The good news is that nothing bad has happened this week, and I'm just not being flip. Every day over the course of the next month that the Steelers stay out of the headlines is most likely a real blessing. On the other hand, some of what follows may seem fluffy and maybe even a bit redundant, and, relative to the standard here short in length (I swear I just heard someone exclaim 'Thank God'!). The week can be summed up as Steelers Nation attempting to absorb and digest an intriguing and upbeat cycle of off season activity as well as the passing of Chuck Noll.
Joey and Munch
I'm trying to remember when there was so much excitement and good feeling associated with the addition of a couple of position coaches. A head coach? Yes, of course. A coordinator? There is plenty of precedence for that too. But Mike Munchak is coaching the offensive line, and Joey Porter is an assistant to the linebackers coach. Yet each was the subjects of articles this week. It wasn't the first for either, and it's likely to not be the last. And, editorially its a smart move because Steelers Nation can't get enough of these guys. It doesn't hurt that each is affiliated with a position group that is perceived to be on the upswing even without their presence.
For once the offensive line has not been the focal point of frustration and angst in the springtime. The group finished strong in 2013. Health concerns have not been part of the conversation (unless you want to bring Velasco and Ebernate into the discussion). There were two question marks coming into the spring workouts; the progress of the rehabilitation of center Maurkice Pouncey, and if you wanted to look ahead, his contract situation. The other was whether Kelvin Beachum could hang on to the starting left tackle position. The take on Pouncey was sunny all spring, and his contract signing would appear to slam the door shut on any concerns about his present physical condition at minimum and would reaffirm the team's regard for him as a talent and a leader. The good news with the tackle competition is that however it is resolved it does not appear that it will be a matter of choosing among the lesser of evils. Munchak has had little or anything to do with any of this, yet there is a consensus that he will make things better. Much better.
You would think that with the departure of LaMarr Woodley and Larry Foote, the uncertain contractual status of Jason Worilds and the uneasiness with the development of Jarvis Jones that there would be some anxiety over the state of the linebackers. Enter Ryan Shazier and Sean Spence just to name two. Linebacker, at this point, seems the most promising area of the defensive side of the ball. When you consider the history and the personnel turnover it is surprising that there isn't greater concern about the talent and depth that is available. Like Munch, Porter had nothing to do with things reaching its current state, but there is also a consensus that he will help make things better.
Elsewhere on this site I point out that one of the challenges of being a fan of a team that invests so much in the practice of player development is to discern when to decide that a particular project will definitely not bear fruit. You would probably be on good footing if you assumed that a majority of fans have written off the linebacker from Fresno State. The assumption maybe being that if he is on the roster in September at all it will be due to the fact that he will be the beneficiary of a depth problem at outside linebacker. But is it possible that he could be this year's Jason Worilds?
The running game
There were four takes on the Steelers running attack this week. Todd Haley discussed how, among its other benefits, a strong ground game could serve to reduce turnovers as the more one dimensional nature of the offense has previously left that group vulnerable to exploitation by defenses. Being able to run the ball is a critical factor in the potential success of the play action pass. Le'Veon Bell was quoted as celebrating the increased depth and diversity of talent in his position group, and also sought to allay concerns that there would be any issues over the distribution of touches. The question has been raised as to how Dri Archer will cope in an AFC North division that appears to gearing up to stop the ground game.
Ben and Todd
I think you would appreciate this wide ranging interview with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger about the current state of the team. He provides good commentary on the prospects of Brett Keisel's potential return, the running game, defense and offensive line. But, perhaps the big story are his comments on the state of the relationship with his offensive coordinator, Haley. Since joining the Steelers Haley's relationship with Ben has been the source of intense scrutiny and was often inferred as being hostile. They seem to be getting along fine now professionally and personally, hopefully taking the controversy associated with them off the table this season.
The NFL Network declared him in the top 25 among the leagues players recently. Jeff Hartman makes the case that Brown may not have peaked yet, and there may be a lot more good things to come.
I mentioned earlier that it appears that Beachum will neither back into retaining the starting left tackle position or easily concede it to Mike Adams or anyone else. Last year it was my thought that Beachum's best role would be as a jack of all trades sixth man on a unit where losses due to injury were viewed as a given. There have been three developments. First has been Beachum's continued and impressive development since a rocky start during his first training camp. He is producing starter quality work. Second is that the line is, for now, a much healthier and more stable unit, reducing the need for him to play the role of super sub. Finally, newcomer Wesley Johnson, if he makes the 53, would be capable of playing the sixth man role.
On the defense
On the other side of the ball Cam Heyward addresses the questions as to whether first year players Shazier and Stephon Tuitt will be able to make the jump to starter status in their first seasons. After all the attention given to Shazier and Spence, Vince Williams steps out of shadows in this piece and shows his capacity to fight for his professional life. Safety Mike Mitchell was the subject of a profile. There were also stories this week on nose tackle Hebron Fangupo, as well as rookie cornerback Shaq Richardson.
Bradshaw and Noll
There was quite the firestorm over the meaning of Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw not attending any of the activities surrounding the funeral of Chuck Noll. Anthony Defeo attempted to get at what it all might have meant. A couple of things are certain; Bradshaw's choices drew strong reactions from many associated with Steelers Nation and the Pittsburgh community. And whatever healing needs to be done between the former quarterback and the Nation was dealt a blow and setback for...well who knows?
On a positive note, the process of rediscovering Noll, his work and legacy continued this week as well.
You can dismiss it as a fluff piece, but Fox Sports developed a rating of NFL teams based on their likeability to fans with no natural affiliation. The good, and to many of us unsurprising news, is that the Steelers were ranked number one. I think just as satisfying are the teams that were occupying the bottom of the rankings (hint: think Boston and Ratbirds) and why. It made my day.
Top 25 Steelers
Usually when someone comes out with a list of top 100 players or similar, I just scroll through it to see which if any Steelers are listed. Dale Lolley performs a public service in that he has developed a top 25 ranking that only contains Steelers players.
Dale Grdnic's series has been helpfully clustered here.
Here's a tutorial on the process.
The week wouldn't be complete without some head injury news.
Have a happy 4th of July everyone.