LATROBE -- Whether it was a media mantra, or something more personal to the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense, chips-on-shoulders was a trendy topic as players reported for training camp yesterday in Latrobe.
Of course, such things were on media minds. Eyes just stopped rolling after last season’s defensive debacle. The defense carried the weight of plenty of lows last season. It ranked 18th in total defense in the NFL, its worst since 1999. It had the worst average yards per carry allowed in half a century, and the fewest sacks on the books in 26 years.
With stats like that, and a large returning roster, many of these guys have some explaining to do. And while Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor and of course Dick LeBeau might not be there to speak, this defense is going to have answer for last year’s failures.
To that end, guys on D freely admitted that, yes, they might be running a little light along their shoulder blades. But Shamarko Thomas spoke volumes without uttering a word via his wardrobe choice for the day: a simple white t-shirt emblazoned with “Prove Them Wrong” in large black letters.
And reading between the lines, that may be the more important battle cry, based on statements from the defensive rank and file.
Arthur Moats knows there are miles to cross in terms of rebounding from last season’s generally lackluster performance. According to Moats, there is no room for repeating history.
“That goes with the history of this organization and the success we’ve had defensively. Last year was definitely nowhere near that type of success. If you are satisfied with last year, you don’t need to be here anyway,” Moats said.
But ask Steve McLendon, and he’ll make it less about chips-on-shoulders and disproving assumptions, and, instead, tell you that playing with a chip on shoulders is simply how the Steeler defense operates.
“That’s just who we are. That’s just the kind of guys we have on our D Line. Everyone wants to be great; wants to get better each week, each day. We’re just going to have that chip on our shoulder, regardless,” he said.
Notice the number of times ‘we’ or ‘we’re’ came up in the previous sentence, and look across each player’s statements and you’ll see the second most popular term tossed around almost universally among defensive players addressing the media: camaraderie. Ask any of the defense which aspect of camp brought them the most excitement. Hands down, camaraderie was the answer. It reveals a true commitment to standing together and raising the bar on themselves and each other.
Cameron Heyward spoke softly but confidently from the middle of the reporters’ herd as he described the general feeling among that ever-symbolic ‘we’ each player seemed intent on communicating:
“We can be honest and open about every situation. And at the end of the day, we want what is best for the group,” Heyward said.
If the 2015-16 season remains an unwritten book, then training camp represents little more than a preface. But the character of the defensive unit is universally intent on making last year’s story a nothing more than a forgotten chapter.