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Steelers OTAs: Our Team Assessments at the Close of May


NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers-OTA

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin (right) watches organized team activities at the UPMC Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s still only been pads and shorts up to this point, so while validating real meaning for 2013 is as elusive as determining our starting Left and Right Tackles, we can at least generally look at some relative themes around the Pittsburgh Steelers as we get ready to cure our Summertime Blues heading into June’s official Training Camp.  Rather than (yet another) breakdown of individual “pad-performers”, let’s take a look at some broader realities that have been playing out in Pittsburgh.

THE PHILOSOPHY: Cow’r Power v. The Standard

Bill Cowher

Is a little Cowher-like wrath what the Steelers need to step it up?

In Pittsburgh, the Steelers do not rebuild but instead reload; the doctrine of  “the Steeler Way” is a tried and true methodology that is revered around the League and labels our Front Office as being one of the best run organizations in professional sports. A consistency of Head Coaches (a mere 3 in the last 45 years) adhering to the same/similar organizational practices have led to Lombardis. Lots. In the post-Noll era with Bill Cowher and Tom Donahue/Kevin Colbert as General Managers, Coach Cowher held an incredible and nearly indomitable voice in the organization and its decision-making processes.  There are some apparent diversions from our organizational philosophy as of late, however; without breaking down the merits specifically, we have not seen as much organizational control out of Mike Tomlin.  While Coach Tomlin was over-ruled (and, seemingly not even asked) on the keeping of then Offensive Co-ordinator Bruce Arians, Mike does seem to be gaining some degree of executive powers with player selection (exampled by his directive in the selection of Le’Veon Bell in Round 2 of the 2013 Draft). These shifts, both in organizational control and personnel decisions, are an extension of much larger organizational change(s): the Steelers underwent a major move in 2009 from a changed group of shareholders and from commanding Father-figure Dan to Art Rooney, II.  Aggregately, all of these shifts were bound to have at least some effect upon our tectonic plates; while the Standard remains the Standard in Pittsburgh, some changes in chemistry and attitudes were not only inevitable, but desired.

THE CHEMISTRY: Infusion of Youth

Steelers linebackers Jarvis Jones and Larry Foote exemplify the mix of Veterans and Youth in Pittsburgh

Steelers linebackers Jarvis Jones (95) and Larry Foote (50) exemplify the mix of Veterans and Youth in Pittsburgh. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For decades, veteran leadership and its inherent stability has also been a trademark hallmark of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  That “Steeler Way” involved system-seasoned players, performers acclimating over multiple years as understudy before given any opportunity as “next man up”.  Leaning in to 2013, potential exists for a good number of Rookies and 2nd and 3rd year roster holders being looked upon as Starting potential.  David DeCastro, Mike Adams, Marcus Gilbert, Le’Veon Bell, Markus Wheaton, Cortez Allen, Cam Heyward and Jarvis Jones (just to name a few) are all poised in a veritable “youth movement” that will reduce the average age of the typical Steeler Starting lineup quite a bit, comparatively.  Pittsburgh has made a calculated move towards younger talent on the Offensive Line, the Defense as a unit and skill positions (RB, WR/Slot) – hey, we’ve even gotten much younger at backup Quarterback!  Quietly, and rather quickly, the Steelers in Pittsburgh have gotten younger.

THE PERSONNEL: Cult of Personality

Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey exudes the leadership qualities needed in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey exudes the leadership qualities needed in Pittsburgh. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

This section can be taken interchangeably with the one immediately above; the infusion of youth leading to better chemistry is inseparable from the individuals (personnel) involved and the personalities brought with them to the locker room, and onto the field.  We have moved on and hopefully away from the selfish distractions of a Mike Wallace and a Rashard Mendenhall towards players with more of a team-first, Hines Ward mentality. Going against the grain of some of our traditional approaches to personnel and contractual negotiations, Colbert & Co. seemed to have been determined to purge negative attitudes right along with aging veterans, and targeted a certain “mold” of Player as replacements (not that we didn’t before), but the targets and signings from 2013 were all towards Men known to exhibit commanding Team Leadership and strong civic responsibilities.  Needed most, however, are veteran leadership to supplant losing the likes of James Farrior, Aaron Smith, Hines Ward, Casey Hampton and James Harrison the last few seasons. Exuding and exhibiting the leadership qualities much-needed in Pittsburgh, Maurkice Pouncey is an ideal candidate for Team Captain, but Roethlisberger, Cotchery, Burress, Keisel, Taylor, Clark and Polamalu all must now take on the direct roles and obligations of Veteran field and locker room leadership.  Additionally, so does Mike Tomlin.

STEELER NATION: The Unceasing Constant

Perhaps the greatest constant of all is the loyalty and passion of Steeler Fans.  Few fan bases rival the impassioned spirit, fervor and Terrible Towel waving allegiance of Steeler Nation.  While all of the above causes us some concern, it also gives us glimpses of hope and promise towards a successful future.  Steeler Nation is looking for answers, and now demanding corrections, from an uncharacteristic 8-8 finish in 2012; the Philosophy, Chemistry and Personnel changes this organization has undergone will have to be utilized fully in addressing those answers.

Man, oh man, am I looking forward to June! At that point, we can actually start gleaning some meaning from all of the above.  Who’s ready for Camp?!



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  • Carl Eagan

    The coach has only been consistent at one thing since 2006 he can always be counted on to prepare the team to play down to their opponent. If he stay much longer there won’t be any lesser teams and he isn’t the one to prepare a team to play up to the level of the opponent. The Steeler’s reputation of being a well run organization is rooted in the past and is currently not a fact.

    • JWoo

      Have to agree with you on a level there, Carl – I’m not sure if I’ve read too much into certain situations but imo, amongst other things Tomlin has to not only take responsibility for, but ensure, that we play 16+ games with a killer’s instinct and mindset (something we never worried about under Cowher). I’m a fan of Tomlin, but the lack of fire evident last season in particular has got to stop; that simply isn’t the Steeler football I know. There are a lot of changes this whole organization has been faced with, so I’ve tried to give Mike a little slack – sure, we’ve moved on from a lot of Veterans that have traditionally provided leadership, but the “tone” for us needs to start at the top with the Head Coach. We are what, 6 years into Tomlin’s tenure now? I’ve inserted into a few of my articles that it’s time for Mike’s “the Standard is the Standard” to apply to himself and our entire Coaching Staff. He was off to a great start, but losing to Denver and Tebow followed up with the results of last year (and yes, we can make some decent-to-valid arguments as to why it all happened that don’t necessarily indict Mike), and I’m concerned. I think we are attempting to address some of the personnel issues and purge un-Steeler like egos and under the circumstances, a fairly good job of adding younger talent, but we need to see Player Development at a high level, and as you are pointing out, stop dropping games to the likes of Oakland, Jacksonville, etc. Winners close out games, and in the AFC North, EVERY game is critical!

  • Mike Nichols

    I still don’t think we know everything there is to know about the Arians / Tomlin / Rooney thing. Probably never will. Personally, I think a lot of it had to do with the relationship between Arians and Roethlisberger and the belief that a new OC was needed to keep Ben from getting complacent. Ben is a great QB but he also strikes me as someone who is not going to push himself to get better – he needs that outside influence.
    As for the criticism of Tomlin in the comments, he’s not without his faults, but there’s probably 30 teams in the league right now that would take him over their current HC. Let’s not overreact to an 8-8 season.