretty sure backfired.  Part of the  reason for reserving judgment is that there is a clear potential for a financial windfall to an accuser regardless of the truth of the situation. It comes with the territory.

3. If the Pouncey twins have proven anything in their time in the league is that they are discernment challenged. This doesn't necessarily mean that they've done anything wrong in this particular instance. It does mean that they have a 'reputation' for, at minimum, exercising poor judgment, and are, therefore, vulnerable to being setup for being implicated in these types of 'incidents'.  As Homer points out, when someone with as pristine a reputation as Jerome Bettis finds themselves in the crosshairs, then guys like Maurkice and Mike, who have sketchier resumes in this regard can become easier pickings for scam artists. No matter how this situation is resolved someone whom they respect needs to explain this to them.

4, As is often the case, circumstances like this say more about the critics than those being criticized. As I pointed out when I wrote about the Steelers Nation doghouse, this incident provided an opportunity for some haters and they proved to not be bashful. Unfortunately, not surprisingly, as is the case with the dark side of social media, some of the comments took a rather ugly turn.

5. (Just thought of this one) Because this occurred during a low news period more may be made of it than might be the case at other times of the year. Repeating the first point, reserve judgment.

Tomlin

There's more upbeat news. Head coach Mike Tomlin in an interview with the NFL Network gave what I would characterize as an encouraging assessment of where the team stands at this point. He spoke to the positive news on the injury front, the impact of the addition of Mike Munchak, how things would shake out at running back, the infusion of younger players on defense and what the personality of Ike Taylor brings to the organization. We're heavy on video links this week, and this is one I think you would definitely want to check out. Tomlin struck me as being particularly upbeat especially when talking about the running backs and Munchak.

Ranking the Steelers

Throughout the spring there has been something of a disconnect between a growing consensus in Steelers Nation concerning the prospects for this team and that of the national media. If you listened to the narratives you would come away with the impression that not enough had been done to improve the situation at cornerback and wide receiver, or for that matter the defense in general as well as the offensive line. Many thought that the team would remain mired in mediocrity as a result. That could still happen, but the national outlook on the Steelers grows brighter every day. ESPN's power rankings now places Pittsburgh as seventh overall and third in the AFC, a playoff team. The beat writers for the AFC North all agree that the team has an excellent chance at supplanting Cincinnati as division champs. In fact, some are coming right out and saying that this will be the case.

Cleveland and other tales of woe

While Pittsburgh's playoff prospects have improved largely because of merit, there is another set of factors in play here as well. Personnel problems in Baltimore and Cleveland that will likely lead to suspensions of key players could have a significant impact on the season. The emphasis here is on the word "could".

Remember, many fans both inside and outside of Steelers Nation thought that Pittsburgh's season was essentially scuttled in 2010 due the six game suspension (eventually reduced to four) of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. You'll recall the team made it to the Super Bowl that season. If Pittsburgh could survive losing arguably its most important player for a quarter of a season and still make it to the championship game then it's possible that the likely losses facing the Browns and Ravens won't make as significant of a difference in their overall fate as some might hope or fear at this point in the off season. And if there is an advantage that could have been gained in this regard then the possible results of current events just might neutralize that potential.

In an interesting role reversal Cincinnati is surprisingly tranquil on the internal turmoil scale. In Baltimore the big concern is Ray Rice. However, indications are that Rice isn't the threat that he once was on the field, meaning his loss wouldn't be as crucial either. Also, given the fact that they usually mirror Pittsburgh in many other ways, if any team could match the Steelers in resilience in the face of this type of adversity it would certainly be the Ravens.

As for Cleveland? At the beginning of the week things looked a lot worse along Lake Erie. But on balance this week has worked out pretty well for the folks in northern Ohio.

Cleveland’s sports losing streak is by now legendary. The Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948. The Browns have never won a single Super Bowl, despite the nation’s most rabid and loyal fanbase—a group that remained stalwart even as the cowardly traitor Art Modell ripped their beloved team away from them. (Modell, unlike LeBron, will never be forgiven.)

The "most rabid and loyal fanbase"? Okay, I can buy that. I swear I've seen Cleveland fans foam at the mouth like mad dogs, and it is called the dog pound. And, yes, after fifty years with nothing to show for it can anyone question the loyalty (sanity is another question) of Browns fans? Especially from long time Steeler fans who can remember their own forty years of hell. In fact, the football legacies of both Pittsburgh and Cleveland are so intertwined that to truly despise one is to despise oneself. Growing in up in western Pennsylvania, the bona fides of eastern Ohio high school teams like Massillon, Canton McKinley, Warren and Steubenville was inseparable from that of Mt Lebanon, New Castle, Aliquippa or Westinghouse. And where would the Steelers be without the contributions of Ohioans like Noll, LeBeau, Roethlisberger, or Ohio State alums like Holmes, Hayward and possibly Shazier?

