The finish line is in sight. Its been nearly seven months, longer than what we are accustomed to, since the Steelers were actually doing football. We're still another six weeks or so before before we get into the business end of the 2013 season but training camp is a big step up from the made up and tangential news items, speculation, puff pieces, rumors, gossip and crime stories that dominate the off season.
Appropriately, this has been a pretty good news week. Unfortunately, as I've have been warning for weeks now, a good bit of the week's news is of the wrong sort of thing that we would want to see (Yes, Maurkice I'm talking about you). But to be fair there were some other sketchy items such as progress in the Mike Adams assault case and some unfortunate news involving a couple of former Steelers that had actually nothing to do with Pouncey or his brother. The good news is that the bad news was in the minority of what transpired during the week. There was plenty else going on. But let's get some of the stink out of the way first.
Maurkice Pouncey is "That Guy"
A good part of the conversation has been what this whole business over a couple of hats actually signifies; a thoughtless, immature indiscretion, the actions of an idiot with major character flaws or pure evil. A couple of things that can be said about this that are probably beyond dispute. The Steeler center, who has been the beneficiary of a lot of good feeling for both his stellar play and his emerging status as a key team leader, damaged his reputation and placed the organization in an unfavorable light. Bad timing. Steeler Nation and pretty much everyone else who cares about the NFL were slumbering in the July heat, resigned to the idea of another two weeks of nothing much going on, which only makes the spotlight that he and his brother occupy seem that much brighter. He's definitely has earned the title of 'That Guy'. Hopefully, he will retire the trophy for the 2013 season.
Apparently, in the minds of some, the only thing more annoying than the incident itself was the response, which was diverse and passionate. The issue was approached from a variety of angles and a variety of voices. A representative sample is linked here and here. Even steeler fever weighed in which was a treat for me. But I'd like to also highlight the comments made by Ron Cook, Dale Lolley, Mark Kaboly and Jason Whitlock.
The good news is that Maurkice has apologized, those who want to let things slide outnumbers those who don't and I'm pretty certain that in a week we'll all have other things on our minds.
Talking Steeler Football
The Bob Labriola/Mike Prisuta collaboration cranked out five more installments of their ten part preview of position evaluations this week. Each had a noteworthy highlight or theme that bears watching as the team moves into the next phase of preparation.
Safeties. The key issue here is thought to be Troy Polamalu. If he can stay healthy and play out the season history shows that the team does very well. If he can't then the lack of experienced depth could bite the Steelers on the bottom. The speed and quality of development of rookie Shamarko Thomas becomes an important complementary concern. In another interesting tidbit it was mentioned that Carnell Lake had a great deal of confidence in the ability of William Gay to step in as a safety in certain circumstances. This thought will probably drive the anti-Gay faction to distraction.
Thomas was also the subject of an article in his hometown media. The question was raised as to whether Thomas' aggressive, hard hitting style of play might result in his being a fine magnet ala James Harrison. Interestingly, Thomas didn't dismiss the possibility.
Inside Linebacker. The concern about depth here is greater than it is for the safeties. You come away thinking that the most important person on the team to keep healthy besides Ben is Lawrence Timmons because there nothing proven and little promising behind him and Larry Foote. Perhaps just as bad, though somewhat unlikely is if there are problems on the outside that would pull Timmons away from his inside responsibilities where he is finally beginning to establish himself as one of the best in the game.
Outside Linebacker. The obvious focal point here is the coming competition involving Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. While not disrespecting Jones we are cautioned to not assume that his beating out Worilds some time this year, let alone by opening day is carved in stone. More positive talk about Adrian Robinson with comparisons made in terms of physical stature with the departed Harrison. And for those of us on the lookout for that dark horse free agent unknown, it could be Alan Baxter.
Defensive Line. The post Casey Hampton era begins. The thought is, based upon the feedback from inside the organization, that the questions and bad rap on Cam Heyward is premature and ultimately inaccurate. Is this his breakout year?
Offensive Line. Depth is also a concern here, this not being the only place where that issue is up for discussion. While there is much optimism about the prospects for De Castro and Company, the questions as to whether they are ready to completely assume that mantle this year as well as the fact that they will be 'flying without a net' (few if any strong backups) given the injury history of the unit is worrisome. An interesting notion was raised as to whether Kelvin Beachum could possibly beat out Ramon Foster for the starting left guard position, though it was acknowledged that Beachum's greatest value to the team at this time is as a jack of all trades back up rather than a starter even if he were capable.
A specific piece on one of the major questions going into camp, what will happen with Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams is addressed here.
The Adams saga reached another stage as the Steelers' offensive tackle testified at a preliminary hearing this week. A defense attorney for one of the suspects disputed the truthfulness of Adams' testimony. The apparent counter claim made by the suspects is that it was Adams that started the dispute. With no trial date set as of yet it may be appropriate given the priorities reflected in this site if the stresses related to the fact finding and prosecution related to this case could have a potential performance impact on Adams.
