The Steelers had a mediocre year in 2012 and there has been quite a bit of speculation that lack of continuity and leadership was a part of it. Some players, such as Antonio Brown, stepped out to say they felt there were leadership problems while others from the owners to the star quarterback moved swiftly to deny the talk. I’m not buying the denials. I think there was some kernel of truth in the talk. In the 2012 off-season, the Steelers released some very talented, albeit aging, veterans. At the time I felt that while they would not miss James Farrior and Hines Ward’s production on the field, I thought their leadership would be missed on both sides of the ball. Usually, that starts to get ironed out after a few games but not in 2012. It was just one thing after another.
Many look to the veteran players, the ones with seniority, to step up and be the leaders and the Steelers still have plenty of veterans on the defense even with Harrison’s release. One thing the Steelers didn’t need to look for in Free Agency was veteran players. Perhaps Keisel, Polamalu, Foote, Clark, and Taylor—who all have 10+ years in the NFL—now must play “Rock, Paper, Scissors” over the leadership role. Brown said that Polamalu tried to get step up and influence the team last year but perhaps he is too soft-spoken off the field for anyone to pay attention. A leadership role doesn’t necessarily mean that these guys have to be vocal all the time. Many times it’s about doing the right thing even when you think people aren’t watching. It’s about being the example but also not being afraid to say something when it needs to be said. It helps create the cohesive atmosphere. You’ve heard it time and time again from the interviews with the winning team. The reporter gets assigned to ask the incessantly hackneyed question: “So, what’s made the difference compared to last year’s season (or the last decade or whatever)?” The response usually has something to do with team chemistry: “We’re all on the same page” or “We’re a family and we support each other” or something else from the Crash Davis School of sports clichés.
Wait a minute. Isn’t the quarterback supposed to be the leader? Conventional wisdom points to the quarterback, but I’m not convinced that Ben Roethlisberger is that kind of leader. He might realize he needs to be, but I think he was so focused on himself in his early years with the team that there are players who will never see him in that role. That’s a fight he may not be able to win. Who else can you point to as a team leader? I honestly don’t know. Heath Miller comes to mind, but he also seems quite soft-spoken off the field. I think locker room leadership could continue to be a problem.
However, it’s not time to panic or predict doom and gloom. It’s just a speculation. At this point, who knows? As the Steelers go into OTAs and various training activities, I hope the locker room leadership void sorts itself out. The coaches are the formal leaders, but all groups have informal leaders that people may not even realize they are looking at to help set the tone. It’s a valuable characteristic and essential to a team, but so hard to put a finger on to define. Hopefully a player or a few players will step up and help gel the team. If that doesn’t happen, 2013 could look a lot like 2012. However, I choose to stay positive that the players know what they need to do and the coaches will focus the team. Keep the faith Steeler Nation.