The top story?
Despite the fact that the owners meeting was going on in Arizona only the most fanatical of fans could call this an exciting week in the NFL. Basketball, college and pro, men and women, hockey, even spring baseball seemed more interesting. As for Pittsburgh? There was discussion over the wisdom and value of re-signing James Harrison, another minor free agency signing (actually a retention), and Kevin Colbert and Art Rooney II held court on a number of items. But my vote for top story goes to...
We hadn't heard directly from the Steelers head coach since the end of team's 2014 season in the first round of the playoffs. Some would prefer that Tomlin be a more of a chatterbox, but I don't have a problem with a person in that position that doesn't play to either the media or the fans in the way that those two groups would like. Chuck Noll was similar in that manner. It what the players think and say in this regard that matters. But when they do talk it would be wise to pay attention. So what did the coach, who CBS ranks sixth currently among those in his profession, have to say this week?
Tomlin on the offense
He believes it can be the best in football. From the perspective of any long time Steelers fan this position is a little disorienting. The usual thought is that of an offense that is good enough, or at least not too much of a liability in support of a dominant defense. Now, even with the defense's struggles recently, the offense has shown more than enough to compensate and we're all happy. But to consider that Pittsburgh would be in the conversation of being the very best at a time when offense is as dominating and explosive as ever? But its not hyperbole. Ben Roethlisberger, underrated to begin with is, in the belief of many moving into the best years of his career and under long term contract. He has the best set of weapons at his disposal that he has ever had. Two All Pros, arguably the best at their positions at wide receiver (Antonio Brown) and running back (Le'Veon Bell). Solid, experienced talent at tight end, good, rising talent at offensive line and the other receivers spots, quality depth, and a good scheme.
Tomlin on cornerbacks
So we can talk a bit about a role reversal in that for the time being it would be the defense that needs to be just good enough to support the offense. Elite would be nice, and may be attainable in a shorter period than some may think, but just like 2008, when this organization made a successful championship run challenged by a difficult schedule with offensive linemen like Darnell Stapleton and Jeff Hartwig, with Melwelde Moore being the feature running back at times. Tomlin pushed back against the notion that the defense is completely at sea with the talent on hand. There is historical precedent that would suggest (nobody knows what will actually happens though you wouldn't know it from some fan and media comments) that this is plausible. Cortez Allen and Mike Mitchell wouldn't be the first Steelers..or the tenth in recent history, who bounced back after being written off by those who always claim to know better, but almost never do. Funny to see the angst over the loss of Brice McCain after the overwhelming enthusiasm displayed at his arrival a year ago. And in spite of the panicked reaction of some who insist that we have to do something about the corners, and do it right NOW! In, you know, March. There still is the draft that by most accounts is deep with cornerback talent, and McCain wasn't even signed yet this time last year.
Tomlin on McLendon and Heyward
Moving from the back to the front of the defense, Tomlin had praise for two of his starters. Steve McLendon has been at a bit of a disadvantage in that he had a very tough act to follow in Casey Hampton. Add to that he had to deal with chronic injury throughout the 2014 season. Consequently, he has been an afterthought to the two big stories evolving at the defensive end positions and even in relation to the promise shown by second year tackle Daniel McCullers. Tomlin reminded us of his value. For those of you who want to be quick in rendering judgment on Jarvis Jones, Sharmarko Thomas and even Ryan Shazier, it might be well to remember that a very significant number of Steelers fans were dismissing Cam Heyward as a bust less than two years ago. Today Heyward is considered to be an underrated star in the making and it almost certainly made it easier for the team to decide to part ways with Brett Keisel. Tomlin declared him to be the leader of this defense.
Tomlin on Williams
Commenting on the one outside free agent signing the team has made, Tomlin's take on DeAngelo Williams reflects a bit differently than those who are thinking only in terms of his value as a necessary replacement starter for Bell's anticipated suspension or making comparisons to LeGarrette Blount. When Blount was signed the full potential of Bell was unknown. Williams may be an even better compliment to where Bell is today as a player.
Follow-up on the situation at outside linebacker- Worilds
Sticking with news of the defense, general manager Kevin Colbert added some depth to our understanding of the Jason Worilds retirement in stating that the team had not had the former outside linebacker as part of their plans moving forward for the 2015 season.
Follow-up on the situation at outside linebacker - Harrison
In the run up to and after his re-signing with the team, there has been speculation as to whether or not linebacker James Harrison would have considered rejoining his old defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau in Tennessee. Here is the back story of how it went down, as the debate continues to rage over how and where Harrison will be utilized.
We remain in limbo as to how the story of safety Troy Polamalu will progress. Coaches outside the Pittsburgh organization weigh in with their tributes.
Ike and Larry
Cornerback Ike Taylor and linebacker Larry Foote take steps towards getting on with their life's work.
The owners meeting
It concluded in Arizona this week with no earth shattering news to speak of. Bob Labriola cautioned against tampering too much with replay. The team was awarded a sixth round compensatory draft pick, perhaps not too exciting until you remember that Antonio Brown and Tom Brady were picked in the sixth round. So you never know. Pittsburgh also requested a scheduling change that would provide some relief to their struggles playing games in the west.
Heyward-Bey and the third side of the ball
Darrius Heyward-Bey signed a one year deal to return to the Steelers. This was probably a surprise to some and likely viewed as a development of no great import to many. This would certainly be true if you, like many fans are two dimensional thinkers (offense and defense) when thinking about developing football teams. In that sense Heyward-Bey with a reputation of inconsistent hands and a ball security problem in limited play would appear to be more liability than asset. But there are a handful of players who may or may not contribute significantly on offense or defense, but whose real value is on special teams. Will Allen, Robert Golden, Terence Garvin and Antwon Blake come immediately to mind, and Heyward-Bey fits in nicely with that group. There is also the possibility that he could be an inexpensive replacement for the role of elder veteran presence in the receivers room; a role he was locked out of with the presence of Lance Moore last season. At his best he has the talent as a fourth or lower receiver to cause some real problems for a defensive secondary. He brings the type of attitude to the work, better than Moore, that could also make him an intangible asset as well. What happens with personnel moves going forward will determine whether he becomes a depth chart casualty by the end of the summer, its a good move for all concerned.
Evaluating the Steelers off season
How you view where the Steelers stand in the off season so far depends to some extent on how realistic your expectations were entering the exercise. With GM Kevin Colbert declaring that, besides the possible target of opportunity that Pittsburgh was done in the free agent market and the declaration that the team was on schedule with its off season plans, those desiring or demanding that the team break with its customary practices will likely be disappointed but only because of their own unrealistic expectations and lack of understanding.
Looking forward, here is updated information on the where the Steelers stand in the draft order, as well as the status of their salary cap.
The Western Pennsylvania connection
The Pittsburgh area takes great pride in its contribution of talent to all levels of football, including the most elite precincts. This not confined to players as the list of quality coaches has been long and distinguished. The area is well represented in the NFL this year.
McFadden and concussions
The former Steelers cornerback gives his take on the views of players concerning head injuries when he was playing.
The seventies Steelers in the era of free agency
There is always a problem with yielding to the seductive idea of comparing teams from different eras because the circumstances of the times makes the argument that they were really playing different games under different rules. Anthony Defeo wonders appropriately if the seventies dynasty could have been held together if free agency had been available at that time.
We'll still be calling it that though the management group that runs the facility has changed.
The 2015 Hall of Fame inductee has a bowling event.
The Steelers suffered another death in the family.