Daily Archives: June 13, 2012

The Top 100 and Other Distractions From What is Important


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I understand the value of the Top 100: Players of 2012 to the NFL Network. It's June. We are literally months from the start of the season. There's not much going on in football, particularly now between the conclusion of the draft and the beginning of training camp. So from an entertainment perspective you probably can't argue that the Top 100 isn't good television. The problem is that though it may be good entertainment it encourages and promotes bad thinking about football.

I've been writing recently about the fact that football can make the case for being the ultimate team game. As such, factors such as cooperation, interdependence, self-sacrifice, chemistry, camaraderie and synergy are usually critical factors in team success. It's not that the celebration of individual talent is not important, but if the context (or is it lack of context) is so distorted that we believe that the only factor in team success is the accumulation of talent then a disservice is done to any and everyone who aspires to be true fans of the game.

A non-football example of how this can play out is currently on display in the NBA Finals. Regardless of the eventual outcome, the Miami Heat is dogged by the perception that they are a group of underachievers. The assembly of this team is straight out of the AAU philosophy of success; collect as much talent as possible without regard to team principles. How, it is asked, can a group with James, Wade and Bosh struggle as they do? My answer is that this is not an all-star tournament. Team principles matter. When viewed as a team they are not doing that bad, maybe even overachieving somewhat.

An additional problem with the Top 100 is the idea that having players make the selections renders credibility to the proceedings. Just because someone plays the game doesn't make them a student of the game. It may make perfect sense for an Ed Reed to offer an opinion on who the best wide receivers are in the AFC North, and perhaps in the entire league, but it gets pretty dicey when you ask him to pass judgment on offensive linemen in the NFC West, just to take one example.

The question that needs to be asked is how much information is required for these players to effectively do their jobs? The importance of such a question is that, by most accounts that I am aware of it takes a great deal of time and commitment to simply do a thorough job of handling their basic responsibilities as players. Beyond that do they really know that much more than a devoted fan?

I began to wonder about that when I saw where Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis was ranked last year. It seemed to me and a lot of other observers that Lewis' high placement (I believe he came in third overall) may have been due more to his reputation than to the actual level of his performance at this stage of his career.

The thing about reputation is that there is usually a lag associated with how it matches up with the actual state of someone's performance. Often there is a gap between when a player begins to perform at a high level and when he receives recognition of that fact. Conversely, a player may continue to be viewed as a high level performer long after his skills have declined. One of the best contemporary examples of this has been Brett Favre. History will show that his best days were in the 20th Century, but it has only been relatively recently that he hasn't been a constant topic of off season conversation concerning his plans and what team might be so fortunate to have access to his services.

This brings us to the Steelers. As many of us know, in the world outside of Steeler Nation the belief is that this will be a down year for Pittsburgh. The reason I recall hearing most often is the release of a number of veteran players (Ward, Smith, Farrior, etc.); too much change, the loss of too much leadership.

But how much change has actually occurred? Injuries and declining skills limited the participation of Hines and Aaron. It's fair to say that their contributions to the team's 12-4 record were extremely limited. Chris Hoke was not a starter. So from the on the field perspective the only loss would be that of James Farrior who retained his starting job throughout the 2011 season. The loss of a consistent starter, unless that starter was Ben, does not rise to the level of being a serious degradation of the team's play or a sign of ‘too much' change.

However, because of our star/individualistic orientation with the sports media in particular, and some fans as well, it's fair to say that to some Hines Ward is the Pittsburgh Steelers, our Brett Favre if you will, and as such if he goes away what could we possibly have left? The reputation issue at play.

That still leaves us with the leadership issue, something even the bulk of Steelers fans worry about. But is that as big a concern as we make it out to be? Does the individualistic mindset contaminate our thinking about this as well?

In 2006-7 the teams suffered serious leadership losses. Jerome Bettis retired, Joey Porter was released and Alan Faneca left in free agency. Into the gap on offense came Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger, not individuals that in prior years would be first to come to mind as leaders. On defense James Farrior emerged from the bombastic shadow cast by Porter. Arguably, he was probably always providing leadership but how could anyone outside the Steelers locker room possibly notice? Within a year the team returned to the Super Bowl and won a championship.

When was the last time in, oh, the last thirty or forty years that the Steelers had a leadership problem? Today (I'm writing this on the first day of minicamp) I watched a video on Steelers.com of Casey Hampton giving instruction to Alameda Ta'amu on playing nose guard (Ta'amu is actually bigger that Big Snack, btw). Besides being in town for all the off season practices, Troy Polamalu is reportedly going to tables at lunch time and introducing himself to new players.

I don't believe anyone had to prompt these guys to do these sorts of things. This is just what the Steelers do. Leadership development is hotwired into the organizational culture. If you haven't associated certain people with leadership in the past it was probably for one of two reasons.

First it wasn't necessary because someone else had been playing the role quite well in the past. Larry Foote was the youngest of the starting linebackers when Pittsburgh played in Super Bowl 40. Porter and Farrior were handling things. Now Foote is the old guy, it's his turn and he's acting appropriately. Second, there are leadership roles that are not obvious to the casual observer. Foote reportedly has been considered a verbal leader in the locker room long before the present moment.

