Question's old, but are the Steelers?

If anyone can answer the camp question of the year it's Joe Greene, who saw first-hand the aging of a once-proud defense. Mean Joe and others talked to Mike Prisuta for his breakdown on Fourth & Goal.

The great irony in this Summer of Dick LeBeau is that the inspirational don't-succumb-to-age-prematurely sermon the Steelers' defensive coordinator has been preaching is that his words must resonate first and foremost with the defense LeBeau coordinates.

And even then it might still be too late. LeBeau is pushing 73 and he's thriving. But even LeBeau lasted only 14 NFL seasons as a player.

James Farrior is currently in the process of prepping for his 14th NFL campaign at St. Vincent College. He's doing so as one of seven "thirtysomethings" starting on the Steelers' defense, a group that includes Farrior (35), Aaron Smith (34), Casey Hampton (32), James Harrison (32), Brett KeiseI (31), Ike Taylor (30) and Ryan Clark (30). Some of those numbers will change as early as September.

Age, as LeBeau maintains, may be just a number. Still, that's a number of players who are aging. It's inevitable they'll all become too old eventually.

The Steelers are banking on core players such as these being ripe with veteran savvy as opposed to being past their expiration dates. But making such a call individually and collectively is indeed a tricky proposition.

It's also one the Steelers made incorrectly in 1980, when a team that included on its roster five Hall-of-Famers on offense and four more on defense went 9-7 and failed to make the playoffs.

"We got old," Joe Greene remembered. Greene doesn't yet see a similarity because "with this team here the (defensive) front is not as old as we were at the time," and because even in his time 30 was not necessarily the point of no return.

"When I hit 30 I heard ‘It's time for you to retire,' and ‘Your best days are behind you,'" Greene said.

"They may have been, but I played another five years and won, I think, another two Super Bowls after I was 30."

Defensive line coach/assistant head coach John Mitchell bristles when it's suggested too many primes might have been passed on a defense that was dominating as recently as 2008.

"What is age? Casey's been here 10 years and he's still one of the best in the league," Mitchell said. "I keep hearing this about age. Brett Keisel was on the special teams for four years before he played and he's only been a starter about (four) years.

"You guys keep bringing up age. I'm 58; I'm too old to coach?"

Not according to LeBeau, who likewise doesn't perceive any of his players -- "my guys" -- as too old to perform like the champions he knows them to be.

"I've heard that round a little bit," LeBeau said upon returning from Canton. "We're gonna let the season speak for us on that."

Added defensive backs coach Ray Horton: "We're going to be good. We think we're going to be one of the top one or two teams in the league (in defense). We're gonna be tough as always, (for) 60 minutes of football we're going to be pretty good."

Greene believes the players are the first to know, as opposed to the last, when they're no longer capable of being that.

"I knew," he said. "There were plays I couldn't get to that I could get to previously. There were blocks I couldn't defeat that I had defeated with ease earlier. There were lesser players winning one-on-one battles against me that I had no issues with in my youth.

"I knew that. And frustration was setting in with me because I wasn't getting the results I had grown accustomed to getting. It was time."

Prior to that time experience served Greene and the Team of the 1970s in a winning battle against the rest of the NFL and the calendar.

And if there's one thing just about everyone is in agreement upon regarding this year's Steelers, it's that they're experienced.

"They know what to do," Greene offered. "They don't have to be told."


Steel City Insider Top Stories