Steelers know how to stay the course
By Mike Prisuta
Sunday, August 31, 2008
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Practice may or may not make perfect, but the Steelers are convinced it makes a difference.
That explains the resumption, now that the team has moved from Latrobe back to its South Side headquarters, of a practice habit that helps make the Steelers the Steelers.
It's the brainchild of the defense, and it involves extra running not before or after practice but during practice.
One at a time or in groups of two or three, players not involved in the current series of repetitions retire momentarily to an adjacent practice field and run sideline to sideline.
Linebacker Brett Keisel does it. Cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend do it. Linebacker James Farrior does it, and Farrior is on the brink of his 12th NFL season.
Even nose tackle Casey Hampton and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have gotten into the act.
The act itself isn't as demanding as, say, the annual camp-opening run test, but it's infectious and it sets a tone, according to safety Ryan Clark.
"It's something we started as DBs last year before I got hurt," Clark said. "We decided that instead of running after practice, we'd run during practice, to get you conditioned while you practice.
"The hardest thing to do when you're tired is think and know your plays and know where you're supposed to be. So we kind of simulate that. If you get in three or four plays, come off for one or two and instead of sitting on the side, everybody just runs.
"It's kind of started to snowball. The DBs started picking on people about not conditioning, so everybody's doing it. I think it's going to be a good thing for us."
And, as former coach Bill Cowher liked to observe, perception is reality.
The extra running may or may not make a difference in the fourth quarter next Sunday against the Houston Texans.
But it absolutely helps foster the chemistry/camaraderie/confidence upon which the Steelers will depend from Houston in September through Cleveland in December and, hopefully, on into January.
Such intangibles are a big deal to the Steelers.
It still comes down to blocking and tackling, to staying healthy and carrying out assignments, tired or otherwise.
And the Steelers are still a team with questionable depth at safety and along the defensive line. Their offensive line remains a question mark and their special teams continue to make every kicking play that doesn't involve Jeff Reed a hold-your-breath endeavor.
But this is also a team that's won. It's one that's convinced it knows how to win and one that's certain it's willing to make the individual and collective commitment necessary to win.
Ask just about any player what he likes most about the group and the chances are good "chemistry" will come up quickly in the conversation.
The Steelers aren't the only team in the NFL that has fostered such a bond.
But they've established to themselves that their belief in each other, coupled with playing the game the right way will result in a division title.
The Browns can't make the same claim with an equal degree of certainty.
The race for this year's division championship doesn't kick off until next Sunday, but the Steelers have already started running.
Mike Prisuta is a columnist for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at [email="email@example.com"]firstname.lastname@example.org[/email] or 412-320-7923