Sometimes the Tough Love route has to be taken.
It would appear that's the general message veteran defensive end Brett Keisel is sending through the Steelers' defense now, via Alan Robinson of the Tribune Review. There comes a point you've got to simply step in and get the work done. That hasn't happened among a Steelers team that has seen opponents score 50 points against them in the last six quarters of play.
"You can't constantly rely on someone patting you on the back," Keisel said, as quoted by Robinson. "You've got to be a pro, you've got to approach it like a pro, you've got to study like a pro. That's the biggest thing I want these (younger) guys to understand. This is big business, and you've got to be ready to go when that national anthem goes off."
Safety Mike Mitchell joined the theme.
"It's how you practice and prepare, and the way you do the little things, there's a way they have to be done … to win."
Execution comes on Sunday, but preparing to execute is just as important, and that's done Monday through Saturday. One of the biggest challenges young players have, and a main reason why it's rare when they start early in the season, is learning how to approach it like a pro, as Keisel says. It's learning how to study like a pro. A player doesn't earn a starting job or playing time simply because he's bigger than everyone else.
But if he does, the expectation, according to Keisel, is to prepare himself for the upcoming game at a level commensurate with a professional. He wasn't calling out rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier but, as obviously the youngest and least-experienced player on the defense who's gaining significant snaps, one has to see him as a cornerstone of the rebuilding ship. The better he becomes at preparing well, the more progress he'll see on the field. When he's at the top of his game, he'll thank veterans like Keisel for pushing and challenging him. That message should resonate to all the younger players on the roster.
That's a point the Steelers really need to emphasize this week, facing a dynamic and explosive offense in Carolina. It's not just Shazier, it's every player, including Mitchell and Keisel.