Daily Archives: June 4, 2012
Pittsburgh area residents can celebrate the region’s largest Independence Day gathering during the Heinz Field Fourth of July Celebration presented by Coors Light. Stadium gates open at 2 p.m. on ...
Source: Pittsburgh Steelers : News
In our Saturday post discussing the top-ten free agents remaining on the market, we suggested free agent tackle Max Starks as a fallback option in Pittsburgh should rookie Mike Adams not prove up to the task of protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side. Per FOX Sports’ Len Pasquarelli, Starks “isn’t likely to return to the…
When Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel isn’t shaving off his beard for charity, he’s organizing a fishing trip. For charity. On Monday, Keisel took a group of contest winners fishing at a sporting club in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, a city roughly 15 miles from Pittsburgh. “Why not do something charitable where people can bid on coming…
I've had one really great coaching success in my lifetime. I took over a girls basketball team that had not won a game the previous season and guided them to an undefeated season and a state championship. I wish I could say that our performance was solely the result of my coaching brilliance; that would be a nice fantasy but ultimately untrue. We did have pretty good talent. Half of the girls on our ten player roster would go on to play basketball in college; another three would have the opportunity to participate in intercollegiate athletics as well. Nonetheless, maybe difficult to believe, there were other teams in our league that were more talented and experienced.
Our strength was that the difference between our #1 player and our #10 player wasn't that great. And my coaching philosophy as it relates to playing time could be summarized thusly; ‘what have you done for me lately'? Practices were fierce; with a heavy emphasis on fundamentals usually climaxed by a scrimmage between equally matched groups with the losers having to run suicides. The competition and challenges faced in practice was more daunting than what they experienced in games most of the time. I wasn't much of a stat person then (or now for that matter), so it wasn't until the end of the year that I went over our game statistics. I was amazed to discover that eight out of ten players had led the team in scoring at least once, and that nine out of ten had scored in double figures at least once.
Okay, so this is all very nice, but what's the point? How does this relate to the Steelers?
"Everybody with a helmet on is in the mix," - Mike Tomlin (2010)
I'm reading this piece on Steelers tight end Weslye Saunders and find myself wondering whether or not he'll make the team. It's important to understand the reasoning here; yes, Saunders has some ‘character concerns' that might torpedo his career. But you have to also consider that in spite of possessing prodigious talent he may not rise any higher than being the third tight end on the roster. That fact in combination with the character issues may indeed be enough to sink Saunders. Personally, I hope not.
The point is that Tomlin's quote, something that might normally be dismissed as a platitude, something you might feel obligated to say but, in most circumstances, really isn't grounded in reality, may be actually coming true in the case of the 2012 Steelers. They appear to be approaching a point where everyone who has a helmet by September will be in the mix, not to mention the fact that because of numbers there may be quite a few that could be in the mix but won't due to the fact that there aren't enough helmets to go around.
Think about it; the "Two dogs, one bone" concept, originally used to describe the competition for playing time between WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown is now the reality among most of the position groups on the team. Perhaps only at OLB and maybe Safety is there not a situation where there are too many dogs and not enough bones. Otherwise competition is breaking out all over the place: Hampton, McLendon, Ta'amu at nose guard, Keisel, Hood, Heyward at defensive end, Lewis, Allen, Brown, Frederick at cornerback, Miller, Pope, Saunders, Paulson at tight end. Do I really need to mention the situation at offensive line, running back, wide receiver, or backup quarterback? Even the long snappers, punters and place kickers are in the mix.
It should be expected that some of these competitions may not amount to much, but there is reason to be optimistic that many, if not most may well exceed expectations and result in some very hard choices for both the coaching staff and the front office. But regardless of the outcomes the concept is sound. There is good reason to expect that the dynamics and synergy generated will weed out the weak, make good players better and, perhaps propel superior players to greatness.
A good question at this point would be how do we know that this is, in fact, the dynamic that is playing out with Steelers? On Friday Post-Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette wrote that there is grumbling in Ravens country because nearly 20 players, including Ray Lewis had not been present at OTAs. Bouchette then compared the situation in Steelers camp where there is much hand wringing among the press and the fans (but not the team) concerning the absence of Mike Wallace. Is there any significance to this? Back to my basketball team.