Bottom line: is there any indication that the Steelers ship is rudderless or floundering?

Currently, another area where this distorted mindset is playing out is with Max Starks. What is concerning to me is not whether Starks should be brought back or not. I guess credible arguments can be made either way, though I acknowledge that I believe the team should bring him back. It is why the various arguments are made that is at issue.

To my thinking there are only two reasons you would not bring Starks back; either he's not healthy and won't be soon, or money, as in he's too expensive. Otherwise, he would be an invaluable addition to a group that has a lot of young, but inexperienced talent. Why? Because he has started in three Super Bowls, two of which are wins. That kind of resume doesn't grow on trees. And having that kind of experience in the persons of Starks, Trai Essex, Ben, Heath Miller, Big Snack, Keisel, Deebo, Troy and Ike Taylor is an advantage that very few teams can replicate.'

Winning championships, especially multiple championships is something that teams and players have to learn how to do. In the mid-1960s the Dallas Cowboys played the Green Bay Packers for the NFL Championship two times in a row. They lost both times even though they were considered the more talented of the two teams. Three years later they finally figured out how to win and defeated the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl 6.

The point is that making this a discussion primarily or solely about talent misses the point. Even if you believe that the Steelers won those games in spite of the presence of Starks, they did it twice. I say let's try to win in spite of Max a third time. What Starks brings is experience that only a relative few of all the people who have played the game possess, as well as other intangibles such as his relationship with Ben.

The only problem is that these qualities are difficult to translate to an NFL Network program.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Heyward has high expectations this year


Wed, 13 Jun 2012 17:23:41
by RALPH N. PAULK




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Source: TribLIVE RSS Feeds

Steelers Make Roster Moves

The Steelers announced today the signing of two veterans to their active roster, linebacker Brandon Johnson and long snapper Matt Katula. Johnson (6-5, 245) has spent the past four seasons (2008-11...

Source: Pittsburgh Steelers : News

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Steelers sign two veterans, waive South Park’s Dixon


Wed, 13 Jun 2012 17:23:41
By Ralph N. Paulk




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Source: TribLIVE RSS Feeds


Steelers president Art Rooney II wades into Wallace situation

Steelers president Art Rooney II had a simple message Wednesday when asked about wide receiver Mike Wallace: “He should be here,” Rooney said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Without seeing video or hearing audio, it’s impossible to divine intent in Rooney’s four words, but on the computer screen, they appear rather abrupt. Wallace has stayed away…

Source: ProFootballTalk » Pittsburgh Steelers


As expected, Wallace a no-show at minicamp


Wed, 13 Jun 2012 17:23:41
by SCOTT BROWN




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Source: TribLIVE RSS Feeds

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Pittsburgh Steelers Minicamp: Trai Essex Starts at Right Tackle, Marcus Gilbert at Left Tackle

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One day down, one offensive line permutation in place.

Affixed with a heavily emphasized "subject to change" tag, veteran Trai Essex opened the Steelers' minicamp at right tackle, with Marcus Gilbert opening at left tackle. It's highly likely at some point over the next two days rookie Mike Adams will get reps with the first time at either or both tackle positions.

But for now, he'll fight his way up to that position.

Post-Gazette reporter Gerry Dulac quoted Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin as saying, "We're going to do things to put them in situations to see how they respond. I wouldn't read into it, particularly football in shorts. We're going to put them in situations against good people just for exposure and learn more about them. That's down the line when you start reading into what group they're taking snaps with. That's going to be more of a Latrobe type of thing."

Maurkice Pouncey (center), Willie Colon (left guard) and Ramon Foster (right guard) rounded out the Football-in-Shorts First-Team offensive line, meaning rookie David DeCastro joined Adams in watching the first team work.

It's a certainty DeCastro will assume the right guard position at some point very soon, and will likely remain there through Week 1 and probably for the next 12 years.

That shouldn't downplay the roles of Essex or Foster this year. The fact they are in those first team positions (whether or not fully clothed) shows they opened a step ahead of OT Jonathan Scott and OG Doug Legursky, respectfully.

If the Steelers had the depth it now has at offensive line, they may have been able to win a few more games the last few seasons.

Considering they've been to the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, and have won two AFC championships and a Super Bowl, it's a pretty good thing.




Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Schedule Preview Week 11: vs. Baltimore Ravens

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It started in Week 1 last year, and now the NFL makes its fanbase wait for the first installment of its best rivalry until Week 11.

I'm sure neither team particularly cares when they play each other. It's usually fitting of whatever hyperbole NBC will add for its Sunday Night Football match-up.

In an alternate series breaking down contenders in the AFC, our brethren at Baltimore Beatdown implied disagreement with BTSC's assessment that the Ravens will have more difficulty defending its AFC North crown than they had in winning it in 2011. While this game won't decide everything, it will likely be a big step in solving the AFC playoff puzzle.

