"Leaders aren't born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that's the price we'll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal." - Vince Lombardi.
Sandusky, Ohio - If there is one thing the 2015 version of the Pittsburgh Steelers doesn't lack it's leadership. Take a look around and you will find a wide variety of players that can be pointed at and labeled as such, starting with QB Ben Roethlisberger. Entering his 12th NFL season, it goes without saying now that Troy Polamalu has departed, Ben is the unquestioned leader/veteran of this team.
With that being said, there are various players on both sides of the ball that fit the role of leader. They will be called on during the season to show that leadership as this team begin's its long journey towards the unknown. Could another division title be in the future? Perhaps another playoff bust, or worse, no post-season at all? Time will tell.
What can be counted on is a wild ride towards the end of December. This team was better than many expected it to be last year, winning the AFC North and finishing with an 11-5 record. The offense was nothing short of spectacular, with Ben, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell having career seasons as they racked up yards and points at a historic pace.
It's easy to see many leaders on the offensive side. From the line to position players that have been noted already. Filling those gaps won't be an issue.
No, the true test of this team will come from the players that are on the defensive side of the ball leading a much needed youth movement. Much of the defense is starting fresh, beginning with Keith Butler, who was promoted to defensive coordinator after the season came to an end. With Dick LeBeau gone, it's now Butler's defense and his ability to mold the young players he has will set the tone for how this season plays out.
Since this is the Steelers defense we are talking about, then the conversation will usually begin and end with the linebackers. Players like Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones will be expected to play a key role and that simply means production and lots of it.
It goes without saying that this team has had many leaders on defense over the years that started at linebacker. Ham, Lambert, Lloyd, Gildon, Harrison, and Foote are just a few. It's now time for Shazier and Jones to add their names to that list. There is practically no room for error. You don't get another season or two to make it work. It must work and it must work now.
Add to this storyline the retirements of Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor and now the secondary's role is another major key to making a serious run at another Lombardi trophy. Simply put, the play of Shmarko Thomas and Cortez Allen will be a focal point that many will focus on. Don't think the leagues top quarterbacks won't test these two, along with the rest of the secondary. It's been the team's Achilles heel for some time.
Remember one thing about leadership. You don't have to be born a leader. There are plenty of players that can step into the role of a leader by just playing hard and getting results. Nobody is asking these players to yell and scream and push others. The simple way to inspire is to do what is needed by the coaching staff. Production speaks louder than any words possibly could.
There are a number of unnammed leaders the 2015 Steelers have on their roster. It's time for them to write their names on that long list of men who have done the same...by winning.
John Phillips is a sports anchor and reporter for CBS Radio in Pittsburgh and can be heard on all-sports 93.7 The Fan and News Radio 1020 KDAK. Follow JP on Twitter @JPOnTheFan