Offense Taking the Necessary Steps

Mike Prisuta writes that while this year's goal-line drill was dull by traditional standards, none other than Troy Polamalu understands its significance.

LATROBE – As goal line drills go, the first one of 2012 was less spectacular but no less significant than its recent predecessors.

It's what the Steelers do at this time of the year every year, and that's what mattered most about Saturday's event to Troy Polamalu.

"You're really familiar with the culture here as far as the goal-line drill and how much that means to this team," Polamalu reminded me on Sunday, after the Steelers had survived a bus ride and a power outage on the way to completing a practice on the South Side.

It's important that they do it, that they gear up for it and that they attack it with gusto and with a competitiveness we won't see again until September.

The usual fallout involves good-natured smack talk between the offense and defense, delivered either across the field or in the media, regarding which unit happened to prevail. Usually, both sides claim superiority and discredit the scoreboard if necessary because of a perceived controversy.

There was none of that this time.

On Sunday morning at St. Vincent College, even quarterback Charlie Batch and running backs coach Kirby Wilson were quick to admit the defense had handed it to the offense, not just in "goal line" but in a "third-and-1" exercise that had been conducted two practice periods earlier.

Polamalu, conversely, expressed understanding for what the offense has been going through and what it was being asked to overcome in such situations.

"We played well," he said of a mix-and-match defense that opened "goal line" with starters Brett Keisel, Steve McLendon, Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote participating, but otherwise featured plenty of less recognizable names and numbers.

"But first day of contact, it's tough for the offense to get used to that finishing mentality, too. I think probably it's much easier for the defense to get that. I'm sure if we were to do it again it would be a little more competitive.

"It's really tough. You have a new offense, a new blocking scheme. I think it's tougher for the offense to get that finisher's touch than it would be for the defense. It's easier for us to say ‘we're taking them to the ground now.' But for them to finish may be a little tougher."

In expressing such unprecedented sentiments, Polamalu touched once again on an underlying yet obvious theme of training camp 2012:

The offense has to get it together.

No one will come out and say that specifically, but then again, no one really has to, at least no one that's been paying attention.

Since last season ended the team president has told the quarterback that a tweak in his game is necessary, a new offensive coordinator has been summoned to further alter the way things are done, and offensive linemen considered at the very least to be starter-capable have been drafted on the first and second rounds.

Issues for the defense compared with all of that are relatively minor. James Farrior must be replaced, a new starter at cornerback opposite Ike Taylor must be identified and more turnovers generated would certainly be a plus.

But the defense is still the defense. And it will be an even better defense if the offense can become more proficient at running and/or possessing the ball and finishing in the red zone.

Polamalu has danced around those subjects at St. Vincent, doing his best to remain politically correct in response to what he considers to be potentially "controversial" questions. He has no desire to rip the offense or dictate policy on that side of the ball.

But if the Steelers truly are the band of brothers Ben Roethlisberger has often referenced them as being, and there's no reason to suspect they are anything but that, the offense is the little brother in that equation. And little brother has to grow up this summer.

Even with a couple of play-action passes mixed in, "goal line" was another step toward that end.


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