Riding Storm Out

Ben Roethlisberger has been ruled out of Sunday's game in Baltimore and all appears ruined for the Steelers. But Jim Wexell isn't listening. He's ridiculously optimistic.

If I didn't hear you on the radio, see you on TV, or read you on the Internet this week, don't take offense.

I didn't hear, see or read anyone.

I shut it down.

It never fails. I get this deep into a season and there's bound to come a period of time when it just all gets a little too crazy.

This is that time.

A loss to the Browns? On the heels of a home loss to the Ravens? Are you kidding me? This is primetime for the crazies.

Fire Mike Tomlin! Hang Todd Haley! The media hates Ben! Bring on the draft!

I can't take it.

Particularly this week. And probably the next week.

If the Steelers lose to the Ravens again, I will shut it down again, I promise, because I just don't agree with any of it.

Whatever you've got, I'm against.

There. That felt good. Chuck Noll used to tell his players, "Don't let anyone pea in your pool." In other words, don't let other people get inside your head. And the only reason this applies to me, sportswriter, is because I think this Steelers team can still win the Super Bowl. In fact, I'm looking hard at those 33-1 odds.

So why sit around listening to people whine about the coaching, the attitude, the discipline, on and on and on when injuries have crippled the team?

It's all about injuries. Nothing else. And those injuries are healing.

So it seems. I realize that Troy Polamalu looks about as bad running as he did last spring. And I understand that Ben Roethlisberger still can't throw. And I understand that Antonio Brown still can't cut sharply.

But I believe it will all come around. Call me a cockeyed optimist, but the quarterback, the primary offensive and defensive playmakers, the right tackle, the left guard, and the left outside linebacker are still looming on the horizon. Even James Harrison is starting to rush the passer the way he did a few years ago.

So until these players return to take advantage of the wide open wildcard spot that seems to have S-T-E-E-L-E-R-S written on it, I'm not listening to the garbage. I'm just putting my hands over my ears and shouting "La la la la la" because I don't want to hear anything.

Except for what I want to hear.

And what I heard was Bert Reed.

Yeah, Bert who?

Bert Reed is the new wide receiver on the practice squad. I heard one of the players joke that the Steelers had to pick up a little guy so they could just give him David Gilreath's old No. 18 jersey.

Reed replaced Gilreath, donned his 18, and then donned a pinny with No. 81 on it, because he played Anquan Boldin in practice this week.

I was standing on the sideline when I heard Reed chattering with the first-team defensive backs. Yeah. He was running routes for the scout team, as Boldin, and he was out there talking smack.

"Who is this bold rookie?" I thought to myself.

And then Bert Reed caught a touchdown pass. And he chattered some more. And the DBs chattered back. And then Bert Reed caught another touchdown pass. And then the horn blew and practice ended on that note.

No, wait; it ended on this note: Tomlin called the team together for his post-practice message and started by introducing Bert Reed. A round of applause followed.

"He introduces all the new guys," said running back Isaac Redman. "But he usually does it in the morning meeting. This is the first time he's done it on the field."

And it wasn't because Bert Reed is that good. He's a little guy, bounced around three different practice squads the last few months. But he made his presence known that day, that practice.

I found him in the middle of the far corner of lockers, over with Redman and Larry Foote. I told him that he wasn't timid, that he acted like he belonged, and that he had some nerve for a rookie.

"Yes, sir," he said with a big, wide smile.

I told Bert Reed that he doesn't come off like any other late-season, rookie addition to any practice squad I had ever seen.

"No, man," he said. And he thought for a couple of seconds before explaining himself.

"It's the vibe here," he said. "I really like the vibe. I really like a lot of veteran guys. They know their role. So I'm just coming in here to have some fun."

Reed has spent time with Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Denver since coming out of Florida State last spring. But in only a couple of days he could discern that this was a winning locker room?

"Yes sir," he said. "I feel I really like the players here."

Bert Reed was certainly a breath of fresh air, but if you listen closely to the rest of the players you understand Reed's positive impression. There's no whining from Mike Wallace about his so-called half-demotion. There's no whining from the running backs about being yanked after fumbling in Cleveland. There's no looking over in the corner at Brian Hoyer as a last, desperate hope at quarterback.

Those are media problems, and they seem almost made up. That's the real circus, not the injury problems the team is enduring.

The Steelers are going to bounce back down the stretch. I can feel it in my bones. I can even hear it. But then again, I'm only listening to what I want to hear.

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