The good news
No Pittsburgh Steeler self amputated themselves in some way over the Fourth of July weekend. This not as glib a statement as it may seem on the surface. It has been said in this space and elsewhere time and again, if you make the news at this time of the year it is almost certainly not a good thing. Besides the standard human interest, public service boilerplate, Steelers players are up to nothing as far as we know. This is bad for people like me who have to make the proverbial chicken salad out of...well, out of nothing. But could that perspective be any more short sighted? If it continues for the next couple of weeks it will be great news for the prospects of what could be a special season if things fall together in the right way.
Hopefully, the Steelers players are all alternately working out and chilling out in preparation for the long season ahead. Actually, as I write this, Ben Roethlisberger, Jarvis Jones, Hall of Fame inductee Jerome Bettis and several other current and former players such as Rocky Bleier, Leon Searcy and Ernie Mills are just about three miles down the road from where I sit signing autographs in Chantilly, Virginia. A good thing.
At 82 years young the Pittsburgh Steelers are as spry and trailblazing an organization as you would want to see. Congratulations to the Rooney family for establishing and maintaining a franchise of great competence and even better character.
A "fun year"
If you take things in the right spirit, by that I mean something other than life and death, then thinking about the prospects for the 2015 season has to bring a smile to your face. With the mandatory disclaimer that any number of things could go sideways, the potentialities for a young, talented group that is clearly on the rise are very, very good. Don't look for verification from the sports media establishment who, for all the energy they devote to making predictions, often can't see an oncoming freight train until after its run them over.
Tunch Ilkin, who is responsible for the quote, speaks to an offensive line that as its individual members grow into maturity and experience some needed stablity under the continuing tutelage of second year coach Mike Munchak, could go from team's Achille's Heel to one of the best units in the league. Ilkin also believes that a young defense that will grow up under fresh leadership in the person of Keith Butler will be a lot better than people currently think. When the media that covers the other teams in the AFC North were asked how these teams could stop the Pittsburgh offense, the best one person could offer was prayer. Jeff Hartman adds a positive spin on the 2014 playoff loss, to which I agree. There is more to championships than assembling and deploying talent. Teams have to learn how to win; something that can only come through experience, and that many otherwise qualified groups have never mastered. This is one of the great institutional advantages of the Steelers who have that knowledge as part of its DNA.
Evaluating the components
While biding our time waiting for the beginning of training camp there are various exercises in framing the issues and players that will make or break the team. Gerry Dulac of the Post Gazette completes his five questions series with a look at the offensive and defensive lines. Mike Frazer commenced a series of training camp previews of quarterbacks, tight ends, running backs and wide receivers. Dale Lolley provides an interesting ranking of the UDFAs based upon the size of their signing bonuses.
Harrison on Schefter
Its worth mentioning that James Harrison came down hard on Espn's Adam Schefter over his handling of the medical records of New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and in my opinion, deservedly so. This is in keeping with a fact that is not mentioned enough. Steelers from Joey Porter to Ryan Clark to Harrison have consistently spoken out against the league establishment and, in this case, its partners on issues of real or perceived injustices, even if by doing so it places them in the cross hairs of retribution. Remember it was the Steelers players lead by union leader Charlie Batch and team representative Clark that were the only team that voted against the Collective Bargaining Agreement because they felt it left too much power in the hands of the league commissioner. And we've seen where that has led us haven't we.
Honoring the legacy
As we continue the run up to the latest expansion of the Steelers wing of the Hall of Fame with the induction of Jerome Bettis, Steelers.com provides an ongoing review (unavoidably and delightfully lengthy) of the current occupants. This week including Terry Bradshaw [here], Mel Blount [here], Jack Ham [here] and Jack Lambert [here].
Modern Era second team
A few years ago NFL Films was faced with a conundrum. They were doing a series of Top Ten players of all time for the teams in the league. That's a pretty easy exercise for most teams, but you end up with a legitimate list that, nonetheless, excluded Hall of Fame players such as Jack Ham. So Bryan DeArdo taking a crack at a second modern era team that includes likely future Hall of Famer Kevin Greene and Santonio Holmes is a useful and arguably necessary exercise.
If you are too young to remember him, perhaps the best way to wrap your mind around it would be to think of Stabler as the Ray Lewis of his day; the most feared and respected player of your greatest nemesis. That would be the Oakland Raiders in the seventies. A rivalry that, with all due respect to Steelers/Ravens may still remain the greatest and most vicious in the Super Bowl era. You can't help but salute this man's passing.
Training camp schedule
A necessary pilgrimage for many fans, presented here for planning purposes as a public service.
And for those of you fortunate enough to be present at the mecca for Steelers football, here are the special events that will occur during the 2015 season.
Its a small thing, but I think you might get a little jacked as you listen to head coach Mike Tomlin address the team.