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With the retirement of Casey Hampton and the release of Max Starks and James Harrison the Steelers have erased virtually all ties to Bill Cowher’s Super Bowl Steelers. The remaining, Polamalu, Foote, Clark, Kiesel and Taylor are conveniences of contract, and Big Ben of course is Untouchable.
A long time flaw in the Steelers personnel philosophy has been an insistence rebuilding the team by finding replacements for former players rather than improvements. The big problem is now they are rebuilding an 8 and 8 team, with inferior replacements to boot. Emmanuel Sanders is hardly a replacement for Hines Ward, the craftiest WR to ever play the game. Antonio Brown is no Mike Wallace. Neither DE Cameron Heyward or Ziggy Hood have emerged to be the true successor of Aaron Smith. NT Steve McClendon? Sorry, no Casey Hampton. And then the stupidest of stupid moves they force out LB James Harrison, one of the fiercest and most feared players in the game, for an unproven rookie, Jarvis Jones. All the above players with the exception of Wallace, are future Hall of Famers. All of them with the exception of the mercenary Wallace were forced out.
Add to that the failure to even make an offer to CB Keenan Lewis, the injury to CB Cortez Allen and ILB Larry Foote and we are in a bad way. Jason Worilds is not panning out. And they bring back CB William Gay? I mean the more I think about this the less it makes sense. They force out Hines Ward and bring back Plaxico (Which end do the bullets come out?) Burress and the non-entity Jericho Cotchery? They systemically resist upgrading the team through Free Agency as the rest of league does. The moves they’ve been making are becoming increasingly unstable and now the Steelers find themselves in free fall.
Who will save them? … anybody? … Adamly … Adamowski? … Buehler?
If anybody knows the answer to this I wish they would tell me. The 8 and 8 season I envisioned seems foolhardy now. I’m guessing 5 and 11 or worse. If that happens you what comes next. That’s right ! It’s the Blame Game!
The Blame Game
The early front runner is Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley. Well he’s a good candidate. Abrasive and bad people skills. I mean what OC comes to a team and doesn’t meet with star QB? He has tried to install a run first offense that doesn’t seem to fit with the current Steelers personnel. But would a pass first work better? I don’t see that either unless one or more of these guys really emerge. To his credit he has put an emphasis on improving our Offense Line. And he is letting Ben call his on plays in the no-huddle. Which leads us to:
The Offensive Line.
This has long been a sore spot with me and I have been thrilled with the recent draft picks. We have the most talent since the Russ Grim days. Problem is they’re young. They move very well and seem to be jelling in the run game. The passing game is a different story. Mike Adams LT may develop into a good LT but, right now he seems out of his depths. He’s good when he latches on to his man but gets beat by stunts and rarely gets an arm on the second rusher. Veteran LG Ramon Foster seems comfortable and is not often beat. But he doesn’t seem able to help Adams at all. All Pro C Maurkice Pouncey is out for the season. Fernando Velasco seemed a decent replacement against the Bengals, so we’ll see.
Last year’s #1 pick RG David DeCastro seems rock solid and should move to LG if not this season, then the next. Now the really bad. RT Marcus Gilbert is a disaster. He is constantly getting called for penalties and getting beat. He should not be starting and I believe his role should be as a back-up only. Since we didn’t add anybody except for the awesomeness of Guy Whimper and kicked Max Starks (Oops, almost forgot about Max) off the team, we are stuck with him. TE David Paulson who is looking good as a receiver, is not up to Heath Miller’s standards in blocking. Well, we can’t fire them, so the only thing we can hope is that they will jell before we lose Big Ben.
Wait, what? How’d he get in here? Forget about it. It never happened. Moving on.
Yes, some blame belongs here. Who comes and goes is sometimes out of his hands but, Bill Cowher obviously stood up for former Steeler LB Joey Porter whose mouth never fit the Steelers mold. Who knows if Tomlin’s gone to bat
for anybody. He inherited Bill Cowher’s team that always had a great OC no matter who was occupying the office. That was due to Bill Cowher’s Mississippi Riverboat Gambler approach to offense. He inherited the best DC in the league in Dick LeBeau. Tomlin’s dismantled most of that team and who knows when LeBeau might retire. So now it’s his team. Are we better off now? I think not.
