A misinterpretation of something I wrote at the beginning of the last Checkdown left some with the impression that these reports are a season only phenomena. You should be so lucky. To be sure there will be times over the coming months where we will be creatively challenged to find much of anything Steelers related to talk about, and there will be the strong temptation to engage in MSU (Making (Stuff) Up). But most of the time for the diehards that make BTSC a second home there is rarely a week that goes by without something interesting that is Steelers related going on. I'll try to remember this when we reach that point between the end of mini-camp in June and the beginning of training camp.
Stepping into the off season
As the wild roller coaster ride that was the 2013 season begins to recede in the rear view mirror we enter an off season that has a little bit for everyone. Whether you're a glass half full or half empty type of person you'll find something you can sink your teeth into. For you half empty folk the team once again finished at 8-8 and missed the playoffs. The defensive play was less than stellar, they allegedly have severe cap issues, any number of players may be lost to free agency and the one staff change that has been made was a bit puzzling. With the half full crowd there's 8-8, and then there's 8-8. The record was the same as last year, but the tone of things and the trending are in different universes ( a team that was rising at the end of the season as opposed to declining, a team that was tight and optimistic as opposed to having dissension and finger pointing). Problem areas such as finding a feature running back, competency of the offensive line and special teams found some solutions. There are young players on the rise. And there are indications from the organization that, once again, reports of cap catastrophe may not be nearly as bad as many fear.
The Rooney Report
Over the past week or so team President Art Rooney II has met with members of the media and season ticket holders to give his take on the state of the team. His comments provided some answers to questions that some fans have been chewing on for months. These include;
*A vote of confidence for head coach Mike Tomlin and his staff for holding the team together after its horrendous start, and finishing strong. When you consider that no one had a worse start (0-4 is hard to beat) but handled their circumstances less well (Houston, Washington, Atlanta, just to name a few), this is not a small thing. Rooney also let it drop that he felt that the Steelers should have been in the playoffs. Its one thing for fans, media or even players to make such an assertion, Rooney is part of the league leadership. He didn't say much, but the fact that he said it was huge.
*The intention of retaining quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the remainder of his career. Ordinarily this statement would be something of a no brainer, but given the insistence of some in the media that such was not the case (Will any of these people be held to account for there inaccurate reporting?), as well as those elements within the lunatic fringe of Steelers Nation who felt that we could easily improve upon Ben, Rooney's remarks in this regard were a necessary and welcome return to sanity.
*In a similar vein he expressed the desire to retain Troy Polamalu, as with Ben a necessary corrective for those who last year lobbied that the team part ways with the safety because he was deemed too fragile, and this year because (playing in all sixteen games tabled the 'fragile' argument) he has allegedly become too old. The casualness that some suggest that we jettison All Pro caliber, even Hall of Fame caliber talent (Ben, Troy, Pouncey, Woodley) is an interesting notion, particularly given the fact that we're still trying to find the replacement for Rod Woodson.
*That resigning Jason Worilds was a priority.
*That the team's salary issues, though not ideal, were not as dire as some have projected. Of course we'll see what this means in practical terms eventually, but it apparently reconfirms the tendency to underestimate the team's creativity in addressing its cap challenges.
*Reducing the price of tickets for preseason games. I think one advantage that Steelers fans who live in other NFL cities have is an appreciation of how mindful the Pittsburgh organization is of trying to keep their product affordable to their fans relative to other organizations. I wrote recently about the impact of greed in professional football. The Steelers have been much better than most in understanding and respecting the limitations of their market.
*Jerome Bettis' Hall of Fame candidacy. That it was time, past time actually, for Jerome's inclusion.
I think its fair to say that between July and December this is a forgotten man to the Nation. But between January and June he may likely be the most important man in the organization. His name has come up in relation to the Miami organization that was not quite able to get over the hump with the acquisition of Mike Wallace.
The coaching carousel has been impacted by those with former ties to the Steelers and has roiled the coaching ranks of the AFC North with only the Steelers remaining unscathed by the changes.
Former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has been named the new head coach of the Tennessee Titans. The attempt to lure current linebackers coach and heir apparent to Dick LeBeau, Keith Butler has failed, but it seems that former secondary coach and currently the defensive coordinator of the Browns, Ray Horton will be joining Whiz in Memphis. This raises the question as to whether we will soon be labeling Tennessee 'Pittsburgh South'.