Its not that Steelers management don't make their share of mistakes, I'm sure that they do. But if the team does something that you are not in agreement with it may be best if you wait awhile before you pass judgment. More often than not some of these decisions look better and better with the passage of time.
I didn't understand the release of Saunders last year. I was enamored with his talents and felt that players like David Johnson and David Paulson and their comparatively pedestrian abilities made them unnecessary to have around and probably served to fuel the desire to separate them from the team. Saunders release last year seemed an overreaction to whatever issues ruled his past but didn't (in my opinion) necessarily predict his future. In light of the eight game suspension handed down to Saunders this week the wisdom of Steeler leadership has been reinforced.
Another former Steeler Bert Reed was also the subject of a league suspension this week as well.
Sanders was the subject of two stories that raise questions about his ceiling this year if he can manage to stay healthy. The piece by nfl.com catches up to the fact of Sanders early promise (he outperformed Antonio Brown head to head during their first year with the team) that was derailed due to a series of injuries. Neal Coolong focuses upon what a Sanders/Brown receiver tandem might be capable of producing.
Last week it was mentioned that the Steelers head coach had returned to his hometown to conduct a youth football camp. This week we are provided with details as to how the camp unfolded. In Tomlin's view this is a give back activity as he shared how he had benefited from a camp run by local high school coaches when he was young.
Special teams is always one of the areas of the team that can be more easily overlooked. At this time of the year it can be even easier. This profile of the new special teams coach provided a nice summary of Smith's Pittsburgh roots, his desire and the somewhat complex path that he had to travel to get to the organization that he longed to work for, and we were treated to a revealing description of some the philosophy and methods that make for Smith's approach to his job.
We had our share of player profile pieces this week. Jonathan Dwyer was the subject of a 'Day in the Life' video. Besides providing a peek into the running back's family life it provided a very satisfying look back at his first touchdown last season which happen to come during Pittsburgh's victory over Baltimore and featured a blocking assist by Charlie Batch. This was easily one of my favorite plays of the year, perhaps of many years.
This is part two of a question and answer format on Steelers.com. I found the piece to be a bit of a cut above because the quality of the questions put to Allen were quite good. He gave some nice technical answers to how he plays his coverages in certain situations, and gave a somewhat surprising answer to the reaction when Renegade is played during the games.
Rebecca Rollett continued her series that highlights some of the high character personalities that are part of the Steelers organization. It was a well written and affecting piece that may have been buried in many people's perceptions under the blizzard of stories involving the Pouncey incident. If you happened to miss it you won't be disappointed if you give it a look now.
ESPN's Ron Jaworski did a ranking of quarterbacks placing Ben Roethlisberger at #7. Some played the angle of the ranking matching Ben's uniform number. I'd rather focus upon the ongoing theme of dissing Ben. Some say the ranking is reasonable given the disappointing body of work of the team last season. But when you consider Ben's total body of work, and even if one is committed to a narrower band of parameters its hard not to put things into total context and have that inform the results to a certain degree.
Bill Barnwell at Grantland.com had two quarterback articles this week. In one he lists dominant quarterbacks going back to Johnny Unitas. This is worth a look from Steelers fans because one of the quarterbacks he features is Terry Bradshaw. In the other piece he analyzes the 'Gang of Four' (RG III, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson) and predicts which of the four will be top dog this year and beyond.
New faces on defense
Casey Hampton, James Harrison and Keenan Lewis are no longer with the team. There will be three new starters on Dick LeBeau's defense this season. The new starters are almost certain to be Steve McLendon, Jason Worilds and Cortez Allen. What friends of the program should find interesting and might fly over the head of outsiders is relative lack of ambiguity in placing players with such low profiles and limited experience in these positions and with the exception of the Worilds/Jones competition without much in the way of challenges or doubt their ability to do their jobs.
A couple of stories concerning alumni. The former Steelers center provides our regular head injury fix this week. His attitude toward the issue has evolved since he left the game as a player and now participates as a coach.
The former defensive back talked about his final year in the league and advised the current generation of players to not leave the Steelers if they possibly can afford to do so. It is a message that I hope a lot of players take to heart.
Another installment of financial advice to young players, but also of value to anyone looking for some common sense advice on making decisions that will strengthen assets and avoid major financial reversals.
More from Behind the Steel Curtain:
- Jerome Bettis says Steelers are "least improved" team in the AFC North
- Steelers training camp talkers: Critical year for the Steelers defensive line
- Over/Under for wins in 2013: Baltimore Ravens
- Lee Flowers urges current Steelers to stay in Pittsburgh
- Steelers expect 70 catches, 1,000 yards out of Emmanuel Sanders
- Steelers were denied permission to interview special teams coach Danny Smith in 2010
- Former Steelers receiver Bert Reed suspended four games
- Steve McLendon hosting second annual Fun in the Sun Day in Ozark, Ala.