The Steelers Way
Now, I think this may be our culprit. To the front office’s credit they never draft players with character issues and they always deal quickly if any arise. On the other hand they’ve let about fifty or so Pro Bowl players go in the forty years I’ve been a follower. I mean they were sure Rod Woodson had nothing left in the tank. He played another 7 seasons. They let Alan Faneca go only to Franchise Max Starks a far less skilled player and pay the same amount Faneca was asking for. James Harrison was asking for 5 million. They were only willing to pay 3 million. What Harrison was asking was a very fair price for a median LB. Harrison is considerably more than just median. The one that really sticks me is Hines Ward, who deserved much better than he got.
They insist on building only through the draft and they have had a hit and miss record on that account. They are virtually non-existent in free agency while AFC rivals like New England, Baltimore and Cincinnati are always on the looking to improve their rosters through free agency with starters and key contributors. I mean, tell me if you think Ben wouldn’t have loved to have had the twice available Anquan Boldin as a target.
So that’s the bad.
The good is everybody that becomes part of the team knows this. The Steelers don’t change their philosophy. This creates stability. This is why in the same time span the Cowboys, Raiders and several other have gone through umpty-ump Head Coaches while the Steelers are on they’re 3rd. They don’t feel the need to change because the philosophy has been very successful. The stability and integrity is why we in the Steeler Nation love the team so much.
The problem is the entire league is changing and if the Steelers can’t find a way to bridge the old with new, they are going to become an artifact of a forgotten time. Like when Baseball was innocent and the nation’s pastime. So the most we can do is support them, strap ourselves in and hope for the best. So in my mind this leads us to next year:
The Early 2014 Draft.
Steelers need help and need to break out of their pattern of drafting any Shinny Object LB they can lay their hands on, tiny fast 3rd rd receivers and 5th Rd. secondary guys. It’s a pretty weak draft with the Seniors so look for a bunch of underclassmen to declare. I’m guessing the Steelers will be drafting lower than usual. Here goes:
1st Jason Matthews LT – A true franchise Left Tackle. The horrid Marcus (What should I do? Get ran over, blow an assignment, not pick up a blitz, or get a penalty?) Gilbert has to go. With this one move the Steelers get a set and forget LT and allow Mike Adams to move to RT, where he’ll get help from the TE. So this is two for one.
2nd Rd Jason Verett CB TCU or Aaron Colvin CB OK – Good man to man CBs. Hard hitters with good hands. Could get pushed to the second round if a few Juniors declare. Good in zone coverage as well.
3rd Rd Jordan Matthews WR Van. or Devin Street WR Pit – Matthews is cousin to Jerry Rice. A big target at 6′-3″ with great hands. Uses his body often to get himself open. Catches across the middle. Uses long-stride speed to get deep after a juke move. Devin Street is the same… without the Jerry Rice part.
4th Rd Terrance Brooks FS Fla St. – Hard hitting center fielder with soft hands to groom for the post Ryan Clark era. Understands position well. Great vision and closing speed.
5th Rd Damien Williams RB OK – Quick, tackle slipping and patient. Shows some power as well. Good receiver out of the backfield.
6th Rd Trey Burton HB-TE-WR-QB-Slash Fla St. – A versatile Gator. At long last my Slash! I have always thought that Burton would make a great Steeler. (No relation, cool last name, though.)
7th Rd Chris Boswell K, Rice – Tall, accurate, strong legged kicker. 23-29 FG with 6 of 8 for 50+ yds. Yes, you should draft your Kicker and yes, I still don’t trust Shawn Suisham, even though he keeps beating competition to keep the job.
I’ll have more on NFL Free Agents that would help, that the Steelers will never go in the next post. In the mean time, the Chicago Bears should give us a good idea of where we stand so let’s hope for the best.