Ravens Losses

LG Ben Grubbs packed up and moved his things to New Orleans while LB Jarrett Johnson exited stage west to San Diego. While both talented players, good teams lose players every year, and the better teams are able to make up for that with little - if any - loss. In the Ravens' case, Johnson's loss will be felt more than Grubbs' loss will be, but their scheme and tradition of defense will survive, the same way as it has for the last decade.

With QB Joe Flacco (no extension) and RB Ray Rice (franchised) not having signed long-term extensions yet this off-season but both showing up to minicamp yesterday, they appear to have many components of last year's AFC runner-up in place.

Except for that Terrell Suggs guy.

There's no replacing a player of his caliber, and to some extent, the defense will have to alter original plans without the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. They'll expect to get pressure from rookie Courtney Upshaw and veteran Paul Kruger, and it's very well possible they could get that pressure from a combination of those two, but new defensive coordinator Dean Pees' has a challenge from the get-to.

Ravens Improvements

The continued development of CB LaDarius Webb and stand-up seasons from CB Cary Williams and SS Bernard Pierce have the Ravens secondary poised to become the strength of their team. Second-year CB Jimmy Smith will likely vie for Williams' starting position, but however they mix it, they have as good a nucleus of cornerbacks as any other team in the league. As soon as FS Ed Reed finishes his yearly raise request, and arrives at training camp in July, the Ravens will show a nice mix of experience, versatility and talent among their defensive backfield.

Baltimore is a solid and deep team all-around, and could possibly even have Suggs back for this game (his words). It will likely be another classic match-up - one of two they'll play against each other between Weeks 11 and 13.




Source: Behind the Steel Curtain


Roethlisberger, Wife ‘Really Excited’ For New Baby

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Ben Roethlisberger and his wife are expecting and he talked to reporters for the first time about it on Tuesday.

“Obviously, family is very important to me and we’re really excited and we can’t wait for that day to come,” he said.

Over the weekend, Ben posted on his website that he and his wife Ashley are expecting a baby boy later this year.

“I want to be just like my dad,” he said. “I’ve said it many times and he’s my role model. If I could be like him, I’d be really happy, so that’s who I’m modeling my future fatherhood after.”

And he’s looking forward to making memories.

“The ultimate is to try to have your son or daughter or both at a Super Bowl, so that’s going to be my goal now is to get a Super Bowl,” says Ben, “because I don’t think there’s anything better than having your family on the field with you when you’re holding that trophy and the confetti’s falling on you.”

Ben and Ashley have been married for almost a year now. They tied the knot last July.

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Filed under: Sports, Steelers, Syndicated Sports Tagged: Ashley Harlan, Baby, Ben Roethlisberger, Super Bowl

Source: CBS Pittsburgh » Steelers


Pittsburgh Steelers Minicamp: Some Early Thoughts on Important Session


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It may not be compelling, but at least it's formal.

The Steelers begin their 2012 Minicamp today with two practices. Two more will follow Wednesday followed by one to wrap up the session Thursday.

This time of the year, headlines are usually questions more than statements. While this practice session will likely create more questions than answers, there are a few we can glean a foggy outline of an answer.

Will WR Mike Wallace sign his RFA tender?

The deadline is Thursday. Odds are very good he'll be in town, but he won't practice. Or at least that's what we've been led to believe. Wallace has until Friday, June 15, to sign his tender, or risk the Steelers exercising their CBA-given right to reduce the tender and make an offer of 110 percent of his 2011 salary, which would equate to a one-year offer for $ 577,000. His tender is worth $ 2.7 million, give or take a few dollars.

Obviously, that's in place to help get players into training camp, which indirectly shows the value of minicamp. While it's unlikely the Steelers will exercise that option (it wouldn't help the negotiation, to put it mildly and almost assuredly would keep Wallace out even longer), it does show good faith on their part they're willing to work with him.

As for Wallace, he's seeking a long-term deal, and since he won't be fined for missing minicamp, he's really the last piece of leverage he has. The Steelers typically ask players to negotiate in good faith, and part of that means showing up and working with the team. Wallace can see multiple Steelers players getting extensions signed early into training camp (last year, SS Troy Polamalu, LB Lawrence Timmons and LB LaMarr Woodley all signed during camp), and if Wallace does have a future in Pittsburgh, that seems to be the best time to do it.

We'll see how this plays out.

Willie Colon at left guard

Scott Brown of the Tribune-Review has a nice piece in today's paper about Colon, his transition from right tackle to left guard, and his relationship with former Steelers All-World LG Alan Faneca when Colon was a rookie.

Learning from one of the best is certainly a benefit, but Colon is the experienced one now. With a body built more for a guard, but overall skills that helped him become one of the best run-side tackles in the game, it's exciting to think about the prospect of having such a talented interior offensive line.

It's been a while, that's for sure.

The development of the offense

The running back position seems to be the early favorite for attention-grabbing news. Isaac Redman's starting role, Rashard Mendenhall's rehabilitation project, Chris Rainey vs. Baron Batch, John Clay's position, Jonathan Dwyer's weight. Lots of headlines to go around.

Mix with that the emerging Young Money receivers (two of them anyway) Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, and how they'll look entering their third year of NFL service. Expecting father Ben Roethlisberger, and how he's adapting to the offense.

All great talking points for the next few days.




Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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