On the Steelers: A tricky situation in Steelers locker room

February 24, 2013 12:10 am

By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Quarterback Bubby Brister surveyed the turmoil around him during one particularly bad Steelers season more than two decades ago and proclaimed, "I'm about to come unglued!"
• That statement might aptly fit what's going on with the Steelers today. Never has one anonymous comment by one player critiquing another prompted so much soul-searching, counterattacks and new revelations of the failed 2012 season that was the 8-8 Steelers.

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Even general manager Kevin Colbert got into the act Thursday, both defending LaMarr Woodley after his worst NFL season and saying he was bothered by the fact that his accuser's comments were anonymous. Would the GM have preferred a player say the same thing and put his name behind it?
For the two or three of you who may have missed it, here is what the anonymous player told Ron Cook in his Sunday Post-Gazette column about Woodley's 2012 season:

"He was awful. He tells us he works out, but we didn't see it. He wasn't in shape. That has to be a reason why he was always hurt."

No player has countered the point made by Mr. Anonymous, just that it was said and said anonymously. The reaction has yielded two unintended consequences:

Sympathy for Woodley on the occasion of his poor season -- one, Colbert said, that even Woodley would acknowledge he had -- and revelations that the Steelers players were seemingly at war with each other during the 2012 season.

What did Ryan Clark call it? Oh, yes, a "fracture" of the previously close-knit Steelers locker room. Larry Foote believes whoever said it broke a code, and then he suggested the comment could have come from a coach -- maybe one of those who bailed out for jobs at lesser organizations, such as Duke, UTEP and the Arizona Cardinals?

But it was Antonio Brown, voted the team's MVP in 2011, who really opened the window into the disharmony that was apparently prevalent on the 2012 Steelers.

"Our team was a team last year where guys wasn't really together," Brown told ESPN Wednesday. "As we know in the NFL, you got to have a band of brothers. Everyone got to be together and it got to filter down from the leadership."

Brown even suggested that other teammates agreed with the anonymous comments.

"Then other guys supporting it ... It goes to show you that we wasn't a team in 2012. So some of the things we got to iron out and we're looking to get those things corrected."

That may not be so simple. The leadership drain that began a year ago will continue here shortly when the Steelers do not re-sign some long-standing veterans and release some others. Those kinds of moves, while perhaps necessary, will not improve the locker room kumbayah. It may make it only worse.

On ESPN's "SportsCenter," Brown said the Steelers were different in his third season than in his first two.

"Guys weren't really together," Brown said.

Perhaps the losses of Hines Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith, Chris Hoke, Bryant McFadden and special teams captain Arnaz Battle had something to do with that.

Brown said on "SportsCenter," via ProFootballTalk.com, that Troy Polamalu, among other veterans, told the team that selfish behavior would not be tolerated, yet it continued.

"That's when you know you've got issues and you've got to come together as a team," Brown said. "Because the reality of a team game is everyone on the same page, committed to the same thing, dedicated for one goal, and that's winning."

Some point to Brown and the Steelers Young Money wide receivers crew as the center of the problem. They were selfish in 2012, we've been told, and without Ward and a strong coaching hand, they were allowed to do their own thing, causing some "fractures."

Maybe not coincidentally, young wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery quit after the season to take an assistant's job at Duke.

The Steelers have lost four assistant coaches since the preseason -- one fired by Mike Tomlin in August and three others leaving, presumably, on their own.

Had the Steelers pulled out a few more of those three-point losses and made the playoffs, nobody would be talking about their "fractured" locker room, which probably did not occur until after they ran out to that 6-3 record through nine games.

A reminder that the NFL is a business

Soon, the Steelers will release more veterans and one of those could be Willie Colon. If so, it would show again the one-way street that is an NFL contract.

Colon turned down better money from the Chicago Bears to re-sign with the Steelers in 2011 for five years and $29 million. He's due $3.5 million in 2013 on a contract that still has three years left.

There has been no dialogue between the Steelers and Colon's agent, Joe Linta, to possibly reduce his salary. They would owe him nothing if they release him but a drop-in-the-bucket injury settlement if he does not pass a physical because of the left knee injury that put him on IR Dec. 18.

The contract theory doesn't make sense

LaMarr Woodley did not go from one of the best pass-rushing outside linebackers in the league to underperformer simply because he signed a big contract in 2011 worth $61.5 million over six years, as some suggest.

He signed that contract in August 2011, not long after the owners' lockout ended and training camps opened. He then went on to become one of the NFL's best pass rushers through the first half of the 2011 season with nine sacks through eight games. Hamstring injuries ruined the second half of that season and he did not have another sack.

Had he not been in shape entering the 2011 season, wouldn't the hamstring issue have developed earlier rather than at midseason?