Sometimes it seems that the wait for a new NFL season to begin will go on forever, so when it actually arrives its almost a shock. But indeed, it is here and the active quest for the seventh Lombardi begins in earnest on Sunday at Heinz Field. If you want a little good news before then I can report that the Steelers already enjoy a half game lead over the Baltimore Ravens in the standings. The top stories can be distilled down to a few simple themes with multiple tentacles.
Your 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers. One of the major ongoing questions that is posed months, and sometimes years in advance is what will be the roster composition during any given year. The response involves a complex set of processes that considers competitive and financial factors, includes free agency, contract negotiations, the draft, and finally direct player evaluation. The process came to a provisional conclusion this week as the league teams was required to decide upon their 53 man rosters this past Saturday.
There are always surprises and maybe some disappointments when the final cuts are made, but the cuts seemed somewhat shocking in that the team's leading rusher from last season was released, as well as draft choices from both 2012 and 2013 who not only did not make the 53, but failed to be selected for the practice squad as well. Then the team became unusually active making additional changes, the most notable being that the solution to the punting competition was to get rid of both camp competitors and select a third party. The result was a circumstance were players that most thought would stay were gone, and some that most thought were finished are still here.
Within a matter of hours and days some players went from the 53 to the practice squad, to the street and then sometimes the process reversed. For some their NFL journey will continue somewhere else and for all too many the dream is now over. And certainly the moves are far from over. The team seems to be unusually active this year, willing to make any number of bold moves. As the status of the some of the injured evolves and more is revealed on the practice field and in game situations other significant moves are probably in store. The roster moves can be found here.
Easily the most surprising development for most fans was the release of running back Jonathan Dwyer. Thrown off guard by his heavy workload during the preseason the termination was, upon further reflection not that far out of left field given the issues that were at play throughout Dwyer's tenure in Pittsburgh. No one knows for sure why he was released, but I'm certain that someone will, in the process of selling a book or similar will eventually let it be known how it all went down. In the mean time Dwyer is trying to find a new NFL home.
The injury report
One of the uplifting roster moves was the activation of tight end Heath Miller. While it is not expected that his return to the field will be immediate, the move likely insures that Miller will probably return to the field before the season's halfway mark, perhaps even much earlier than that. Injury designations were also done for tight end Matt Spaeth and linebacker Sean Spence. Four players, wide receiver Plaxico Burress, offensive linemen Nik Embernate and Justin Cheadle and defensive lineman Nick Williams have been placed on injured reserve.
In the short term the team entered their preparations for the season opener against Tennessee with the participation of four players in doubt. Two, rookie 2nd round running back Le'Veon Bell and Miller will not play. Linebacker Jarvis Jones will definitely play and fullback Will Johnson will play as well barring any setbacks over the next few hours leading up to the game.
This is not perfect, but it is certainly manageable all things considered. Hopefully that list won't expand too drastically next week.
Prepping for the Titans
In addition to the activities of the coaching staff, a spotlight is being placed upon the activist stance of Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert who has orchestrated a number of personnel moves of late, including the trade that brought running back Felix Jones into the fold.
Head coach Mike Tomlin conducted his first weekly pregame press conference providing the usual unremarkable coach speak, punctuated with interesting tidbits concerning the status of various players. Remember that game one is where coaches keep their cards particularly close to their chests.
Coordinators Dick LeBeau and Todd Haley were a little more forthcoming, but not a whole more so. If you were expecting a soul bearing confession of strategies, tactics and the like you will be sorely disappointed. All will become obvious a little after one on Sunday.
I suspect that a number of Steelers fans subscribe to the notion that their two favorite teams on any given week are Pittsburgh and whomever is playing the Baltimore Ravens. If that is the case then you're halfway home already. Peyton Manning put a spanking on the defending World Champions in front of a national prime time audience. I would just caution that the season is young and, though humiliating to the Ravens, nothing is close to being settled just yet.
The crystal ball
With the basic configuration of all the teams now established the prediction industry is getting in its final licks before reality sets in. Some back bold predictions about win/loss records, championships and individual performances. Other pose critical questions or conduct scene setting in an attempt to create a framework that will help make sense of the season as it unfolds.
Hombre de Acero laid out a series of challenges at his Steel Curtain Rising site. Meanwhile I took my annual shot at trying to define the conditions that could result in a Lombardi. The three part series covered team management in part one; the offense in part two, and defense and special teams in part three.
After all the talk throughout the off season of the Steelers being a team in decline and in a period of significant transition it seems for all the world that any expressed vision that is more ambitious and hopeful just seems like out of control homerism. But its harder to dismiss an outsider who has no emotional capital invested in the team's fate. Bill Barnwell of Grantland paints a picture that places the Steelers on a strong track to return to the playoffs and possibly even the Super Bowl.
The cruelest season (cont)
As mentioned last week, this period for many, including coaches and other associated with team management represents the worst part of the job embedded within the most thrilling and hopeful part of the season. Two pieces need to be lifted up as they do an excellent job in looking behind the curtain a bit as well as getting a firm grasp of what that rejection feels like.
Terence Garvin, the first year linebacker from West Virginia experienced the entire circuit over the past weekend. He was cut, signed on to the practice squad and then found himself placed on the 53 man roster.
DropTheHammer shares his personal experience of coping with the dream coming to an end.
Okay Steelers Nation. The time for speculation has come to a close. The story of the 2013 season begins to be written this weekend. Just remember one thing, win, lose or draw. Nothing is decided in September.
More from Behind the Steel Curtain:
- Steelers vs. Titans: The time to send a message is now
- Roethlisberger needs young offensive line to step up Sunday
- Steelers Injury Report: Johnson, Jones both probable
- Shamarko Thomas's keys are key vs. Titans
- Harbaugh living out Tomlin's prediction
- Ramon Foster interview: Steelers guard talks about zone running, goals for 2013 and Mike Golic, Jr.
- LaMarr Woodley: 'We have to do what we didn't do last year'
- Ravens Super Bowl Hangover performance is example of why nothing else matters but 'getting in'
- The case for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013: Part Three
- Breaking down quarterbacks in their first game against Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau
- Zoltan Mesko grew up a Steelers fan in Cleveland