In Pittsburgh, they measure success only one way: Rings. Every year that doesn't end with the Steelers hoisting the Lombardi trophy is a year that went wrong. With Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger, they have a chance every year. During their OTA sessions, we learned a few things about the Steelers' quest for that seventh title. Here are ten of them.
#10: The Steelers Do Not Like Media
Journalists in Pittsburgh are not well regarded. The Steelers have issued a series of ever tightening restrictions on journalistic access over the years and have no problem shutting out those who don't follow the rules. This year, the team has decreed that information may be reported only if it is learned in official interviews. That means there will be no "anonymous sources" speaking from within the organization, which is definitely a good thing.
#9: They Like Speed In Pittsburgh
One of the pieces of information revealed in official interviews over the weekend is that undrafted wide receiver Reggie Dunn out of Utah ran a 4.29 40-yard dash for coaches. That is fast - blazing fast. There might not be ten guys in the League faster than that. The thing is, though, he's got company.
Markus Wheaton, the Steelers' 3rd round draft pick from Oregon State, ran a 4.34 back in February. Emmanuel Sanders ran a 4.4 at the Combine, but was clocked at 4.3 by several teams (including the Steelers) in private workouts.
At least one person thinks veteran wideout Antonio Brown is as fast as Usain Bolt.
Mike Wallace might be missed, but not just because of his wheels - the Steelers are fast at wide receiver.
#8: Le'Veon Bell Will Not Be Annointed
Jonathan Dwyer is taking snaps with the first team offense during these OTAs. Speculation was rampant that second round draft pick Bell would be installed as the starter right away with Rashard Mendenhall leaving town. It hasn't panned out that way.
There are several ways to look at this. First is that the Steelers really like Dwyer. Given his career totals of only 181 carries, 774 yards and two TDs in three years of work, though, it seems unlikely.
Next is that Bell isn't that good. That would certainly be the most disturbing outcome, as second-round running backs are not supposed to be throwaway picks.
Last is that they just don't care all that much who the back is in Pittsburgh. This could be more likely than it seems at first. Increasingly, running back has become one of the more fungible positions in the NFL. When was the last time a big name running back won a ring? Jerome Bettis is the example that springs to mind, but he was hardly a feature back by then. If Dwyer is a better blocker than Bell then he might be better for todays NFL.
The truth probably lies somewhere in between all that, though. It is possible - probable even - that Bell will see more first team snaps in minicamps and preseason, and they are just bringing a rookie along slowly. If that doesn't happen, though, this could be a harbinger of a tough rushing season for the Steelers.
#7: Heath Miller Will Contribute This Year
Miller was spotted doing 100-yard dashes during practices. Only five months out from ACL surgery, this is very encouraging news for the offense. Miller was having one of his best years last year when he tore the ligament and has been an important security blanket for Ben Roethlisberger since he broke into the League.
Roethlisberger, incidentally, is confident Miller can be just as effective post-injury as he was before. “Heath’s game was not predicated on speed and quickness," said Roethlisberger. "Heath was all about technique, and he was about strength… I think Heath is going to come back stronger and better than ever.”
#6: Chemistry Matters In Steeltown
Following a tradition started by his predecessor Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin cancelled practice on Monday, June 3. Instead of running plays, the team instead just played - at Dave & Buster's.
This traditional team building day has helped the Steelers remain a close-knit group over the years, and has contributed to their remarkable consistency in the standings.
Or maybe they just really like video games and skee-ball.
#5: Youth Is Being Served
Football is a game for the young. As Father Time takes his pound of flesh, guys lose speed, strength, stamina and quickness. The Steelers as an organization have mostly let guys go a year soon rather than a year late, which means they rely heavily on their young guys stepping in and stepping up.
This was illustrated vividly when Tomlin called together the players still with the team from the 2008 championship run, and there were only 12.
Tomlin brought the "08ers," as Roethlisberger has labelled the group, together to tell them that OTAs would be targeted at the more numerous youngsters. The vets, Tomlin made clear, needed to assume more of a leadership and teaching role.
#4: The NFL Has Weird Rules
Markus Wheaton attended rookie minicamp the first weekend in May. Since then, he has not been allowed to have contact with the team.
The NFL has a bizarre set of rules in place that makes this so. Wheaton will not be allowed to join the team again until after his final exams are finished at Oregon State, which will not be until June 14.
Lots of studying will catch Wheaton up on the playbook but, as Jerrico Cotchery noted, he cannot make up the practice reps he is missing.
#3: Big Ben Is Still Growing
Roethlisberger has made no secret of his affection for his longtime backups, Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich.
With those two gone, Roethlisberger is taking a more active role in mentoring and leading the other guys.
“I’m enjoying the opportunity to be an even different kind of leader than I’ve been the last couple of years, to be a coach,” he said. Roethlisberger mentioned specifically some work he is doing with new backup Bruce Gradkowski.
It's good to see Ben begin to shed the image of reckless hard partier and start to shoulder more of a load in this fashion. The Steelers need him to excel in this role, too, because...
#2: Roethlisberger Is Being Given More Control
In year one with Todd Haley as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator, Roethlisberger made no secret of the fact that he preferred former playcaller Bruce Arians' system. Always a devastating downfield passer, Big Ben objected to Haley's more horizontal, quick-pass game.
In year two, all parties agree that Roethlisberger has a stronger grasp of the system. Haley has said Ben will be encouraged to audible more, and Ben himself has said that he is starting to like how the offense works.
For the Steelers, this is a bonus because Roethlisberger's style in the past led to him absorbing lots of big hits, and he has not played all 16 games very often in his career. With Haley's emphasis on getting the ball out quickly, Roethlisberger ought to be able to stay a bit healthier and could possibly extend his career.
#1: Nothing Good Happens After Midnight
At around 3AM on June 1, Steelers tackle Mike Adams was trying to get his truck from a valet service. While he was there, he was approached by three men. One had a gun, one a knife. Adams was stabbed twice, once in the arm and once in the stomach. He is in the hospital recovering and seems like he will not have lasting damage.
From a team perspective, Adams would be a big loss as he was voted the team's rookie of the year last year. Offensive tackles are tough to replace, and backup Guy Whimper is a major step down. Luckily for the Steelers then that Adams is expected back in 6-8 weeks - in other words, well before the start of the season.
It is of course a terrible crime that Adams was a victim of. Nobody should have to worry about being stabbed just for having a vehicle that someone else wants. For Adams, though, there is beginning to be a trend of him being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
At Ohio State, Adams was one of the players suspended five games for the infamous memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal. He was also suspended two games the previous year for undisclosed rules violations. Then, he tested positive for marijuana leading up to the NFL Combine.
This is a problem. Adams was not going to be picked by the Steelers in the draft at all, but in a personal meeting with Tomlin and the Rooneys he convinced the team's brain trust that his days of bad decisions were behind him. Being out on the South Side for a night on the town until the wee hours of the morning suggests that they are not.