It is July, which means football is right around the corner. July 27th the Pittsburgh Steelers report to Latrobe, PA for another training camp. Although we still have a few days of the “dog days” of the NFL offseason left, it doesn’t mean there isn’t news to still be discussed.
We take you around the world wide web to give you your daily dose of black and gold, along with making BTSC your one-stop-shop for all things Steelers.
The Steelers have six Super Bowl trophies. They’d likely have more but for the team that has won five in the last 16 years. And in a year that the Patriots hope to match the Steelers at six, the Steelers may be the primary impediment to New England.
But here’s the problem. In an offseason that saw the Patriots mash the gas pedal in an effort to get even better, what have the Steelers really done to close the gap?
So while the Steelers remain among the best teams in the NFL, the question is whether they’re good enough to get to No. 7 before the Patriots get to No. 6. And then to No. 7.
Biggest positive change: The return of receiver Martavis Bryant from suspension makes a great passing game even better, with one major caveat. Bryant still hasn’t been fully reinstated, and until he is there’s a chance he won’t be. And he wouldn’t be the first player closing in on reinstatement after a substance-abuse policy who then stubs his toe to otherwise trip over a blunt. So the Steelers and Bryant have every reason to keep him on the straight and narrow as he closes in on returning to the field and further diversifying one of the best offenses in the NFL. Failure would mean that the passing game, while still potent, wouldn’t be nearly as good as it could be.
Biggest negative change: The passing of legendary Hall of Fame owner Dan Rooney in April marked not only the end of an era but also raised questions about whether the Steelers of the past 50 years could eventually revert to the bumbling also-rans of their first 40. Though Dan Rooney didn’t seek credit or the spotlight, he was the common thread for a team that consistently contended after going through multiple decades of persistent failures. There’s no reason to think Art Rooney II will have a hand any less steady than his father’s, but the future of one of the few remaining franchises run by the family that founded it presents real questions with the man who provided perhaps one of the best foundations any NFL team has ever had now gone.
Coaching thermometer: It’s been seven years since the team’s last Super Bowl appearance, and the locals tend to gripe about Mike Tomlin whenever things aren’t going as well as expected. With high expectations for 2017, a rough start will commence the annual grumbling about Tomlin’s future. Ownership has been immune to the ups and downs and highs and lows of a franchise that contends often enough to make it easy to patient, but with Art II now running the show it remains to be seen whether the trend of three coaches since 1969 will continue indefinitely.
We’d like to have a beer with . . . . Todd Haley. The former Chiefs coach has helped transform the Pittsburgh offense into a juggernaut. Though very good before Haley arrived, he has presided over an unlikely swinging of the pendulum that has given the team an offense that currently is much better than the defense. It sounds blasphemous, but it’s true, and Haley’s ability to work well with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and to get a diverse group of personalities to perform well together and not whine about getting more opportunity should have earned him consideration for a second chance to coach a team by now.
How they could prove use wrong: If Le’Veon Bell boycotts training camp and the preseason and he’s either not ready to contribute from Week One or the Steelers catch a wild hair and rescind the franchise tender (not likely), the passing game will face more pressure — and the running game will hinge on guys like rookie James Conner or veteran Knile Davis. And if the defense can’t effectively make the switch to playing more man-to-man coverage (a device aimed at slowing down the Patriots), the Steelers could plunge from Super Bowl contender to team scrambling to get to the postseason. Which they were a year ago, until a Christmas Day win over the Ravens kept them from spending January at home.
Don’t be blindsided—the NFL preseaon begins on August 3. To get in the mood, SI spoke with Steelers receiver Antonio Brown—who, along with the Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley, is now a spokesperson for DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket. Brown spoke about the Steelers’ upcoming training camp and everything that comes after, including a December matchup with a cornerback duo that Brown thinks could be the best in the league.
SI: When I say the words training camp, what do you think of?
Antonio Brown: Football season. But also consistency, preparation and developing a foundation.
SI: The Steelers are one of the few organizations that still hold their training camp at a small college, Saint Vincent. What do you think about doing that?
AB: I like it. Nothing gets in the way, no distractions from 8:30 in the morning until 9:30 at night, it’s all football.
SI: What’s your favorite way to spend down time at camp?
AB: We usually have a rookie show when camp is almost over. It’s a chance to get to know the rookies and to have fun and set the pace for the season.
SI: What’d you do for the show?
AB: I imitated James Harrison—the major muscles, socks all the way up, ankle weights. He laughed.
SI: On a bye week, who is your favorite QB and defense to watch?
AB: Aaron Rodgers. I love the way he scrambles and how he plays the game—he always makes great decisions with the ball. On defense, I can’t wait to watch Houston once they get J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney going. That’s going to be good.
SI: You play the Patriots in December. What’s your scouting report on Stephon Gilmore, New England’s new corner?
AB: He’s big-time, a first-round pick out of South Carolina who wants the opportunity to cover the best guy on the other team. He’s gonna be a great player, and now he’s on a great team that’ll put him in position.
SI: Along with Malcolm Butler, do you think that’s now the best CB duo in the league?
AB: Those are two solid guys, you dream about two guys like that.
SI: Your new extension (four years, $68 million) made you the highest paid receiver in NFL history. What did that mean to you?
AB: It meant raising the level of standards for the guys that come behind me. Now it’s time to elevate not only my game but the games around me and give people motivation. The battle of getting better is never ending.
SI: What will it take for unsigned RB Le’Veon Bell to get a deal?
AB: Man, you’ve got to talk to the front office about that. I think he’ll get something done. I don’t think our team wants to go without him. I think it’ll be amazing if we can keep the guys together, and he’ll be good for our Super Bowl run.
SI: What did you make of Richard Sherman’s comments about NFL players needing to stand up and demand better contracts?
AB: The NFL is the only sport where you can be on a team five years and your contract’s not guaranteed. You can go through the whole process of training camp and then as soon as it’s the season, it’s a week-to-week job and they can cut you at any moment, or you can get hurt at any moment. It’s not like that in other sports. Football’s the only sport that’s doing that. We’ve got a long way to go, and each player’s situation is different, but players are getting smarter and realizing that’s not right.
SI: The league has loosened its policy on touch celebrations? I imagine you’re glad to see that?
AB: I am. Anytime you get the opportunity to celebrate not only with yourself but your teammates after doing something special, that’s what it’s all about.
SI: Have you started thinking about what those celebrations?
SI: Any hints?
AB: Stay cool, brother.
The Patriots placed linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive tackle Alan Branch on the physically unable to perform list.
Hightower missed the offseason program with an undisclosed injury. He missed three games last season with injuries and played only one full, 16-game season in his first five seasons.
The Patriots, though, signed Hightower to a four-year extension with more than $17 million guaranteed in the offseason.
Branch did not attend the team’s voluntary offseason program. He returned for the mandatory minicamp last month, but the Patriots held him out of practice.
Branch, 32, signed a two-year deal this offseason that included $3 million in guaranteed money.
The Patriots also placed offensive tackle Andrew Jelks on the non-football injury list.
New England can remove Hightower, Branch and Jelks from the lists at any time.