Cheating Again?

Jim Wexell vents about recurring themes before looking into the Steelers' crystal ball.

From the notebook of a sportswriter who's spending his Martin Luther King holiday at an indoor soccer festival in Connecticut as cars slide by on the frozen road below:

* But no one on this tundra, that I can tell, is a fan of the New England Patriots.

* I am closer to NYC than Boston, though.

* Here's what a friend of mine wrote (and he asks forgiveness from the "Frasier" TV show): "At Cornell University, they have an incredible piece of scientific equipment known as the Tunneling Electron Microscope. Now, this microscope is so powerful that by firing electrons you can actually see images of the atom, the infinitesimally minute building blocks of our universe. If I were using that microscope right now, I still wouldn't be able to locate my interest in a Seahawks- Patriots Super Bowl."

* It's my guess that Steelers fans are feeling the same way.

* And of course the Patriots are being investigated for cheating.

* Again.

* Bob Kravetz of the Indianapolis Star was putting the finishing touches on his Colts obit in the press box last night when he was told by an NFL source that they are investigating the Patriots for deflating the footballs in yesterday's playoff game. This would, of course, minimize the advantage the much younger and stronger Andrew Luck would have over the much older and weaker Tom Brady in the passing game.

* As the Patriots used a game plan heavy on that piece of garbage LeGarrette Blount.

* A little harsh this morning, aren't we?

* Well, uh, yeah.

* First of all, I grew weary of reading the mocking tones directed at the Steelers for dumping Blount and thus leaving the team in a precarious position behind Le'Veon Bell. One even asked, "What is all of that character in the locker room doing for you now, Pittsburgh?"

* I'm all for giving players chances and that's what Mike Tomlin did when he brought in Blount. But I wasn't real keen on Blount laughing it up after the 22-year-old Bell was arrested with Blount, and a blunt, on their way to a preseason game. Blount never -- and the pictures from said preseason game showed him mugging with Bell for the cameras -- showed any kind of remorse for his obvious influence.

* That scenario which I've painted, of course, lent itself to interpretation, but leaving the field during a game and then disobeying a coach and leaving the locker room to pout on the bus was just "flouting society's conventions," to quote Kramer lawyer Jackie Chiles.

* But it was simple: Blount had to go, empty backfield or no.

* It's one thing for the Patriots to pick him up, but that doesn't mean I have to like it, or that I have to buy the criticism that the Steelers made a mistake in dumping Blount for nothing.

* I watched closely and Blount never showed the skills he displayed last year in the playoffs against the Colts, and then again last night. I mean, the Colts have to truly be soft, right? Blount just isn't that good.

* We all saw those soft Colts up close anyway. How in the world did they make it as far as they did? That shows just how close the Steelers are to getting back to the big show.

* I'm still fighting the perception that the Steelers underachieved before righting the ship this year. You the reader have to call out these so-called "insiders" who reported that Tomlin had "lost the team" this past season just before it went on a run. You can't be a sucker for these guys who are writing exactly what the majority of the public wants to read, and then spinning into reverse when proven wrong.

* No, this team was rebuilt on the fly and the inconsistencies were totally understandable. That phase has ended and they now have a sound foundation for a real run next season. Spin that any way you want, but I happen to like the way this team is being run and coached.

* But that's ancient history. I came to blast The Cheatriots today.

* I'm sure I told you the story of Marc Edwards, the old Cheatriots fullback. I met him at one of our kids' soccer tournaments last year and asked him what he could tell me about Spygate. He said all he knows is that in the 2002 opener against the Steelers, late in the first half, someone in the huddle said, "We got their signs." And the Cheats proceeded to turn a 7-7 game into 30-7 before winning 30-14. Edwards, who left the Cheats at the end of that season, said that's the only time he had ever heard anything about stolen signs.

* Of course, the sketchy details -- since covered up -- began to emerge following the Steelers' loss to the Cheats in the 2004 AFC Championship Game.

* But, hey, nobody likes the Cryhawks, either.

* I still ask those who bring up the alleged poor officiating in Super Bowl XL to give me one signature bad call. And I'm still waiting for an answer.

* Back to local matters, Sports Illustrated reported that the Steelers will sign CFL pass-rusher Shawn Lemon, who had 13 sacks last season. I'm waiting until after the holiday to receive confirmation, but it would be more evidence that the Steelers are planning to be without James Harrison this season.

* And that's wholly predictable. They wanted Jarvis Jones to develop last year before an injury ruined the season. Why would this year be any different?

* Not that anyone expects Lemon to be the answer. He's only had one good season in the CFL, but it's certainly a sign of how the Steelers view their weaknesses.

* As I mentioned in "The Asskickers" draft column Saturday morning, it's a good year to believe that one of your weaknesses is outside linebacker.

* Those who've been reading this site the last several years know that just-promoted defensive coordinator Keith Butler is one of the more interesting coaches on the Steelers' staff. He's a terrific interview, and we hope that doesn't change with his new status. On the field, few expect much in the way of change, at least in scheme, alignment or direction. There will be a difference in play-calling and on-the-run adjustments, and we look forward to watching that unravel. We really don't need to know the specifics, and we certainly didn't need a press conference for Butler to lie about those specifics. It's what coaches have to do. But, yet, we have to suffer the "tough reporters" who ask the "tough questions" as their legions back home cheer on their "heroics."

* You know how I feel about those guys in the televised weekly Tomlin press conferences: Dogs and Ponies.

* The important pieces for Butler this coming season will be the development of the last two No. 1 picks, Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones. Butler told me last year that Shazier "reminds me a lot of Larry Foote in terms of football intelligence. He's a very sharp guy." That's a good reminder, because we all know what kind of physical skills Shazier possesses. He certainly showed them off late this past season. It's the mental acuity that has us worried.

* But the development of Jones is more important for this team.

* Again, Jones is a laid-back guy, very unlike the killers who've come off the blind side for this team since Greg Lloyd broke in back in the late 1980s. Jarvis is a very likeable guy, a guy with whom you would want to sit down and have a beer or six. I can't honestly say I would've felt comfortable doing that with Harrison when he was the same age.

* Of course, that kind of mental edginess is fitting in a pass-rusher.

* Develop Jones, add another cornerback, find that replacement for Blount, and hope the Cheatriots stop cheating. Those seem to be the main points for me as the Steelers emerge from their transition stage and turn the corner into legitimate contender.

* So enjoy your holiday, and as I always remind readers at this time of the year: Don't watch the Super Bowl hype. Life is too short.


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