With the 2014 season tied up in a nice bow and quickly fading into history, the focus is shifting from what happened to what needs to be done. If you haven't noticed already, this off season has less acrimony than the past couple of years where there were violent disagreements among fans about where the team was and where it was headed. The facts, and the perceptions of fans (often not the same thing) point to the Pittsburgh Steelers being a team that is moving in the right direction, but, as Roy Blount Jr. immortalized with title of his 1970s book on the team, are a few bricks shy of a load. There is some genuine mystery and healthy differences of opinion as to where the bricks are needed and who may fulfill those roles. This makes for more constructive conversation and keeps the focus in areas that will enhance the relationships that fans have with the team and each other as they follow the various stages of team building that have already begun with minor signings and some statements of intention from key decision makers.
The top story lines have already been set. Establishing (or not) contracts for key players; upgrading and adding depth at the position groups of outside linebacker, running back, the defensive secondary and tight end and the role of free agency and the draft in achieving this; make stay or go decisions on a number of veteran players some of whom have priced themselves off the team, others who have disappointed developmentally and those who have exceeded their 'use by' dates.
During the last couple of weeks the face of the franchise has largely been Steelers president Art Rooney II. This week it shifted to the team's general manager who threw out hints concerning the team's priorities, and in one case was criticized for perhaps saying too much. The headlines were that negotiations on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's new deal were underway, while those for linebacker Jason Worilds were not. The team needed to add depth at he positions listed above and decisions on aging veterans such as Troy Polamalu would begin to be made during the middle of the week.
Next Wednesday the rookie combine begins in Indianapolis. Jack Bechta gives an agent's (and some players) perspective of the value of the exercise in comparison of other evaluation methods. Colbert comments on the new veteran's combine that will debut this year in Arizona.
The 2015 preseason and regular season schedules were topics of discussion throughout the week for three reasons. The regular season schedule has been rated as the most difficult in the league. An issue of concern for some, others point out that we look at a schedule through the lens of the past. For example, Houston was stronger and Atlanta weaker than the teams they put on the field during the 2013 season. Tampa Bay was a more difficult game than Indianapolis. Both Cleveland games being more challenging than both Cincinnati games. In addition, in 2008 the Steelers were written off before the season began because they were saddled with the most difficult schedule anyone had seen in decades. They won the Super Bowl. As many had predicted once Jerome Bettis made the 2015 induction class, they will be playing in the Hall of Fame preseason game in Canton, Ohio against the Minnesota Vikings to kickoff the preseason. And many believe the odds are excellent that they will kickoff the regular season on September 10th in Foxboro against the Champion Patriots. Good news in the early weeks of the season for those who don't live in the Pittsburgh market and don't subscribe to satellite services.
With the anticipation of a two game suspension to begin the season for running back Le'Veon Bell, finding at least one quality backup running back has become perceived as a higher priority than might have been imagined less than a year ago when it appeared that the needs for that position had been solved with the free agent acquisition of LeGarrette Blount and the drafting of Dri Archer. With at least one early season test against a high profile opponent, the sense is developing that there will likely be some effort to fill this need via free agency.
A lot of nervousness and possibilities with this position group, reminiscent of that surrounding the inside linebacker group as recently as a year ago. The only signed veteran, former first round draft pick, Jarvis Jones came under criticism from Steeler Alumnus Greg Lloyd for his work effort, more or less assuring us that Jones will, once again, spend this off season in the Steelers Nation doghouse until he can prove on the field that he is not a bust in the making. The argument as to whether Jason Worilds is an asset or not has been basically resolved in the affirmative, but it is unclear whether a contract can be worked out that would be satisfactory to both sides. James Harrison established that he can still play, but only the Steelers brass knows whether he can fit into their plans for one more season, or even if he is interested in returning. It appears that Arthur Moats would be welcomed back, but he is unsigned as well. Out of sight and mind during the rough and tumble of the season, first year players Howard Jones and Jordan Zumwalt both showed promise. And some are excited about the addition of CFL veteran Shawn Lemon.
So the fear is that a worse case scenario would be a manifestation of what a little more than a year ago was a possible projection of the inside linebacker position; Lawrence Timmons and not much else. A Jarvis Jones and (?) seems a real possibility going forward. On the other hand if Harrison, Worilds and Moats all returned, Lemon is not a mirage and (H) Jones and Zumwalt both took a leap, none of which is known or completely out of the question in the Butler Era, then the position could be stacked with an embarassment of riches without so much as adding one new face.
One of the big unanswered questions along with what the personnel philosophy will be with the new defense coordinator is how will Keith Butler's approach differs from that of Dick LeBeau. Lawrence Timmons spoke to what he expected to see.
A review of Steelers linebackers over the past decade.
We are all understandably curious concerning whether veteran defenders Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu have a future with the team. Opinions cover a broad range, though a consensus seems to be forming that none will return. Ike and Brett were in the news this week.
You may not have seen this one coming. There is discussion about backup quarterback, and in particular the future of Landry Jones (In order to have a future don't you have to had a past?) and whether he could possibly replace Bruce Gradkowski. That would be a pretty big leap. (And as others have said, it is far to early to be thinking about a replacement for Ben). A better idea might be to try to bring Brian Hoyer back. Familiar with our system and the division and a much better job than wet nursing Johnny Football.
As we move toward free agency and the draft, media starts to give hard, detailed assessments of various position groups and needs that could be addressed with infusions of new talent. Espn includes a segment on the Steelers offensive tackles. Steelers.com cover what many would consider the neediest areas on the team, including Outside Linebacker, Safeties and Cornerbacks.
The magnificent season of Antonio Brown finally concludes as he receives the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year Award.
Ryan Clark and Curtis Brown
The former Steelers safety has decided to hang them up and join the media. The former Steelers corner has landed with the Jets.
Wrong country and LC
Ed Bouchette addresses the interesting question of why such international focus on England when there is another country that is closer and has demonstrated a higher level of current and potential support to the game of professional football. Mexico. And none of the time issues either. Also is there a chance the LC Greenwood might make it into the Hall of Fame as a seniors candidate?
Unfortunately for the NFL, there isn't an offseason for the league's troubles. Folks keep messing up and the NFLPA is up in arms over the new personal conduct guidelines. News on a concussion settlement is near. And you get to see what Roger Goodell gets to make in a year to exhibit his brand of leadership.
Salary cap and contract news
A team by team breakdown of the key salary cap and player contract information that each team must come to terms with during this off season.
Bill Steinbach, a proud alumnus of VMI, brought this one to my attention. Turns out that new Atlanta Falcon head coach Dan Quinn and Mike Tomlin got their start in coaching together at VMI, an interesting starting point for not one but two future NFL head coaches.
He secured a coaching job with the Oakland Raiders.
The Hall of Fame running back has an opinion on that Seattle slant pass at the goal line. Guess what it is?
Homer J, miscreant
Drawing distinctions and similiarities between himself and disgraced NBC anchor Brian Williams
Ed Sabol and Gary Glick
The founder of NFL Films and one of the early Steelers stars left the stage this week.
Heinz Field construction
South Plaza will have a new look and more seats as construction continues.
From the Pittsburgh Steelers