Cincinnati lost both of their coordinators with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden heading to Washington and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer taking the head job in Minnesota. Zimmer will be joined by Cleveland offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Meanwhile Baltimore's offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell was named head coach of the Detroit Lions.
Targeted for the unemployment line Steelers fans earlier this season, there is now even talk about Todd Haley being in line for a head coaching job next season. Neal Coolong characterized it as the AFC North being "picked clean". Whether that is consequence of the level of coaching talent throughout the division, the fact that, unlike other years, the division was basically playoff irrelevant and had more coaches available to be hired or some combination, I let the reader decide.
With all the disruption in the AFC North, plus the changes at Penn State, the Steelers appear to be an oasis of stability on the coaching front. In addition to Butler, Danny Smith's name has come up in relation to the Redskins. (There was even talk early on of giving him some consideration for the head job, the thinking being that a special teams coach brings a particularly good skill set in developing talent). As of this writing though, everyone seems to be staying put. Apparently, its not just players who want to stick around with the Steelers organization.
The one change that is in the offing is that the team needs a new offensive line coach after the (for me) unexpected departure of Jack Bicknell Jr. former Titans coach Mike Munchak is being interviewed for the position. In addition to whatever other gifts he brings to the process, he has the other advantage of having local ties (Penn State). That's a factor that counts for something with the Steelers. Just consider the additions made with area ties in the last year; Richard Mann, Danny Smith, Bruce Gradkowski, LaRod Stephens-Howlings, Derek Moye, Justin Brown. An addition of Munchak would be a continuation of that pattern, and at this point who can argue against it?
The accolades are coming in for the Steelers wide receiver and deservedly so. He was named to Pro Football Focus' All Pro team and to the PFWA's AFC All Conference team.
Clark and Keisel
Steelers safety Ryan Clark was named a finalist for the Bart Starr Award (with Aaron Rodgers being the winner), and defensive end Brett Keisel is about to have his annual Shear the Beard event. What adds a note of poignancy is that they may be the last things these two players do as members of the team.
This is the season for evaluations and projections concerning the roster of the team going forward. BTSC's Dale Grdnic has been doing a thorough and much appreciated job in doing projections for centers, guards, tackles, tight ends, wide receivers, running backs and quarterback. If you're interested in second opinions you might consider some of the work at Steelers.com by Bob Labriola, here and here.
How well positioned are the Steelers
Steelers fans have been in something of a funk for various reasons connected with the end of the season. Some were disappointed, understandably because the team fell just short of a playoff berth. Others have been bummed that the team didn't do worse thereby gaining a higher position in the draft. Then there is Homer J and Hombre de Acero who each argue that the team's current circumstances places them in great position to make significant gains in the months to come.
The 2013 rookie class was lauded during last year's off season as being one of the more promising to come along in some time. Members of that group were thrown into the fire this past season, perhaps earlier and more extensively than anybody would have liked. Their challenges and accomplishments are chronicled here.
The ups and downs of this season didn't just cause us to take a hard look at the team and the organization. Steelers Nation has been subject to some scrutiny as well, as this won't go down necessarily as our finest moment. The Post Gazette's Gene Collier takes a look at the fan base.
This will probably have little or no resonance with younger fans, but one of the organization's 'characters', Steve DiNardo, known as 'Dirt' passed away this week. His role in the history of the franchise can be found here.
Head injuries (cont)
The ongoing saga of how the league addresses the issue of head injuries hit a speed bump this week. PaVaSteeler tells us about how a federal judge put the brakes on a concussion settlement that the NFL had with the players union because of the fear that the plan may be underfunded.
The head coach has developed quite the verbal tic with his use of the word 'obviously'. The pattern has become so obvious that the local media has taken to keeping track as to how often coach uses the term in his press conferences.
Ending on a (another?) humorous note Grantland gives us this piece on Roger Goodell's inbox. Have a good week everyone.
- AFC North News: Browns staff hollowed out, still waiting on Gase
- Former Broncos WR Rod Smith recalls how excited Denver was to play Pittsburgh in 2005 AFC Championship game
- Steelers Cortez Allen earns Proven Performance Escalator
- 2014 NFL Playoff Schedule: 49ers vs. Seahawks game time, TV broadcast, online stream, odds, weather and more
- 2014 NFL Playoff Schedule: Patriots vs. Broncos game time, TV broadcast, online stream, odds, weather and more
- Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler will remain in Pittsburgh