We usually met briefly at the beginning of practice for announcements and to preview the day's schedule. One day one of the players announced that she would be missing the two games scheduled for the weekend because her family would be out of town. Her teammates responded with an outpouring of sorrow and regret. This lasted about five seconds. Then the conversation immediately segued into a lively discussion on who was going to get the absent girl's playing time. The girl looked on with a stunned expression on her face. Imagine that you are dying and your relatives are discussing how they are going to divvy up your possessions while you are still alive and present in the room. The message was clear; her teammates would mourn her, might even shed tears because of her absence, but it would be a very brief funeral, and there would be joy in the morning (more playing time for everybody). At the next practice the girl announced that she would not be accompanying her family on the trip, that arrangements had been made for her to stay with a neighbor and that she would be at the games. Nobody was getting her playing time.
One of the challenges of coaching youth sports is that many parents and players took a very casual attitude to practices. Before the season began I had prepared what I felt was an obligatory speech on the importance of making as many of the practices as possible. With this team I never had to make that speech. I did have to make a speech about not practicing when one was deathly ill or contagious or injured. But even when they couldn't practice they showed up; bundled up, feverish, miserable but present. This wasn't required but it was understood to be the standard.
Another speech I made was about grades. They improved or at least did not suffer because that was part of standard as well. Specifically, it was emphasized that sports participation would not be an excuse for poor or deteriorating performance in school. To the contrary, beyond injury or illness the one legitimate reason to miss or be denied participation in practices or games was due to poor academic performance.
All ten players attended college (I'm certain that at least nine graduated); one was class president in high school, one a valedictorian. All ten played varsity basketball for four different high schools with six serving as team captains.
The thing about creating intense internal competition that is counter-intuitive is that it strengthens group cohesion provided that the competition is seen as being fair, legitimate and comprehensive. It can't be viewed as artificial; a manipulated or ginned up conflict as a method of controlling players rather than advancing team competitiveness. It can't be viewed as being punitive. And no one can be viewed as being exempt, especially your ‘best' players.
When those conditions are met then every single player on the team is deeply invested in the team because each has a legitimate role. Instead of being viewed as a spare part, only to be utilized in an emergency or a practice body, fodder for the preparation of others, we have the alternative concept of starters and starters in waiting. The cynical among us might dismiss such a thing as coach-speak, a valid concern because it is much easier to say this than to actually practice it.
But if Tomlin is actually practicing this concept then some impressive things are beginning to happen; provided you know what to look for. One clue would be that of attendance. In such a system opportunity and the risks incurred with opportunities lost are a constant. Every player is pushing, being pushed or pulling in service of the larger purpose of advancing the team. Preparation is imbued with greater meaning standing in contrast to the Allen Iversonian philosophy of practice ("Practice!")
Some of this was brought home to me when I was watching the America's Game program on the '08 Steelers. Tomlin revealed himself to being a process person (as opposed to being event or game focused). He talked about wanting to "smell the roses". What flew over my head when I viewed this segment previously is how eerily similar his thinking is to Chuck Noll, and Vince Lombardi. These coaches all understood that there was no meaningful separation between the preparation for games and the games themselves. As such OTAs hold as much fascination and importance as the Super Bowl because in some respects in relation to the philosophy they are inseparable. It would appear that philosophy has also been effectively conveyed to his players.
Both Tomlin and Noll have been lauded for their preparation skills. We may tend to see these virtues in isolation; fortuitous individual quirks. But such qualities are absolutely essential to fulfilling the underlying philosophy and are a pretty good indication of whether the belief in that philosophy is sincere, as well as whether the talent and skills are present to pull it off.
I've been hinting for a while about the Tomlin Steelers; hinting because, frankly, it was all pretty foggy to me. I have also been writing with a bit more clarity about the Pittsburgh or Steeler Way. With this perspective let's look at some current events.
Consider the release of Farrior, Smith and Ward within the context of no one being exempt from the consequences of team building and competition. Did not the length and quality of their service, their value to the team, their vast accomplishments, and their immense popularity earn them some special consideration? In a word, no. This is not to say that they weren't highly respected and well-liked by management, but there were larger things at stake. The temptation would be to make certain compromises if for no other reason than it would be so much easier all the way around. What would be the harm of allowing for these guys to make an exit that would be more on their own terms? What would be wrong with a ‘victory lap' of sorts? The message is that competitive death comes to everyone, even to future Hall of Famers and Super Bowl MVPs. And if the grim reaper comes for Hines Ward or James Farrior or Aaron Smith then who the hell are you?
