May 22, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley (left) gives instructions to Steelers quarterbacks Charlie Batch (16) and Ben Roethlisberger (7) during organized team activities at the Steelers training facility. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Will Steelers OTAs Be Drama-Free?

As we gear up for the Steelers Organized Training Activities over the next three weeks, I wonder if there will be drama or if the Steelers can focus on building a football team with a coherent game plan.  Last year was a disaster in terms of drama and the ensuing lack of focus.

First, Bruce Arians is “retired” amid circumstances that don’t all pass the common sense test.  I’m not saying that a change shouldn’t have been made at the offensive coordinator position.  However, the way it was handled and the way the players seemed to find out, it stirred up lots of commentary in the media. Roethlisberger could have handled his part with the media better, but instead spoke his mind and then paid for it with repeated questions throughout the rest of the off season and into the regular season.  It was nothing but drama about the offense and how Roethlisberger “liked” it.  You had to expect the team would struggle a bit with the adjustment, but the drama started at the OTAs and never stopped.

Second, Mike Wallace was unhappy with his negotiations with the Steelers and it became clear he was going to hold out and not attend camps.  As if the Steelers didn’t already have enough drama, now a key portion of the offense was refusing to attend practices.  Again, it was question after question about how Wallace’s no-show was affecting the team.  Then the Steelers rewarded Antonio Brown with the big contract and really stirred things up.

It felt like there was just a swirl of drama from the OTAs until the last game was played to result in their mediocre season.  I do have to blame part of this on the media, but if the Steelers had been winning games in decisive fashion and not snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in several of their losses, the questions would have died off.

So, what will be the drama for this year’s OTAs?  Well, I hope there is none.  However, there is work to be done.  Lots of work.  Theoretically, Coach LeBeau needs to assess how to fill James Harrison’s spot.  However, I think they just need to develop a plan that doesn’t revolve around specialization.  The defensive plan was, to a large degree, dependent on the unpredictable threat of Troy Polamalu.  When he got hurt again, I think the Steelers struggled to adjust.  Let’s face it.  Troy is a great player and I have LOVED watching him play, but he’s getting older and his repeated injuries are going to work against him.  There should be no drama.  LeBeau should be planning to be able to plug Polamalu in when he’s healthy but have a solid plan for when he isn’t.  Period.  If that doesn’t happen, there will be drama, but that won’t happen until the regular season.  The media may try to create drama around Jarvis Jones with comparison to James Harrison.  Sheesh, enough with that already.

There could be some drama around the running back position, but it really should be about the best player getting the starting slot.  I hope that speculation doesn’t ramp up into running backs pitting themselves against each other and sniping to the media with anonymous (or otherwise) comments.  The running back diva left the facility in a huff at the end of the 2012 season and while I wish Mendenhall well, I’m not sure I’m going to miss him.  I just hope the drama about the running game, basically the lack of a running game, doesn’t start back up.  It’s way too early for that.  Circle back on that in September, please.

Here’s what I hope for after the first OTA on Friday, May 24th:

  • The first OTA wraps up with players leaving to spend Memorial Day weekend with their family and friends but fired up to get back for the next camp on the 28th.
  • The players start coming together as a team and friendships and camaraderie among players is evident off the field.
  • The questions about comparing Jarvis Jones to James Harrison stop, completely.
  • Ben Roethlisberger has nothing but positive comments about how the OTA went and appears to be positively mentoring the younger players.  Let’s skip the Bull Durham-style cliched comments too.

Now, what’s the likelihood?  Well, all the above is possible if the players are focused about performing on the field.  I have hope.  I bleed Black and Gold.  Here we go Steelers, Here we go!

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