The work stoppage is finally here. Deep down many of us know that there has been more than plenty of time to have avoided this moment if the two sides had wanted to. This means that the amount of time remaining between now and the scheduled beginning of the season is false comfort. One or more sides in this dispute are hell bent on being assholes. It not matter if there were ten years between now and the beginning of the season one or both sides will dither and bs until the last moment in the hopes they can punk the other side into a more favorable set of concessions. For now one piece of advice; much of what we know about the NFL is filtered through the PR apparatus of the individual teams and the league. So, if you find yourself thinking that the players are just a bunch of spoiled, grasping millionaires while the owners are just hard working guys trying to pay their utility bills, (or vice versa) make sure that you're not being punked.
But all that aside, not all the news over the last few days has been bad.
Troy. Had he lost a step? Had the rigors of his style of play finally caught up to him? Or had everyone just caught up with him and Old Man LeBeau and figured the Steelers defense out once and for all? These and related issues have eclipsed all pre-draft and free agent discussions during the weeks following the Super Bowl. But Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Gerry Dulac wrote a piece in yesterday's paper that confirmed what many of us had been thinking in December and January. That Troy was more seriously injured than either he or the team was letting on. What does it mean? Instead of the Steelers loss to the Packers pointing to a serious erosion of the defensive secondary with additional concerns about the overall effectiveness of the defense moving forward, the Super Bowl loss may be nothing more than Pittsburgh being compelled to travel a bridge too far in regards to injuries and other challenges. The fact that the team got so far in spite of its best players on offense (Ben) and defense (Troy) hobbled by injury can (if you choose to do so) put the past season in an entirely different light, not to mention the prospects moving forward. For example, part of the angst that I am noticing with some of the comments relating to CBA is a concern that time is running out for this team. I understand but don't agree with the concern. When the Defensive Player Of The Year is reduced to a fraction of his effectiveness it would be crazy to expect that the defense as a whole will not fall short, regardless of what the pronounced standards are. In addition, Troy's injury does not require surgery and the long rehab associated with Achilles surgeries.
Carnell Lake. The news concerning Troy also impacts the implication of this hire. In addition to what he can do for younger and more marginally talented players, has anyone contemplated what might happen if he and Troy started working together at a very high level? Tomlin's track record with new assistant hires was pretty good last year with Kugler and Al Everest. Assuming that it was not just luck, that a quality coach has been hired and provided with the necessary level of support it's not unreasonable to see the quality of secondary play leap forward beyond expectations when the games come back. Defensive secondary has been a relative weakness since Lake and Rod Woodson played in the 90s. If Lake could lead an upgrade like what Kugler managed with the O-Line, that is to say, a combination of improving the performance of existing personnel and bringing in additional talent then LeBeau's crew could experience a serious upgrade with minimum infusion of new talent.
TiKi Barber. Like, I suspect, most of you I am not being kept up at nights imagining what this potential addition might do for our offense. What is exciting is what the back story behind this development means long term for the Steelers. I have felt that one of the long term benefits of a Tomlin coached team is that the combination of his coaching style and team success that follows in its wake would make the Steelers an attractive destination for experienced veteran players. On one level we have begun to see it in Steelers prodigal sons returning home (ARE, Larry Foote, BMac). Casual fans might dismiss the presence of these players, but with ARE in particular you had a player who brought important leadership intangibles, and had a disproportionately large impact making important and difficult plays with relatively few opportunities. Another example is Flozell Adams who brings so much and anxiously wants to belong because what being a Steeler promises players both in terms of opportunities and the quality of treatment. From the reports I ‘ve read, Barber is interested because, among other things, of the relationship his brother had with Tomlin when Tomlin was with Tampa Bay. If the plan was to obtain Barber if Mewelde Moore were lost to free agency then this would signify an upgrade at the #3 back in both talent and leadership. Whether Barber comes or not is immaterial to me. What should be exciting to Steelers fans is that I believe that players like Barber and Adams are the tip of the iceberg in terms of talented mid to late career veterans who will see Pittsburgh as an appealing destination.
Charlie Batch. Our man at the center of CBA negotiations. It should be considered an open secret that Steelers players and management are probably on the same page as far as where they want to see these negotiations end up. While relations between owners and players may deteriorate in other places, I expect the Steelers to come out of this situation ahead of the game thanks in part to Art II working with the owners and Charlie and Ryan Clark working with the players. Lets hope this doesn't drag on too long, I'm getting excited about next season already.