2009 Pittsburgh Steelers: Where Are The Standards For The Veterans?
Standards are good. They define our goals and prove to us that we have excelled or conversely fallen short.
Coach Mike Tomlin has made it clear over the last week that he has set rigid standards for his new players and, as a result, he has separated the men from the boys.
Rookie receiver Mike Wallace has clearly taken to heart the fact that he has an opportunity to play for a great football team. He has delivered with poise and grace by catching and securing nearly every pass that has been thrown his way.
At the other end of the spectrum, Limas Sweed has dropped the ball and will not be given further opportunity to play barring a rash of injuries to the receiving corps.
The standards are high for the young guys trying to secure a spot on the Steelers roster. Why then are standards so lax for the veterans, when they are the ones who are supposed to be leading the youth?
Watching Brett Favre go in and win the game for the Vikings in the final seconds on Sunday, I do understand that certain veterans can step in with limited preparation and lead.
The Super Bowl champion Steelers however, are playing like they have no real goals for the 2009 season.
After hearing portions of coach Tomlin's press conference that was held yesterday, a couple of comments that he made stood out to me.
When discussing his decision to relegate Rashard Mendenhall to limited play on special teams because he slacked in his preparation, he mentioned that, "It's a little different when a veteran football player potentially makes mistakes in preparation for a game. If Hines Ward misses an assignment on a Thursday, you kind of 'hmm' and you move on."
His attitude stands in sharp contrast to that of former Steelers coach Chuck Noll, who was able to achieve back-to-back Super Bowl victories on two separate occasions.
I read an account of a time when Noll cut a player who had been voted Steelers MVP by his team the previous year.
The player in question ignored a team curfew, feeling that he had earned the right for a little special consideration. Coach Noll promptly cut the player, sending a message to the rest of his team that his standard stood for the whole team, proven veterans and green rookies alike.
With the 2006 season beginning to loom ominously in the rear view mirror, there is still time to look back not only at what has been muffed, but at what has been accomplished.
Just a short 10 months ago, we were all feeling the pain of the Steelers loss to the Colts in Heinz Field last November.
That game featured a classic example of the Steelers giving away a game that they had won in the first half. At the end of the game, however, coach Tomlin gave a bit of an ultimatum to our quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.
He told the injured star that the team rules applied even to him and that if he was unable to practice in the upcoming week, he would also be unable to play.
At the time, Tomlin's tact and professionalism in handling that matter with a minimum of drama impressed me.
The following week against the tough San Diego Chargers, our team prevailed despite colossal issues, like our inability to score a single touchdown inside of the red zone.
I don't have to remind anyone of what a difference that Troy Polamalu made in that game. His absence since the first quarter of week one has been enormous.
I am now beginning to wonder if the Steelers miss more than just his ability because it appears now that the other veterans are also missing playing alongside a guy who places high standards upon himself.
Polamalu is a special player with a talent that cannot be defined by numbers, but Troy looks to no one but himself to set his goals.
I feel that Troy's goals were clear as he played his heart out at the start of the season opener.
At the end of the game, who would have thought that rookie Mike Wallace would be the one to put us in position to win the game after Hines Ward had almost put us in position to lose.
I have a lot of respect for coach Tomlin and I haven't missed the fact that I am a karaoke journalist and he is the reigning Super Bowl champion, not to mention coach of the year.
But I do have this in common with Tomlin—I like to look to history when I am figuring out how to navigate the future.
Numerous accounts retold by our celebrated Steelers of the 1970's spoke of how these hall of fame veteran players had to elevate their game just to stay in the running, never mind pull ahead.
Starting 1-2 in 2009 reminds us nothing of those Steelers, it echoes the record that the Steelers notched up in 2006.
There is still time to work to prevent the loss to the Chargers which dug them into a 1-3 hole just like in '06.
The 2006 season was littered with games that either slipped away, or that were given away though picks, fumbles, and mistakes.
In order to prevent groundhog season from occurring in '09, we have to get to work.
The standards need to be solid and they need to be sky high in order to stop us from suffering two humiliating losses to the Ravens, the second of which occurred in a Christmas game at Heinz Field, and officially kissed the season goodbye.
They need to be solid so that we do not lose games that we could only imagine winning, like the mortifying '06 loss to Oakland.
We have time but not much time. Christmas is coming and so are the Ravens.
Our veterans are the key.
If they play the way that players who have high expectations upon them play, we will thank our seasoned squad as we turn the corner into January.
If they fall short and play half-hearted football for the balance of the year, they will simply be remembered as tired old men who couldn't take the pace.
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