What will be interesting to watch is how the situation with Ray Lewis is handled by the Ravens. The easiest, least controversial, pain free way to proceed is to let Lewis decide. And we should all file away the fact that nearly two dozen players, including Lewis, blew off OTAs and how that works for them down the line.
The fun part is that there is a belief building within Steeler Nation that something special is going on, very much like the feeling in the early 70s when folks knew that something was building but they couldn't put a finger on it since it hadn't reached concrete fruition yet. What's fun about it is that we're likely to be the only ones who are clued into what's unfolding in plain sight. And even then many of us in Steeler Nation are somewhat misguided as to what is actually going on.
For example, it really isn't primarily about the draft. Don't get me wrong, those guys are really going to help even if only a few pan out as well as we might hope. But don't forget that this team finished 12-4, pretty banged up and without any of these new guys. And of the guys lost during the off season only Farrior and William Gay could be considered major contributors.
What this is about is the ongoing maturation of a coach (Tomlin), a GM (Kevin Colbert), a team president (Art Rooney II) and their understanding of life and winning that is manifesting in the development of this football team.
I have a friend who lives in New York City who likes to talk football with me a lot. He shared his take on the Steelers recently(he is an alien, not a member of the Nation). He was wondering whether we would be in the market for LaDamian Tomlinson because we needed a running back. Needless to say he didn't quite understand my response. ("We don't need a running back". And if we did it wouldn't be Tomlinson, though some of the more culturally immature in Steeler Nation might disagree). I was sympathetic to the fact that there was no way that he knew anything about Isaac Redman beyond the playoff game against Denver, and maybe that touchdown catch against the Ravens in 2010. He couldn't possibly know about Dwyer pushing Redman and Clay pushing Dwyer and Batch pushing them all and Rainey pushing Batch and Mendenhall refusing to accept the timetable of doctors and pundits.
What my friend doesn't understand is when the NFL Network does a piece on which is the most talented team in the league they miss the point. Front line talent can be trumped by team cohesion, depth of talent, diversity and the ability to execute in a consistent and reliable manner. I have sympathy for NFLN and ESPN. Even if you understood it how to you quantify it with a bunch of talking heads on a television program? How do the stat geeks render it to a chart? How does it apply to fantasy football?
The excitement about the promise of the Haley offense is based upon the hope that it would address and enhance just those issues. It's not about mostly running or mostly passing, its about a diversified attack. When you have nine basketball players on a team that are capable of scoring in double figures they can't be effectively stopped by an opponent, you can only hope that they are too inflexible to adapt or incapable of executing. If you figure out a way to stop Redman/Mendenhall, Wallace and Brown, that still leaves Miller, Sanders, Cotchery, Saunders, Pope, Dwyer, etc. (Let's leave Rainey, Batch, Clemons and anyone else who hasn't played a down in the league yet out of the discussion for now). How do you stop a flood with your bare hands? You don't.
The fatal flaw for Arians was the inability to adapt. We'll know soon enough about Haley. If the Steelers were able to win a Super Bowl with an offensive line that included, among others, Darnell Stapleton, a reserve center and Jeff Hartings, then they may be capable of pulling it off with Ramon Foster and Trai Essex. That, of course, is the worst case scenario.
My friend also doesn't understand the complimentary relationship between offense and defense. The new offense doesn't have to be that much better to place the team within championship territory. Maybe one touchdown this year when they had to settle for a field goal before, maybe one field goal when they had to punt before, maybe a few more first downs instead of a three and out. The extra points and rest could be enough to keep the defense at the top of the league standings even if there were something of a drop off in absolute terms. (My team had the top ranked defense in the league with a middle of the pack offense).
My friend doesn't understand synergy. So he, like many others will not know what is about to happen until after it does. Many with big reputations are gone and it will take some time before (Surprise) they recognize the Phoenix that has arisen from the ashes.
Things can go wrong (injuries, for example), and it is way too early to know the exact configuration the juggernaut will take, but Tomlin says the intention is to compete for the Super Bowl every year. This year in particular, believe it.
Source: Behind the Steel Curtain
Last week, Kordell Stewart officially retired from the NFL as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers after not actually playing for his old team since 2002 and not playing for any team since 2005. Like most fans, I was a little surprised by the announcement because I had just assumed that Stewart's retirement was made official years ago.
