Do Pittsburgh Steelers Fans Have Good Reason to be Optimistic in 2010 and Beyond?
By: Matthew Dow
The 2010 NFL Draft is now complete, but the pre-draft buzz was deafening in Pittsburgh. In recent years the most pressing concern of an upcoming draft in Pittsburgh was which postion needs upgraded or added depth? Dark clouds in the form of a franchise quarterback’s legal issues and the trade of Santonio Holmes for a fifth round pick transformed the weeks preceding the 2010 draft into a media feeding frenzy.
Would NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspend Ben Roethlisberger for two games? Would it be four? Ultimately the punishment was six games. This decision has cast uncertainty upon an entire season, leading to a great debate in Pittsburgh. With several internet polls showing a growing disdain for Roethlisberger within his own city and fan base, is it too late to repair the damage? No other draft in memory has set such a dramatic stage for the fans of this working class city. Should Roethlisberger have been traded? If so, what is he worth on the open market? Do we have another quarterback to fill the void? Should we have traded up to draft someone? The week preceding the draft in Pittsburgh had more plot lines than an episode of Lost. The answer to all of these questions is that the Pittsburgh Steelers need Ben Roethlisberger now and for the foreseeable future. This team has a great ownership group, a nice roster with hardworking and good quality players, but without big number seven on the field, they are average. Without Roethlisberger, maybe they win seven or eight games, and that is a big maybe.
The punishment has been handed down and guidelines of rehabilitation have been set. If Mr. Roethlisberger has any hope of repairing his image, he has one large but simple task, concentrate on football! Don’t take your entourage to any college bars, don’t buy underage girls shots of alcohol, and please don’t put yourself in the position to be questioned about your sexual encounters again. As with Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes has tarnished the Pittsburgh Steelers name with his off the field issues.
Santonio Holmes needed to realize that he was a very good player, not a great player. He was not the franchise quarterback and he most certainly did not just receive the richest contract in Pittsburgh Steelers history. With several questionable decisions, including a series of irresponsible tweets on Twitter, Holmes cemented his own fate with the organization that drafted him, developed him, and supported him. This has nothing to do with race, this has everything to do with bad decision making and unfortunately for him, the position he played. A quarterback with two rings and countless comebacks trumps the talented wide receiver every time. Someone had to go, someone had to take the fall for this proud franchise and be the example set forth by the Rooney family. Sorry Mr. Holmes! Have a nice life with the increased scrutiny of New York, and be careful not to “wake and bake” online again with your new team.
After dealing with legal issues the Steelers organization has moved on and decided to go green. While there have been no reports of increased glass and plastic recycling at team headquarters, there have been reports of the re-use of actual players. The development of several draft picks in recent years has apparently yielded less than desirable results. This conclusion has led to the re-signing of wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, middle linebacker Larry Foote, quarterback Byron Leftwich, and a draft day trade with Arizona for former starting cornerback Bryant McFadden. Could Alan Faneca be gearing up for a return? Not likely. Mike Tomlin believes that they are set on the offensive line and will enter training camp with his current roster along with any undrafted free agents added in the weeks to come.
What about the 2010 draft? As with any draft, a fan base wants to see high impact players selected, players who can step in immediately and help the team. Clearly the Steelers needed offensive line help, which they added. Clearly they needed defensive backfield help as well. Before the McFadden trade with Arizona was pulled off, the Steelers had done absolutely nothing to appease fans and address this glaring weakness. Because of the trade, their draft grade improves slightly and some fan concern may be laid to rest. Upon the completion of my draft day grades research, I found that notable experts from the far reaches of the internet gave the Steelers an average of a B grade.
Let’s start with the positives of the Steelers draft. With the selection of offensive lineman Markice Pouncey in the first round, the Steelers added toughness to the interior of the line which should help improve the running game greatly as he develops. Pouncey has a high football IQ and should, when ready, be the starting center for years to come. The trade with the New York Jets for Santonio Holmes yielded a fifth round pick and essentially became a Holmes for Bryant McFadden trade after the pick was sent to Arizona. This was definitely a need for the team after subpar cornerback play sealed several close losses last season. These two aspects of the Steelers draft help transform what could have been a disaster into a productive influx of new and former players.
On the down side, Pittsburgh drafted three players at arguably its deepest position, outside linebacker. A small relief may be offered by remembering the incredible lapses displayed by the special teams unit last season and realizing what these young, fast linebackers may do in that respect while developing and waiting for playing time. The additions of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and big bruising running back Jonathon Dwyer from Georgia Tech will require a wait and see approach as is the case so often when evaluating talent.
Ownership groups of professional sports franchises often deal with some form of controversy or have to face uncertainty in one form or another. The Rooney family has long been associated with a winning tradition and a pristine image for their management prowess and philanthropic endeavors. Because of the unparalleled success the Pittsburgh Steelers Organization has enjoyed, the Rooney family often escapes much of the criticism from its fans for questionable moves and decisions. Which other teams have had so little turnover of their head coaching position or basic decision making policies? I would say for these reasons alone the Pittsburgh Steelers fans have every reason to optimistic in 2010 and every season for that matter.