I realize there are still three games to play, but I feel the need to get the competitive jump on the off-season. So, sadly, we let the off-season begin today:
SteelTherapy: Do you think the time has arrived for Keith Butler to take over the defense? I love Dick LeBeau and I don't think it's his fault, but I'm starting to think that with the old-to-young transition that is already started, and will continue this off-season, it might be the right time for a new voice, as well as the new ideas that he's bound to bring with him.
I wish I had a recording of Tom Bradley, the former Penn State defensive coordinator, answering a caller who was ripping on Dick LeBeau following the game Sunday. Bradley went on to say that college coaches still consider LeBeau the No. 1 defensive mind in the NFL, that they flock to him, and that they have to get lucky to meet with him. Bradley went on and on about LeBeau's still-fertile mind.
I think he's still quite capable. I see ways he's had to evolve with the three and four safeties. I like that. He's far from the cover-3, big-cushion guy from a different era that so many want to paint him as. As for the defense, it's still a middle- of-the-pack defense that's not only dealing with two rookie starters but has lost true superstars through the past few years. Superstars are real, not to be replaced quickly. That's what makes them superstars.
That said, it's possible LeBeau could retire and give way to his highly regarded protege, Keith Butler. I don't think he will, but he may not be up for another transition year, as you so capably pointed out.
WISteeler: How badly does this team miss Casey Hampton?
It's an amalgamation of not only skills but characters that make a great unit and team. Casey was right in the thick of both.
I don't want this to sound like a condemnation of his replacement, because Steve McLendon is an exciting prospect in his own right, but he's more of a 4-3 DT, not the true NT Casey was. So the transition is bound to take a bit of time, let alone health.
I watched Louis Nix's return from knee injury in the Notre Dame-Pitt game, and was transported back to the day when the Steelers had that kind of hoss in the middle of their line. Nix reminded me what the Steelers are missing, regardless of the dwindling snaps nose tackles are taking these days. But then Nix took a shot in the knee, limped off, limped back on, and struggled through the remainder of the game. Casey was truly a rarity in that he took that kind of abuse and was something of an Iron Man at that position. He's another whose like we won't see for a long time.
Lawyerp: On Mike Tomlin, preparation (as evidenced by multiple instances of the team going down 10+ points to start games this season, often to inferior opponents), in-game adjustments, clock management, do not seem to be his strong points. I actually didn't mind his decision to go for it on 4th and 10 the other day, nor did I think that he deserved what he got on the sideline thing (that grin didn't do him any favors though), but I'm not seeing much "above the line" with him. I would like an honest discussion of what he brings to the team.
I really don't know if "a discussion" will take place in what will certainly be a more brief response than what the people who've grown to despise Tomlin want.
First of all, I disagree with anyone being called an inferior opponent against a team in decline from another era. As for in-game adjustments and poor clock management, I've yet to have anyone point out specifics to me. Last week, he paid the price of a whole 8 seconds to save a timeout until after the two-minute warning, and was excoriated on talk radio for it. Is this where that comes from? Talk radio? I keep asking for examples and everyone acts like I'm nuts.
Hey, we all know that's true, but seriously, give me an example of poor clock management, and not any of this first-half b.s. when YOU think it's right to attempt miracles instead of heading for the locker room.
When I see poor coaching, I know it. I haven't seen it from Tomlin. And, really, I don't think any of us knows enough about the innerworkings of this team to comment on coaching preparation or even coaching ability. I love his leadership. I love his won-loss record. I love his Super Bowl win and loss. I think it's absolutely moronic to say a person who molded a team into a champion only did so because of a previous coach. Anyone who says that has never coached before and is probably 5-foot-3 and whose idea of a great time is a lunch date with a sportswriter.
I like the way Tomlin has the inner strength to delegate authority, and it's now spreading to the QB, who's one of a handful calling his own plays. Who doesn't like what's happening there? So I like the direction of his offense. I like the way the offense has evolved, and I like the way Tomlin's team recovered from the LT blowing up and the health of the line going pfft on the very first series of the season. I like the way the defense is evolving with more safety deployment.
I think he's far more intelligent than the last coach here. I like the way he's handled the many mini-dramas that have gone on around here. I think he's a capable steward of getting this team through this inevitable decline and back to being a winning team.