So I'm okay with LeBron returning to Cleveland. That area deserves some good news. And maybe it will create enough positive momentum to overcome the missteps of Josh Gordon and Manziel. Gordon looks to be basically toast for this season and probably beyond. Manziel is intriguing. The folks in Cleveland and elsewhere see great things, they may be right, but Steelers fans feel intuitively that in the short term that LeBeau, Porter and Company would tear him a new one and eat him alive if the Browns were to put him out there on opening day.

Noll

Besides the game itself Opening Day will be special because it has been designated as Chuck Noll Day. The fact of Noll's roots with both the city of Cleveland and to the Browns couldn't have made this a more appropriate circumstance to honor his life and legacy.

Another peek into Noll's legacy comes from 70s alum Moon Mullins who reminisced about how training camps were conducted during that era.

Mel Blount

Remaining with the 70s era theme, a member of the community makes a very good case for why Blount should in the conversation for the greatest cornerback ever.

Mike Webster

It appears that the last tragic years of the Hall of Fame center's life will be the subject of a movie that might be filmed in Pittsburgh. Will Smith would be acting in the project.

Dick LeBeau

Thanks to Ike Taylor, LeBeau has been thrust to the forefront once again in the football consciousness. On the cusp of what may very well be a resurgence of Blitzburgh, I thought it might be beneficial to post this interview from 2008 with the late Steve Sabol,

www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSfC51F1qtA

and LeBeau's Hall of Fame induction speech.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7fNO7roVKg

The fact that the team interrupted training camp and traveled en mass to celebrate Coach Dad's big day is still one of the more touching things I have witnessed.

Concussion settlement and Faneca

A judge came in with a ruling on the concussion settlement made between the league and retired players. Former center Jeff Hartings came out in favor of the solution, but two former Steelers Sean Morey and Alan Faneca found fault.

Faneca has been in the news quite frequently of late. He has been noted for his successful participation in a marathon, as well as his induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. He is now being considered for the strength of his candidacy for being included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with many feeling that he can make as strong or stronger case than current members with Steelers ties, Russ Grimm and Mike Munchak.

Antonio Brown

Brown reversed fields on his representation, dumping Jay Z and returning to the Rosenhaus Group. He also was the subject of an intriguing post by Jack Finn who speculated that in spite of the presence of players like Dri Archer and Markus Wheaton, that Brown just might be too good at what he does to retire him from his punt returning duties. And he got some attention with his training routine

Emmanuel Sanders

The, now, former Steelers wideout in a recorded interview makes a number of very interesting points in comparing Ben Roethlisberger to Peyton Manning.

Character

The evolving Pouncey story aside, the off fleld behavior of Steelers players has become increasingly sedate over the past few years. There are a few possible explanations. Maybe they have been a bit more lucky than those in other organizations. Maybe they've been a bit more slick in hiding their indiscretions. The third possibility is that character is becoming a more important job requirement in order to wear a black and gold uniform. Rebecca Rollett followed that line of thinking in a series of articles she produced last season. She picked up the theme this week with a profile of safety Will Allen.

Training camp preview

Predictions are breaking out everywhere. Who gets cut, who stays, who's on the bubble. Who are the sleepers. Who starts. Just a couple of many items to mention here. First a take on position battles, and Bob Labriola's 'morsels' to whet our appetites in the remaining days before the festivities begin in Latrobe.

Mitchell's boot camp

Neal's series concludes with a look at rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt.

Shamarko Thomas

This might just have been one of a number of semi-fluff player profiles that proliferate at this time of the year. But there was word this past week that Thomas had been invited to join Troy Polamalu in California to train. Such a thing had never happened before indicating either a special relationship or circumstance. It certainly serves as a counterbalance to the notion that was gaining currency that Thomas' star was falling due to the lack of first team reps in Troy's absence during OTAs.

Other profiles

Brice McCain and Ross Ventrone were also the subjects of player profiles. Le'Veon Bell was identified as one who is marked as likely to experience a break out this season.

The film room

The tutorials may have slowed but have not stopped. And what better time to take a few moments to familiarize yourself with some of the more subtle nuances of the game.

The top ten Steelers

Dale Lolley finishes his countdown of the top twenty five Steelers with, first, numbers 6 thru 10, and then 1 thru 5. Ray Fittipaldo offers a second opinion.

America's game

In an act that reflects supreme confidence, Christopher Carter posts a poll asking readers to list the Steelers they most like to see highlighted on America's Game when Pittsburgh wins the Super Bowl this year.

Mendenhall

The retired former first round draft pick has purchased a home in southern California  He will be using his new digs as a platform from which he will begin the pursuit of his life's work.

Super Bowl XIII rewind

For much of its history the Super Bowl was known to be a dull and anti-climatic game. The two Cowboys vs. Steelers matchups in the 70s bucked that trend and were known as the most exciting championship games of that time. their second meeting at the conclusion of the 1978 season still stands as one of the greatest championship games ever played, and settled the question of which team was the dominant dynasty of the 1970s

Dan Rooney

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6nBR3eSj1A+++

An oldie but goodie as the chairman was being interviewed on the occasion of the publication of his book.

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