Just My Opinion

It's been a busy week of news about the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jim Wexell dives into each morsel in his weekend notes column:

From the notebook of a sportswriter who does his best in the off-season to ignore comments by players about their teammates that are so often blown up by the rest of the media:

* Like Ryan Clark's recent comments. He said the other day that "I know guys on my team who smoke (pot)." He added that "A lot of it is stress relief. A lot of it is pain and medication. Guys feel like, 'If I can do this, it keeps me away from maybe Vicodin, it keeps me away from pain prescription drugs and things that guys get addicted to.'"

* My first reaction was that nobody would care except the same crowd of TMZ-style media guys who spent months last year dissecting Antonio Brown's comments about the locker room and those of the anonymous source who ripped into LaMarr Woodley. I didn't care about those then, and I didn't want to care about Clark's comments now. I mean, who's surprised or even appalled by anyone smoking weed anymore.

* But, again, this is Clark, the guy who has a habit of going off with the simplest provocation. Not that I mind it. I didn't even mind that he ripped me while talking to a mob of reporters one day in the locker room. I believe this was back in 2009. He went on a rant about how he couldn't find my name in the NFL book of free safeties, or something like that. And then out on the practice field he was shouting my name during plays as if he had lost his mind. Whatever. I didn't react or respond, and Clark, I think, appreciated that. "You're just trying to be honest," he told to me the next year. "I respect that." We respected each other. He has such an insightful mind, and I thought this was fairly insightful as well in this age of Oxycontin turning young athletes into heroin junkies.

* The timing, though, was all wrong for Clark, who's a free agent and who's probably believing the local media stories that he's done in Pittsburgh.

* I wasn't sure that he was really done -- until now. These remarks, which I believe to be tame, were a reminder that this guy will say anything, that he's halfway into his professional transition from player to media, and that next year this unholy link could prove disastrous if Clark takes his insights a step -- even a half-step -- further.

* No, even though Troy Polamalu and Shamarko Thomas are both strong safeties, and there isn't a true free safety in the pipeline, and Clark could probably be had at a relatively cheap price, his contract is up and, I believe, so is his time in Pittsburgh.

* The reaction on the message boards was to not only condemn Clark, but to guess the identities of the Pittsburgh Potsmokers. Most went to Maurkice Pouncey because his twin brother's name came up in that regard during the week's Richie Cognito text revelations down in Miami. The feelings among many fans are that Maurkice's contract should not be extended this off-season because of the flimsy pot connection, and his injuries, and the fact that Pro Football Focus consistently grades him so poorly. Oh, and Fernando Velasco played very well in Pouncey's absence last season.

* So I took to Twitter to head that off at the pass. I wrote that Pouncey is being despised for no good reason and that I would extend him without hesitation.

* And now I'm despised for no good reason.

* But, in my opinion, Pouncey is an aggressive offensive lineman with tremendous leadership skills. Don't look for the latter from David DeCastro, or of course any of the low-key tackles. Pouncey is THE leader. And he brings an aggressiveness to games that can be infectious. Even if the Pittsburgh media's favorite source for line play, Pro Football Focus, doesn't appreciate the way Pouncey leads the group during the practice week, during game-day warm-ups, and in the way he finishes blocks with extreme prejudice, I do.

* To that, I was told by one responder that I need to find Ryan Clark's teammates, smoke some pot, and chill out.

* Oh well. But I would just hate to see Pouncey become the next despised Steeler. It seems the Internet is bringing that kind of vitriol a lot closer to us these days than it had in the past.

* Maybe in the past such feelings existed among the most critical fans, but those opinions were so much easier to avoid back then.

* In good news from the week, a spectacularly fit Ben Roethlisberger was spotted working out in California with two young receivers -- Markus Wheaton and Derek Moye.

* It's exciting that Roethlisberger has taken Wheaton, in particular, under his wing to such a degree. A quiet rookie who lockered next to the quarterback this past season, Wheaton drew raves last summer from the great Tim Brown. And I suspect we're going to see a gargantuan jump from Wheaton throughout this year.

* Not to slight Moye -- and maybe I am -- but the excitement level would've been raised exponentially if Roethlisberger was taking Wheaton and someone like Kelvin Benjamin west for intensive workouts. Benjamin is the 6-5, 235-pounder whom I swear jumped into the air before Jameis Winston threw him that game-winning touchdown pass in the national title game last month.

* My favorite player to watch all last college football season, Benjamin is being picked apart by the experts for a number of solid reasons. But my solid reason for drafting him is that Roethlisberger would turn him into a superstar.

* Ben's wanted a big wide receiver since the end of his rookie season, when Plaxico Burress left the team. If Ben's driven enough to work this way with Moye, a practice-squadder, think how he would treat someone like Benjamin, a guy all the experts are saying can't do it.

* Ben gets chips on shoulders.

* Speaking of the draft, Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and the well-respected Doug Farrar all had the Steelers selecting nose tackle Louis Nix in their mock drafts this week. My "reading the tea leaves" column in Steelers Digest, about Art Rooney II's desire to improve the run defense, must've just hit the shelves.

* Not that I promulgated the drafting of Nix in that magazine column. I just tried to parse Rooney's comments. Right now I'm backing CB Darqueze Dennard, and of course Benjamin, among others, but if Nix checks out medically, and his coaches and ex-teammates speak enthusiastically about his dedication, I wouldn't have a problem with taking a nose tackle in the first round.

* I know, others do. But a big man in the middle tends to make everything around him work that much better. And Nix did show beastly tendencies when healthy.

* Draft the beasts, regardless of position. That's become my 2014 mantra.

* Of course, the biggest news this past week is that the Steelers have started turning out some propaganda to host a Super Bowl. Hey, great, but if you ask me the league got extremely lucky with the weather in New Jersey last Sunday. I don't think I would try that again.

Steel City Insider Top Stories