As this article from Neal Coolong points out, Stewart didn't have a great career in Pittsburgh, and he'll never go down as one of the all-time greats at his position, but he was a player that was popular and beloved by Steelers fans at one point before he fell out of favor. The fact that he chose to officially call it a career as a member of the Black and Gold has to be at least somewhat endearing to Steelers fans.
When Stewart was drafted in the 2nd round out of Colorado back in 1995, I was pretty happy. I had watched him play throughout college, and I liked the potential that I saw in him.
Neil O'Donnell was fully entrenched as the team's starting quarterback in 1995, and Kordell was the 3rd string rookie qb; generally, those guys just walk around holding a clipboard. However, Stewart wasn't your typical quarterback--he was extremely athletic--and starting in week 8, the Steelers, 3-4 and on the verge of seeing their season collapse, decided to start using the first year player in a utility role on offense that took advantage of his great abilities and unique skill-set. Stewart didn't produce much in the way of yardage, but he did create his share of splash plays that season, like this 22 yard run off of an O'Donnell pitch-out in a game against the Patriots.
Other memorable plays by Stewart that year included a 71-yard touchdown catch from O'Donnell in a victory over the Bengals and a 2-yard touchdown pass in a game against the Browns in which Stewart ran all the way to his right before reversing course and running all the way to the left side of the field and finding Ernie Mills in the corner of the end zone.
Kordell's versatility as a wide receiver/running back/quarterback in '95 earned him the nickname of, well, Slash.
Slash even continued to contribute in the postseason, and his touchdown catch near the end of the first half of the AFC Championship game against the Colts was on of the key plays in a 20-16 victory that sent the Steelers to their first Super Bowl since the 1979 season.
Stewart quickly became a popular figure in Steeler Nation as number 10 jerseys started popping up all over.
Stewart continued to perform his Slash role in '96, but it became apparent towards the end of the season that the Steelers were grooming him to be their starting quarterback in 1997. Stewart started the last game of the '96 regular season in place of Mike Tomczak, and he continued to dazzle and amaze Steelers fans by reeling off an 80 yard touchdown run.
Stewart was indeed named the starter in '97, and even though he was inconsistent, he sure provided plenty of excitement as he would often dig a hole for his team early before riding to the rescue with late game heroics. Of the Steelers 11 wins that year, five came after the team was trailing by 10 points or more, including a 42-32 win against the Ravens in week 5. After struggling in the first half with three interceptions that helped put Pittsburgh behind, 21-0, Stewart brought his team back in the second half by throwing three touchdown passes and cementing the victory with a 74 yard touchdown run in the 4th quarter.
For the year, Stewart passed for 3020 yards, 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He also added 476 yards and another 11 touchdowns on the ground.
The Steelers made the playoffs for the sixth straight year and advanced to the AFC Championship game at Three Rivers Stadium before falling to the Broncos. In the game, Stewart ran for a 33 yard touchdown, but he also threw three interceptions as the Steelers blew a 14-7 lead and lost, 24-21.
Nobody knew it at the time, but the Steelers playoff run was about to come to an end. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey left to become Head Coach of the Cowboys following the '97 season, and Ray Sherman was brought in to replace him. Stewart struggled mightily in '98 as the Steelers finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1991. Stewart struggled not only on the field, but he also had to deal with off-the-field rumors about his personal life. It is unclear where these false rumors started, but they just compounded the problems for Stewart, and his relationship with the fans began its irreversible descent.
In 1999, Stewart had to deal with his third offensive coordinator in his three years as a starting quarterback when Sherman was replaced with Kevin Gilbride.
Stewart's difficultiies continued that year as he only threw six touchdown passes to go along with 10 interceptions. He finished the year on the bench, and if my memory serves me correctly, he wasn't even allowed to attend quarterback meetings.
Kent Graham was named starting quarterback before the start of the 2000 season, and the Steelers started out 0-3. In place of an injured Graham, Stewart led the Steelers to victories vs. the Jaguars and Jets and was soon named the starter for the rest of the year. The Steelers missed the playoffs for the third straight season, but with Stewart under center, they rebounded from their 0-3 start to finish 9-7.