I think fans are for the most part bandwaggoners who feel the need to direct any anger from losing at someone else, as opposed to seeing the big picture that true fans do. Nor do I buy these cliches, like lack of preparation, lack of discipline. You're going to have to show me that, because this team is well below the league average for penalties, has improved their special teams, has tippy-toed its way around a commissioner hell-bent on making an example of them. And, really, getting off to slow starts in some games is not enough to indicate poor preparation. Look at the starts against Baltimore and Miami. In the first, the run game didn't work and fans ripped the so-called lack of urgency. In the second, the run game worked and fans ripped the lack of run game the rest of the way. Which do you want?
This is just not that talented of a team, but a team that I feel has direction and a vision. It's a franchise that went to 3 Super Bowls in 6 years and the inevitable decline bothers people. But if greatness is so easily attained, why would we appreciate it so much when we do see it?
I can't point the finger at that guy, but if you must be angry, or get on "the right side" like the media just so you're popular and "winning," I can't stop you. Or you can just hate the media. That's often useful for all of us.
SteelMagnolias: Do you like the idea of having the draft in May? Is there a Rod Woodson type of DB in this draft and if so, would he be in the range of the Steelers selection? And please tell me you don't see another SB run in the Ravens 2013 season. It's been a long year for me.
The Ravens' decline won't begin in earnest until a few years down the road after they've re-signed some of their top players, and a percentage of those players are either injured or can't duplicate what got them the money in the first place. That, coupled with the growing chunk of cap space taken up by their franchise QB and the front office's well- intentioned need to fill the holes of a championship contender with a shrinking window, as opposed to drafting pure beasts regardless of position, will do them in soon enough.
As for your other questions, I dislike the draft being moved back. It should be moved up. Even in April, the last few weeks of discussing prospects produces more psychoses than a conversation with me about Mike Tomlin's coaching ability.
No, there is not a Rod Woodson. A team that considers itself a true contender would draft a DB first, but since there's no "beast" at the position I'm hoping this team looks at some of those freakish WRs. If not that, perhaps a left tackle, although I'm not really sold on that priority.
bjrieken: With Ryan Clark's contract up and Troy's high salary cap hit what are the chances both are not brought back next year? Would the Steelers be willing to go without proven vets at both safety positions?
They'll be replaced when there's someone to replace them. Is Robert Golden ready? Wow, I haven't seen much of an indication, but then again I'm not on the coaching staff and I don't have any true knowledge. Do you trust Shamarko Thomas? I have a hunch he's smart and is picking up the basic paperwork, but do you think he'll prove durable enough? That's a rugged position. Look what it did to Troy. Look what it did to Bob Sanders. The staff will have to assess levels of those four players.
I have a feeling the front office will make the decision for the coaches on Ryan Clark. Since his contract's up, I fear this will be his last season, but really he's better than anyone else they have. And for a guy who has put his body, even his life, on the line for so many years for this city, I'm embarrassed at all of the online hatred of him. I just don't get it sometimes. As for Troy, I hope he will stay, but I also sense the fan base growing displeased with him.
Ugly people cheering for an ugly team was how they used to describe Pittsburgh in the 50s and 60s. I hope and pray that term never becomes popular again.
Wex: I'm just here to remind you to tell that story you heard during your last soccer trip.
Oh, Wex, thanks for reminding me. I was in the hotel lobby last weekend talking to other soccer dads after a long day at the Rocky Mount, N.C. complex. Someone told me there was a former NFL player in the group I was with. I introduced myself and asked him where he played. He said he was a (offensive player) for the New England Patriots, among other teams, and that he played against the Steelers in 2001 and 2002. I asked him about Spygate and he said that came along a little later, that he never knew anything about filming signs, but that he had a story for me about the 2002 opener at New England.
He recalled correctly that it was a close game in the first half, but that late in the half word came to the offensive unit that the team had deciphered the Steelers' defensive signs. This player relayed how the Patriots used that information, how it was right on the money every time, and how they drove for a go-ahead field goal at the end of the half. He said at halftime the locker room was abuzz, and in the second half they used the information to score on four of the first five possessions to win easily, 30-14.
The player said the Patriots didn't do anything like that again the rest of the year, but I asked him if that was the impetus to begin filming signs in subsequent years. All he could say was "It's possible. Your guess is as good as mine."
I'll be back Saturday with Round III.