The offseason is usually pretty daunting to get through for your average Steelers writer/reporter.
As a writer, back before I honed my extraordinary talent, this used to be a huge challenge for me. That’s right, the second the Steelers season ended, and I saw the first of many, many, many mock drafts being crafted in the BTSC queue, I would cringe—I cannot tell a lie.
In terms of anxiety, it felt like waking up at 4:22 on the morning of your first day back to work following a lovely vacation (or holiday if you’re somewhere in the world that calls it that).
But as I already alluded to, I don’t have much of a problem with getting through the Steelers offseason anymore—or at least I didn’t before the 2020 offseason.
Wow, has this been a tough one.
The pandemic shut all the sports down three months ago, and while such a thing didn’t necessarily hurt the NFL—as I keep saying, it was the one major sports league that was granted the gift of time—it made it hard to evaluate Steelers players on anything other than their latest Zoom meetings. In other words, no Pro Days, no rookie camp, no OTAs and no mini-camp.
What’s a person to discuss without the Steelers doing tangible things and acting as the alternator to the writer’s car battery? (I had car trouble last week, so excuse the timely metaphor.)
Making it especially hard is the ever-expanding list of topics deemed too sensitive to write about—including the anthem issue, the Rooney Rule, Mike Tomlin (anything good or bad), Ben Roethlisberger’s interception rate since midway through the 2015 regular season, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell’s rap career, Al Riveron, Super Bowl XXX, COVID-19, New Coke, Ben Affleck as Batman, and the series finale of Lost.
I haven’t even had baseball and the Pirates to fall back on for my writing inspiration. Yes sir, it’s always fun to write something about the Buccos in the spring and have a reader really object: “What do I care if the Pirates are two games out of the wildcard race? I thought this was a Steelers site. I find this article and the comparison of Josh Bell to T.J. Watt insulting. As president of the Des Moines Steelers Fan Club, I demand you stop talking about other Pittsburgh sports teams, okay, there, Pittsburgh boy?”
But I must commend my fellow Steelers writers and me; we’ve been creative, we’ve been resourceful, we’ve kept our heads down and plugged away day in and day out.
We’ve talked about salary caps, unrestricted free agents, potential draft picks, actual draft picks, undrafted free agents, the possibility of signing this particular veteran backup quarterback, jersey numbers, the possibility of signing that particular veteran backup quarterback, Roethlisberger’s surgically repaired elbow, color rush uniforms, the latest BTSC exclusive interview with a really famous person (how in the heck did they get Zach Banner?) and many, many other things.
Again, it’s been a grind—this very unusual Steelers offseason—but we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. In less than one month, the Steelers are expected to report to, well, Heinz Field (no training camp in Latrobe, unfortunately).
We can get back to reporting on and writing about real Steelers football. Will it be a “new normal” kind of thing? Yes. But, damn it, it will be actual football. Which rookie is good? Which veteran is totally out of shape? How crisp does Big Ben look? Any signs of discomfort with the elbow? Will JuJu Smith-Schuster actually be able to run at all with his additional muscle mass? Will Terrell Edmunds make a noticeable leap in his third season? How about Matt Feiler starting camp at left guard—what the heck is that all about?
I can’t wait.
Speaking of this strange new world we find ourselves in—both as sports fans and citizens—I can’t wait to tackle some of the controversial issues that could arise once training camp starts and the regular season finally begins.
Such topics could include Mike Tomlin’s unwillingness to employ a controversial yet totally legal social-distancing formation utilized by the Patriots that once again has them in first place in the AFC East; Steelers fans turning on Mean Joe Greene for his decision to have knee-replacement surgery; and the re-emergence of “Road Ben” even with no fans allowed in the stands.
Finally, pat yourself on the back if you’re a Steelers writer who’s made it this far during the mother of all offseasons.
We’re almost home.