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Weekend Checkdown: the top Steelers stories of the week

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This week the 2015 path to the Lombardi was set. Next week we learn what will be the range of tools at the Steelers' disposal to get there.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The biggest news event of the NFL off season - some might argue the only newsworthy event - in the six month period between the Super Bowl and the Hall of Fame induction is coming up this week. The league's teams will restock and, they will hope, strengthen their rosters via the 2015 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, the league's ambition's, some would call it greed, the desperate need for media types and their outlets to keep pace with content, and some fans who might be better off with a more diversified range of interests continue to inflate non events, nonsense and lies in order to the keep conversation going. We saw that on full display this week.

2015 NFL regular season schedule

There is some importance connected with the schedule release, but maybe not nearly as much as some would assume. An organization I am affiliated with is having a conference in Pittsburgh one weekend in October. They now know that the event will coincide with a Steelers home game, meaning that those who haven't preregistered will now be confronted with shrinking room availability and rising prices as they try to book lodging. That's a significant impact.

It was already known who the opponents would be for 2015, as well as the theoretical degree of difficulty with the schedule. What was resolved was the configuration of games as well as other factors that might be of interest to various groupings of fans, such as what games will have national and/or prime time platforms. The predictions of a Steelers/Patriots kickoff event came to fruition, though fears that the team would have to run a gauntlet of top shelf opponents through the duration of Le'Veon Bell's three game suspension (if it comes to that) were allayed. Some will complain that the request for an arrangement more forgiving for the team's West Coast games was ignored, while the Ravens were treated more favorably. And it would appear that the latter third of the schedule could be described as hellish. However, a friendly reminder about schedules that many of us forget every year.

What we see with a schedule may have more to do with the past than the future.

It is almost certain that we will be dead wrong about the strength of some of our opponents. Every year playoff caliber teams from the previous year fall out of contention and a powerhouse or more will rise from the ashes of futility and mediocrity. One or two of the teams that undergo these transformations will likely be impossible to predict in advance of the beginning of the season. Think of teams like San Francisco, New Orleans, and, yes, Pittsburgh who made significant jumps in one direction or the other. Some teams present widely different challenges at different points of the year. Cleveland and Philadelphia being two examples of teams that you would have rather seen later in the year than sooner. Absurd as it may seem today, the most difficult portion of the schedule may well be in October (just to suggest an example, not make a prediction) rather in December.

Antonio Brown

Remember when we got word that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wanted to be traded? Its a great way to get clicks and attention; either from panicked citizens of Steelers Nation who couldn't possibly resist checking to see if the rumor is true, as well as other fans who may never get wise to the fact that they have been misled by a fake news item. It was such an effective strategy that even after it was thoroughly discredited the first time, it was shamelessly rolled out again. I will address this in another post soon. Now it is suggested that Brown is disgruntled and will holdout from voluntary workouts. Maybe AB will hold out (You have to wonder why someone didn't take advantage of the goldmine that was Troy Polamalu when he blew off voluntary workouts). He can certainly make the claim of being underpaid. But just like some fans, even those who claim to bleed black and gold, will never figure out that the Steelers do not and will not ever behave like other teams when it comes to free agency, they also don't play the holdout game. Brown doesn't strike me as being as clueless as Mike Wallace, though I have been wrong before. What is more likely is that we have been subjected to MSU; a non event designed to keep the pot stirred up when there is little real news to speak of prior to the actual draft.

The case for prioritizing an outside linebacker in the draft

there was a time when so few teams ran the 3-4 defense that the Steelers virtually had their pick of the undersized college defensive ends that could be converted to being outside linebackers in the 3-4. Those days are over for now. And that might be the strongest argument for targeting a linebacker before a cornerback in the upcoming draft.

DeAngelo Williams and the beginning of Phase I

This is an important time for the Steelers' one significant free agent acquisition and probable starting running back for the 2015 season. Williams began his introduction to his future teammates and the team culture.

Markus Wheaton

The third year receiver who has been overlooked and even dismissed somewhat in the wake AB's brilliance and the impressive early rise of Martavis Bryant could be giving some indications to those of us wise enough to pay attention that his best work is in front of him.

Cam Heyward and the defense

Easing into his role as team leader and spokesman, Heyward holds forth on the state of the defense.

Will Johnson

The fullback/tight end is the last of the team's restricted free agents to sign his tender.

Shamarko Thomas and the safeties

With Troy now off the stage, the spotlight has landed on the third year safety and Polamalu mentee, as well as fellow safeties Mike Mitchell and Will Allen. Will they be up to the task of stepping up as the last line of defense or will help have to come from elsewhere?

The draft

Pre-draft visits for the team ended this week. But remember one of the pieces highlighted last week. A visit could indicate interest, it could indicate deception, a misdirection play that draws attention away from the team's real targets.

Steelers.com provided reflections of several current players; Rob Blanchflower [here], Steve McLendon [here], Daniel McCullers [here] and Jordan Zumwalt [here] on their draft day experiences.

One bit of good news: There will definitely be a Hall of Fame caliber Steelers cornerback walking across the stage at the NFL Draft in Chicago.

Lorenzo Mauldin

If the Steelers do go early for an outside linebacker, they could do worse than considering this young man.

Building the international base

The now annual fan building exercise in Mexico was this week.