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Training Camp Update: Seventh Heaven in 2010?

Shhh! Quiet now. The sound you don’t hear are the Pittsburgh Steelers lying in the weeds, overlooked and dismissed by just about everyone as a legitimate championship contender in 2010. I know. I know. You’ve got an ego. I’ve got an ego. We want respect! We want folks to come on bended knee, kiss the ring (one or all six) and give us our props. We’re the Steelers dammit! The very mention of the name should result in rising blood pressure, failing bladders and Tourette type outbursts; the renting of garments and the gnashing of teeth from the Ohio River to Lake Erie to the Chesapeake Bay. Sorry, not this year.Shh.

Won’t anyone take up the banner on our behalf? Uh, no. The Bengals are making their reservations for February in Texas. The Ravens see themselves in hot pursuit of the tigercats, hoping to trip them up while the Browns have wet dreams about getting some long overdue payback over their tormentors from western PA. And if it isn’t TO, Ocho and Carson Palmer, then it must be Boldin, Rice and Ray-Ray. And if not either of them, then Peyton or Tom. Phillip Rivers is due of course. Favre is coming back and surely this time is the charm. Drew Brees is the new superman. Dallas is banking on being crowned in their own house. Smart money is on Rex Ryan’s Jets. And if you really want to be hip you’ll put your money on the Texans. Or the Packers. Or the Falcons. Shh.

Okay, so that’s the national media, right? ESPN, the NFL Network, those folks. You can’t expect much from them. But the local media, we surely can depend upon them right? Let’s see; an offensive lineman ruptures his Achilles tendon and now we are out of playoff contention according to Pittsburgh journalists. And besides, our quarterback is a perve, the #1 receiver was traded to New York for a ham sandwich, half the defense is suffering from Alzheimer’s and Rheumatism they’re so damn old and they didn’t fire Arians. We’re doomed.

About six weeks ago I offered some opinions on why I thought that the Steelers might have a shot at that seventh Lombardi this year. Since then a few encouraging events have occurred along with some discouraging things as well. Meanwhile, we at Steeler Nation and elsewhere have been dealing with the Silly Season; the marriage of mob psychology, insufficient information, poor long term memory, runaway optimism (or pessimism) and absolutely no perspective. Well, great news, football is here, training camp at least. We can now move from idle speculation to discernment based upon some real data. Ahead are some likely questions that will arise during the camp season and one person’s response to them. Chime in if you are so moved.


Can the Steelers avoid having another Camp Cupcake?

Apparently the idea has taken hold that the failure for making it to Super Bowls has its genesis in training camp. Two years ago, if you remember, Tomlin was accused of being the Marquis de Sade for running a training camp so brutal that the team collapsed in exhaustion in December. If only he would have lightened up. No complaints in ’08. We won the sixth Lombardi, everyone is happy. We missed in ‘09, the theory goes, because Tomlin was Pee Wee Herman. So, the smart money says, this year the first step to Dallas is Auschwitz. I disagree. This is a veteran team. Half of the roster owns one Super Bowl ring. A quarter of the roster owns two. No team in the league has both the depth of institutional and experiential knowledge among the players of what it takes to adequately prepare for championship play. The depth and tremendous position competitions that will be occurring at linebacker, defensive back, quarterback, wide receiver, running back, the offensive and defensive lines will provide all the necessary intensity and incentive that anyone would want. Climate change will take care of the rest. No need for crematoriums.


Can the Steelers survive the early season loss of Ben?

I have to be honest; I don’t see what the fuss is about here. The situation is intriguing to be sure, but no franchise is better position than this one to handle it successfully. Let’s be clear about a couple of things. This is not a situation like an injury where there is no presence and a steep decline in physical skills that has to be overcome. Ben will be present for the entire training camp. The main concern will be how he deals with reps and rust when the season begins and he’s isolated from the team. Nor are we in a situation where we got someone like Tyler Palko (no slight intended) having to make chicken salad out of…well, you know. We have three quarterbacks with starting experience and six months to prepare with Atlanta, for one, not knowing for certain who they’ll be facing on opening day. I believe the offensive line will seem more effective if they only have to block for 3-4 seconds on pass plays rather than 6-7. We’ll see a more patient and intelligent running attack if the starting qb and the offensive coordinator aren't colluding to sabotage it in order to fulfill their pass happy fantasies.

The only potential problems would be difficulty with the transition back to an out of sync Rothelisberger that might lead to a mini slump, or a win streak by the substitute qb that might result in a full blown quarterback controversy. In the mean time how Tomlin and company distributes practice reps and playing time should endlessly fascinating in and of itself. This is largely unplowed ground here, and will be the one area that will probably attract national media attention. Should be fun.


Can the Steelers survive the loss of Santonio?


I enjoyed having Santonio with us as much as the next person. But time for blunt talk. Let’s remember that if we had retained him we would be missing both Ben and Santonio for the first four weeks. This means many of questions that we are asking about the receiving corps would still be in play. And because his issues are still, as far as we know, out of control, we would be continuously at risk of losing him at anytime due to further league violations or random knuckleheaded behavior. Holmes had an opportunity, as great as Ben’s, to be a poster child for the NFL with all the attendant perks financial and otherwise. All it required was some impulse control. And no favors were done sending someone with impulse control problems to New York City. A more appropriate question may be will he fall so fast that he will be able to share a cell with Plaxico? I hope I’m wrong about this one, but I believe risk easily outpaces reward in this instance. If so then the only thing we have lost was a slowly developing migraine.


Can the Steelers survive the loss of Willie Colon?

I almost got hysterical as I typed that last line. How quickly things change in Steeler Nation. Two years ago if word had reached BTSC that Willie Colon had ruptured his Achilles it would have been New Years Eve; I mean a BIG party. Two years ago the consensus was that the Steelers would be best served if Colon would be hauled away by a garbage truck at midnight. Today there are those who believe we can’t win more than six games without him. As I write word has come that we just signed Flozell Adams. Can’t hurt I guess. But let me remind you that the last time we lost our best offensive lineman (Marvel Smith) to IR we won the Super Bowl. And it very well may be that (as soon as he signs) our best O lineman may be Pouncey.

Is the defense too old?

Is LeBeau? No to both. Reports that Farrior is too old are based in negative fantasies IMO. Lost half a step? Maybe, but he played heavier last year than he did in previous years ( a premeditated decision for those who may be wondering). Timmons, Polamalu, Smith and Keenan Lewis were injured throughout the year. McFadden and Foote were gone. Excluding Lewis that’s half the ’08 defense. All have returned this year along with an improved Ziggy Hood and more depth everywhere. Want more? The team is planning to blow off practice and attend LeBeau’s HOF induction. You think all involved might return a bit more inspired after that cryfest? The incentives for this unit to play out of their minds for the entire year are plentiful. To honor LeBeau, to recover their own sense of honor and pride, to cover for Ben’s absence, because though they aren’t currently too old many of them soon will be. For some this may be their last shot.


As predicted six weeks ago Tomlin (and now Colbert) have been extended. Any hint of front office disunity or dissention has been squashed. The Tomlin haters can now officially return to your bridges and underpasses…The performance of the new offensive line and special teams coaches should be fascinating to everyone…Who will rise from the crowd and be the next Mike Wallace or Isaac Redman?...Will TO or Ocho say or do something that transforms the ‘Chip’ into a ‘Log’?...If not having Troy devastated Pittsburgh’s ‘D’, what will not having Ed Reed do to the Ravens?


The most intriguing question going forward is now that he has secured himself for the next several years, how will Tomlin put his fingerprints on this team? Underestimate this crew at your peril. What do you think?