It is worth it to remind ourselves that nothing that has happened in this phase of the off season was unexpected. There was a possible scenario where Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor could have returned to the team, but that was low percentage at best. The only real surprise is that James Harrison is still on the roster given the fact that he had actually retired seven months ago. But while most would acknowledge that, painful as this might be, it was time, it is also apparent that some of us are just beginning to come to terms with what the full impact of the consequences of these separations will be.
There is the emotional attachment to men who were not only exceptional talents, but also citizens of high quality. In that respect there is no real replacement that is possible. Then there is the loss of the talent. The level of naivete of some fans is simply breathtaking in that some rather blithely believe that a player of the quality of a Polamalu can be rather easily replaced. Troy is likely a once in a generation player, perhaps even a once in a lifetime talent. We are still looking for the replacement for Joe Greene. Don't hold your breath. But if replacing the personalities is impossible, and replacing the talent is difficult at best, the most impactful quality for the Steelers going forward will be replacing the leadership that these players brought to the table. While a certain baseline of talent is essential to winning, it is, in and of itself, insufficient to achieving the level of excellence necessary for sustained championship level play. This is especially true for a game like football where few individuals can make a winning difference in and of themselves. Forging the culture that facilitates empowering interdependent relationships is crucial. Unfortunately for many fans and those in the media, the only issues they can comprehend are those relating to talent. Indeed, talent and other measurables are important, but if you are hoping for a return to championship ways more is required.
Both Mike Prisuta and I agreed, that in Steelers history the best cornerbacks to wear the uniform were Mel Blount and Rod Woodson, but after those two Hall of Famers, the next guy in line is Ike Taylor.
In a way its been a bit unfair. Ike has always been somewhat undervalued by many in Steelers Nation, in my opinion, but having to follow Troy Polamalu's exit is not the best of circumstances.
About cornerbacks, someone once told me he didn’t want the guy who was in good position and was competitive when the ball was in the air; he said he wanted the other guy who had convinced the quarterback to throw the ball at his teammate in the first place.
This is the thing about certain great players. Some players have such a relatively scant resume of great plays because the opposition isn't stupid enough to even challenge them. The reason why over the years that enemy quarterbacks attempted to tear a new one to the likes of Bryant McFadden, William Gay or Cortez Allen is that they weren't messing with Ike, even though he was, more often than not, covering their best receivers. I gave my Troy Polamalu camp story last week. Here's what I remember about Taylor.
He had these epic battles with Antonio Brown. Don't let that sweet smile fool you, AB is intense. An agitator and instigator, he was at the center of a couple of all out brawls when the Buffalo Bills were having joint practices with the Steelers at Latrobe last summer. Taylor, on the other hand, would have none of that. Much of what goes on at camp can be pretty boring stuff, but Brown v. Taylor never disappointed. These two went to war, and it often climaxed with the two men literally coming to blows.
I am as guilty as the next person about giving Ike grief about his hands, or lack thereof, but let's not forget that two critical interceptions, one in the AFC Championship game at Denver and in the Super Bowl in Detroit were essential to getting that fifth Lombardi.
The idea that Ike was finished began to go somewhat viral after Calvin Johnson lit him up a bit in the first half a game against the Lions in 2013. Well, excuse me, but Megatron is capable of making any cornerback appear as though he needs to retire. Every time Antonio Brown plays against Joe Haden he makes the Browns DB look like burnt toast, but as far as I know no one is suggesting that Haden is a bum.
So another great talent and great personality exits the stage. His relationships with his teammates, the fans and media and even the owner were heartwarming and unique. Many of you don't think that you'll miss him, but I think over time you will.
Rebecca Rollett has assembled an excellent series of profiles of those associated with the Steelers organization that focuses on character. Character has different manifestations, all of which are difficult to measure, and for some, impossible to coherently relate to success on the field. But if you are looking for an 'X' factor that has consistently set the Steelers apart from many of their rivals, it would be this aspect, particularly as it relates to the attribute of leadership. Viewed strictly through the lens of talent then the loss of Troy, Ike, Brett, and before them Larry Foote, James Farrior, Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, Chris Hoke and others, then no big deal. All were in a state of decline (though, as some have argued, even now Troy is probably better than many or most currently playing the game), But, and this will fly right over the heads of many fans, its never been simply about talent. That is why a lot of the conversation during the off season about mock drafts and the like is irrelevant. Many draft failures have less to do with a deficiency of talent, but a deficiency of character. Most of us lack either the information or perspective to evaluate on that basis. Perhaps more important is the fact that much of this can't be reliably handicapped in advance in any case. Who knows how any of us would react to becoming a millionaire, just to think about one aspect of things.
Bob Labriola and Jim Wexell argue that the biggest challenge for the Steelers in 2015 is not simply addressing talent concerns, but leadership issues. This would fall to the four remaining two Super Bowl winners (quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, long snapper Greg Warren, tight end Heath Miller, and linebacker James Harrison) , others on the roster with championship cred such as linebacker Lawrence Timmons, safety Will Allen, tight end Matt Spaeth and cornerback William Gay; young leaders like Cam Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey and Antonio Brown, and finally another tier of young leadership that have the potential to step up, like David DeCastro, Sean Spence, Shamarko Thomas, Kelvin Beachum, Robert Golden and Stephon Tuitt.
Moving beyond the his loss and current status as reserve/retired, attention is now turning to his legacy. Safeties haven't done well in recent years in the Hall of Fame voting. To be sure, the only real question here is whether Polamalu is a first ballot inductee or not
Brett is the recipient of the Bob Prince Award.
The football in shorts portion of the off season begins on April 20th. Sounds exciting? It's not. But it's better than what's going on now.
MMQB's Robert Klemko sticks a pin into the notion of the importance and predictive quality of draft prospects doing team visits. Some visits are orchestrated precisely to get the chumps thinking that there is interest in a particular player when a team's affections lie in a direction that they prefer to conceal prior to the draft.
Sticking with MMQB, Greg Bedard addresses the aftermath of Hernandez' murder conviction and the possible implications for the league going forward.
Jordan Berry and the Australian connection
He was the other free agent signing of the team this week.
The debate continues over Kevin Colbert's value as General Manager. I think the exercise says more about the profound ignorance of the critics on so many levels. I guess Le'Veon Bells and Antonio Browns grow on trees.
Oh. And while Colbert is judged inferior to his counterparts in Baltimore and Cincinnati, just to name a couple of places, the roster that he played a huge part of assembling is ranked elsewhere at the top of the division. Amazing what the Steelers manage to accomplish with incompetents.
Dale Lolley completes his pre draft assessment of the state of the roster with the offensive line.
Joined the organization in the capacity of Player Engagement Coordinator