2001 would be Stewart's career year as he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Year, was voted team MVP and made his only Pro Bowl. With Stewart leading the way, the Steelers went 13-3 and made the playoffs for the first time since '97. Despite his improved play in '01--he completed 60.2 percent of his passes--Stewart never fully won the fans over. The general sentiment was that Pittsburgh's successes were more in spite of number 10 than because of him.
The Steelers advanced to the AFC Championship game for the second time with Kordell Stewart as a starting quarterback, but they fell once again, this time to the surprising New England Patriots, 24-17.
Even though the Patriots scored 14 of their points on two special teams touchdowns, Stewart, predictably, took most of the blame after throwing three interceptions, including a critical pick late when the team was trying to complete a second-half comeback.
The Steelers started out 0-2 the following year as both Stewart and the Steelers defense struggled early-on. Down 13-6 in the fourth quarter of their week 3 match-up against the Browns, Bill Cowher replaced Stewart with Tommy Maddox, and Maddox led the team to an overtime victory.
Tommy Gun was soon named the starter and quickly became the toast of the town with his ability to sling the football up and down the field.
However, in a week 10 match-up at Tennessee, Maddox suffered a scary spinal injury and would have to miss some time. With the Steelers at 5-4-1, Stewart started the next two weeks and quietly led the team to important victories over the Bengals and Jaguars. They would be the last two games Stewart ever played for the Steelers, but as a fan of his, they were maybe my favorite because how how he handled himself professionally.
Stewart was out of Pittsburgh by '03 as the love-affair with Maddox was in full bloom. Instead of number 10 Stewart jerseys, fans walked around wearing "Slash Who?" t-shirts.
Stewart played another few years with the Bears and Ravens before fading into obscurity.
Only a fool would suggest that Stewart had a great career as a quarterback, and there is no getting around his inaccurate arm, nor his inability to come through in the two AFC Championship games, but I've always been of the belief that Kordell Stewart's main problem was that he became the Steelers' starting quarterback during a time of transition for the organization.
The Steelers had an impressive run in the 90's, but with the free agency defections of Rod Woodson, Chad Brown, Leon Searcy, Kevin Greene, John Jackson and Yancey Thigpen, it was just a matter of time before the wheels fell off the wagon. You could see it a bit in '97 despite the team's success, and by the middle of the '99 season, the Steelers were in full rebuilding mode.
It would have been an impossible situation for any young quarterback to excel in. You had the revolving door at offensive coordinator that I mentioned earlier as well as the front office unrest between Cowher and Tom Donahoe.
And let's not forget about what Stewart had to deal with off the field. Terry Bradshaw often talks about the tough times he had to endure early in his career with the name calling and the questioning of his intelligence. What Bradshaw had to go through was nothing compared to what Stewart had to deal with. I would listen to the talk shows and the many phone calls from fans who would get cut-off after making God knows what kind of derogatory statement about Stewart.
Stewart was an inconsistent quarterback, at best, but I often wonder how much better he may have been under a different set of circumstances.
Sadly, we'll never know, but what impresses me about Stewart's career in Pittsburgh was how he bounced back in the 2000-2001 seasons after he could have very easily crumbled under the intense professional and personal pressures he surely must have been feeling in the late 90's.
No, Kordell Stewart was not a great quarterback, but two the AFC Championship game appearances were still pretty impressive in my mind. And he did provide us with some exciting moments during his career--how many professional football players can boast of throwing a 90-yard touchdown, catching a 71 yard touchdown and rushing for two 70-plus yard touchdowns?
Thanks for some pretty cool memories, Slash.
Source: Behind the Steel Curtain
It's probably not a coincidence McFarlane Toys is releasing their "Dark Knight Rises" Hines Ward Gotham Rogues action figure right in time for Christmas.
But it's awesome, all the same.
Ward is captured in still motion, looking over his right shoulder for a pass, hands in perfect position, tattoo distinct and replicate of the one the NFL saw Ward flashing for the last several years.
Perhaps it would have made more sense if Ward was coming back to the ball, shoulders square with the line of scrimmage, and snaring one over his head, but this is a bit more magnanimous.
Of course, the ideal situation would be Ward lowering the boom on some defensive player, particularly someone in purple, smiling the whole time, much to the chagrin of the fans of the opposing team, but that's neither here nor there.
What we know is Ward will be on NBC Sports this fall, and have an action figure released in November. Try to top that, Adam Schefter.
Source: Behind the Steel Curtain