I was worried that with the Pittsburgh season over and being weeks away from the beginning of free agency and the draft that I would have nothing to write about. Silly me. A lot of significance happened this week, and I'm not even counting the playoffs. Be warned; the news this week will include delving into the dark underbelly of the game.
Chris Rainey and the standard
Is the 2012 draft class of the Pittsburgh Steelers cursed? This is an unscientific assertion, I know, but what has unfolded has deviated so radically from such high expectations that it doesn't seem ridiculous to pose the question. Only seventh round draft picks David Paulson and Kelvin Beachum have met or exceeded expectations. Frankly, those two weren't even expected to be still around at this point. The others have not impressed (Toney Clemons), been injured (David DeCastro, Mike Adams, Sean Spence), and then there have been the character concerns;
Adams, Alameda Ta'amu and now Chris Rainey. The expectation was that selecting Adams would be an edgy move but those fears have not materialized, at least not yet. For me at least Ta'amu came out of left field, and Dejan Kovacevic in a good piece in Friday's Tribune-Review (I'm having trouble with the links to their site) points out that his continuing presence on the Steelers' roster calls into question the team's commitment to disciplined behavior. And then there is Rainey. I was a bit surprised at first at how quickly the Steelers moved to cut ties. But with all the conversation surrounding Adams last spring, Rainey's issues faded into the background somewhat. Much mention has been made of adhering to the 'standard' on the field, but as one fan pointed out to Rainey in a piece in the Post-Gazette
Hours before the Steelers announced Rainey had been cut, one Steelers fan posted a comment on Rainey's Facebook page predicting what happened: "What were you thinking? The Rooneys don't mess around with that kind of behavior ... Well thanks for the year you gave us, and good luck!"
There are other standards that apply to being a Steeler as well. Consider the contrast between this incident and what transpired at the State Department this week involving Dan Rooney.
Besides the sadness of a young talent being brought low by his demons, the loss of Rainey also highlights what now must be a high off season priority for the Steelers; specifically, addressing the area of running back moving into the future. With the belief being that the team will be moving forward without Rashard Mendenhall and now Rainey, the situation appears to be particularly precarious as those who are left (Batch, Dwyer and Redman) bring a lot of questions into the equation and none currently is being seriously considered to be a featured back.
The coaching staff
There are some connecting issues being raised this week as well. Art Rooney II was interviewed this week with the main takeaway being his vote of confidence in head coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Of course, having to make such a statement at all says volumes concerning the state of the Nation so to speak. Steeler Nation is still mulling over the 2012 season and how things went wrong. Most of the questions raised were posed to Rooney and addressed in the interview, such as training methods related to injuries. However, there are some issues related to the coaching staff that are currently outstanding that may be resolved in the coming weeks.
Though his status appears currently secure with the Steelers, Todd Haley is under consideration for the head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals. The possibility that he may leave via promotion contributes to an air of uncertainty concerning the leadership on the offensive side of the ball. A replacement must be found for departed offensive line coach Sean Kugler. If Haley leaves there is the possibility that his replacement may come internally. Running backs coach Kirby Wilson has been part of the conversation in this regard in the past and now. However, there is a complicating issue. There is now speculation that the job of one of the offensive assistants is in jeopardy. No one knows (or is saying) who that individual might be, but in the minds of some the most likely possibilities based upon the under the line performance of their departments would be Wilson or receivers coach Scottie Montgomery. There is also the matter of special teams and whether Amos Jones will be retained or provided with an assistant.
Potentially the most meaningful personnel change that could come this off season would be the departure of Omar Khan. He interviewed for the GM position with the New York Jets on Thursday. I would say that his role in the ongoing success of the Steelers has been crucial. It would be altogether unclear how the team would cope with his loss.
While on the subject of assistant coaches current and former, I would be remiss to not make some mention of former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Arians has had a very good year, at least until this past Sunday. He played a critical and heart warming role in the unexpected success of the Indianapolis Colts this season, serving as the interim head coach and leading them into the playoffs. As a result he has become something of a hot commodity and his name has been in the conversation for some of the head coaching vacancies around the league. A sudden illness that led to his hospitalization and the end of the Colts' season in the Wild Card round is not sufficient to spoil his rehabilitation and a job well done.
Fixing the team
There were a couple of events this week that do not have a direct impact on the Steelers immediately, but could have long term repercussions for the league as a whole. The first was the injury to Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III in their playoff loss to the Seahawks which has raised a number of questions concerning the warrior ethic and how injuries are handled by players, coaches, team medical staffs and the contributing attitudes by fans and the media. Steeler Nation is familiar with these issues as they have also been at play in the handling of our quarterbacks over the past two seasons. The conversation has also inspired some proposals for reforms to the game that are probably worth discussing. As of now it appears that the culture of the league has created the possibility of the most tragically aborted career since that of Gale Sayers.
Hard to imagine in light of the preceding that the news could get any more grim for the NFL but it does. The National Institutes of Health have come in with a verdict concerning Seau's brain. The diagnosis that the All Pro linebacker suffered from CTE. The significance of this being as described by Fox Sports' Jen Floyd Engel is that what destroyed Seau's mind was not severe concussions, but the "game of football"; the cumulative effects of blows to the head that are unavoidable in participating in the game. The question going forward is what is going to be done about it. Engel fears that like the mass shootings that have been occurring across the country the answer will be some hand wringing followed by nothing until the next incident. And then some more hand wringing.
Hall of Fame
Jerome Bettis and Kevin Greene are among the finalists nominated for possible induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Another Steeler Nation favorite Warren Sapp is also one of the finalists. If you were eating breakfast while reading this, I apologize.