The third week of OTAs is complete and what was important the previous two weeks remained the top priority. Everyone showed up and no one got hurt...maybe. Something happened to second year receiver Martavis Bryant at the end of the week. Sick or injured, no big deal or an area of concern is unclear as of this writing. That will be one of the questions to be resolved during next week's minicamp. And then, brace yourself if you consider yourself a fanatic, things go dark until the team reports to camp at Saint Vincent in Latrobe on July 25th. The Spring has been delightfully boring. No one has gone to the hospital or jail. No drama. Delightfully uninteresting. The wise will pray for more of the same over the next six weeks. Other than, perhaps, a new contract for Cam Heyward, all you want to see from the Steelers are sleep inducing community service, human interest stuff, because otherwise it is almost certainly not good.
My vote for this week's top story would be getting a chance to hear from the team's coordinators, particularly new defensive coordinator Keith Butler [here]. Both he and offensive coordinator Todd Haley [here] were communicating directly via video and in print as well. Haley's credibility is not up for questioning this Spring. The focus of the discussion with him were points of emphasis for the offense, with red zone efficiency being the top priority. With Butler it was about philosophy. How would his approach deviate, if at all from that of his predecessor Dick LeBeau, and whether his young group can once again rejoin the ranks of the top defenses this year. Showing he is no fool, Butler demurred from speaking about any new wrinkles he might be adding to the unit before they are unveiled September 10th in Foxboro.
There was some additional news on the coaching front this week.
A good argument could be made that the most underrated member of the Steelers coaching staff is receivers guru Richard Mann. Over the past few years Pittsburgh has lost talent in the wide receivers room (Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Jericho Cotchery) that some believed significant, maybe crippling, and each year the unit manages to not only survive, but is usually one of the strongest position groups on the team. This season the losses were light (Lance Moore) and the promise may have been as great as in decades. The top three of league's best receiver in Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant return, augmented by Darrius Heyward-Bey, Sammie Coates, C J Goodwin,Devin Gardner, Tyler Murphy and others, Mann's most difficult work may be deciding which of the promising talents in his charge he will kick out into the street by summer's end.
The most significant rule change is many years has been the new arrangement on converting extra points. Much of the responsibility for the successful execution and prevention of these attempts in this brave new world will fall on the shoulders of the special teams coach.
After the replacement of LeBeau with Butler, the biggest change on the staff this season has been the dividing of the linebacker coaching responsibilities in two with Jerry Olsavsky handling the inside linebackers while Joey Porter takes the outside group. With the linebacker corps being talented, deep, but relatively raw and inexperienced, the opportunity for more individual instruction that this move facilitates could be a welcome and effective move that may help this group make a rapid return to dominance.
Training camp schedule
It was released this week. To those who may be relatively new to Steelers Nation or just don't get in the vicinity of Western Pennsylvania much, you might be surprised how many fans plan their vacations and other summer activities around the rhythms of training camp. If you haven't in the past, you may consider stopping by for a day or two.
Rookie field trip to Latrobe
If you are locked into the methods of the Steelers you might not notice that the team is bucking a league wide trend of moving away from conducting training camp in a special location. Many teams now prefer to conduct camp at their normal training facilities. In the case of Pittsburgh, they will be celebrating 50 years at Saint Vincent this year. Certainly loyalty to the school and a nod to tradition is part of reason this is occurring. But it is also clear that head coach Mike Tomlin, among others, values the team building aspects of the exercise as well. This week the Steelers rookies had the opportunity to visit and scope out the site where their football futures will be determined.
More team building
So much attention has been lavished upon the tangible elements of team building; the assembling of individuals with specialized talents that will help the team successfully pursue a championship. But there are less tangible, straight forward aspects that are just as critical in what is viewed by some as the ultimate team sport. More so than almost any other that you can think of, football demands a high degree of interdependence among a large group of individuals in order for things to work. In a nod to this, a spring tradition has been for team to take a day to engage in a non football activity to help develop the camaraderie and bonding that may eventually make the winning difference. Under Bill Cowher that often meant a day at the movies. For Mike Tomlin it is a trip to Dave and Busters at the Waterfront in Homestead for a day of playing games.
In spite of the successes of the past season, the Steelers is still a young team still very much in the process of transition. As veterans depart an ongoing question is who among the remaining players will pick up the mantle of leadership and show the way for a group trying to figure out how to get it done. Learning what it takes to win at a championship level individually and collectively is not an automatic thing in the NFL. The sad truth is that many teams that have the requisite talent to be champions never figure out what is necessary to get over the hump. Maybe this is why over the past 50 years, only a relative handful of organizations have managed any level of sustained excellence. Pittsburgh is one of that very small group of teams.
So this week there have been a few pieces that have touched on this theme featuring Cam Heyward [here], Will Allen [here], William Gay [here] Arthur Moats [here] James Harrison [here] and Ramon Foster [here].
Maybe with the loss of Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor, his is one of the few remaining faces of a dwindling minority that has represented Pittsburgh's second Golden Age. Maybe it is that he's at the height of his powers, stable in his position as a the face of a franchise as well as the entire league with his new contract. But the preseason accolades continue to pour in for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And he , as much as the coaches is treated as the go to person for assessing the state of the team.
The Carolina connection
Safety Mike Mitchell and running back DeAngelo Williams were teammates with the Carolina Panthers. Mitchell lobbied for that relationship to continue in Pittsburgh in the hope of a more fruitful outcome.
Young players on the rise?
Expectations are high for second year defensive end Stephon Tuitt. The possibilities for offensive tackle Alejandro Villaneuva are intriguing, Second round draft pick, cornerback Senquez Golson has an interesting back story given that he turned down a lucrative opportunity to play professional baseball in order to chase his first love in football. He has also been praised by Antonio Brown for what he has been showing on the field. Bud Dupree has been taking reps with the first team.
Subject of an interesting profile in MMQB, Taylor is leading in the vote to be the least likely retired vet to disappear off the radar. Maybe as a coach, perhaps as a broadcaster, Ike is going to be a presence in the football world for a while.
Offense on the rise
We are gradually getting comfortable with the idea that the Steelers' offense may evolve into something truly special this year. Marcus Gilbert also gives his take on the expectations for the offensive line.
Western Pa quarterbacks
They are disproportionately well represented in the Hall of Fame, and were recognized this past week.