Steelers Prepare For Another Super Bowl Run - By Mike Spell
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|The Pittsburgh Steelers franchise, known and respected for its stability and continuity, is entering a new era. Gone is long-time head coach Bill Cowher and in steps a young, energetic and relatively inexperienced Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin has much in common with his predecessor when Cowher took over the Steelers fifteen years ago. Both were young, hungry, defensive coaches taking over for a future Hall of Famer. Tomlin has an interesting challenge, one that most new head coaches don't face. He is taking over a team that is only one year removed from a championship, a team that still has its core of players intact but is a team that significantly underachieved a year ago.
Theories abound as to why this occurred. It is believed by many that injuries played a significant role. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was unquestionably affected by the off-season motorcycle accident that almost killed him. Throw in an emergency appendectomy and a concussion and it is not hard to see why his play slipped.
Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, Joey Porter were also bitten by the injury bug and missed time on the field. The retirement of Jerome Bettis was another key factor, as his leadership and ability to pound out tough yardage were not replaced. The uncertainty of Cowher's status is also believed to have hampered the drive for a second consecutive Lombardi Trophy. The players themselves questioned whether the team had lost its hunger after winning last season and were not playing with the needed intensity and focus that it takes to win consistently.
Whatever the reasons for the slip, Mike Tomlin is the man appointed by the Rooneys to get the team back on the right track. One month into his tenure, there have been some signs that the new coach knows what he is doing and could very well be successful, and sooner rather than later. Tomlin, a Tampa Two disciple, has kept the defensive coaching staff intact. This was a key, and necessary, maneuver on his part as the team's personnel has been built for the 3-4 defense. No one knows this style of defense, and the players, better than Dick LeBeau. The decision to retain LeBeau shows that not only does Tomlin understand that you can't force a system on personnel that doesn't fit, but it also demonstrates a willingness to be flexible and do what will bring the best results.
The level of play in the secondary was lacking this past season and Ike Taylor was demoted as a result. It is thought that Tomlin, a former DB coach, will help improve the play of Taylor and his fellow backs. The lack of a consistent pass rush and a serious drop off in the play of Porter were also contributing factors to the lack of productivity. LeBeau and Tomlin will have to find a way to improve upon this key area. The big question at this point seems to be: Will the Steelers start changing the personnel to accommodate Tomlin's defensive philosophy? Perhaps. The draft and free agency will certainly provide clues as to whether that will be the case. It will be fun to see how the two styles of defense are brought together.
Bigger questions and concerns are on the other side of the ball. Gone are offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm. Receivers coach Bruce Arians is the man tapped by Tomlin to resurrect an offense that struggled and, at times, was downright awful. Arians has already said that he wants to simplify the playbook to make things a little easier for Ben and the rest of the offense. Arians and Ken Anderson, the new QB coach, will be charged with helping Roethlisberger regain the form that he had his first two years in the league. Anderson is a curious choice, as he has not had a lot of success coaching, most recently in Jacksonville. Under Anderson, neither Byron Leftwich nor David Garrard matured into great quarterbacks as expected. Whether this was due to poor coaching or a lack of personnel remains to be seen.
Arians has said that he would like to utilize more four-and five-receiver sets to spread the defense and be more aggressive. Receiver is one area that the Steelers need to upgrade if that is to be a true option of the offense. Questions abound as to whether Arians will emphasize the pass more this season than in previous years with statements like that. While Arians does claim that balance is what he seeks, his background is with Tom Moore and the Colts offense for which he served as Peyton Manning's QB coach. Arians had minimal success in Cleveland as offensive coordinator but that could be due to a lack of talent. Time will tell if Tomlin has entrusted his offense to the right man.
Along with the need for another receiver or two, the Steelers clearly need to answer the question of who will succeed Jeff Hartings at center. Will veteran understudy Chukky Okobi get the job, or will it go to the younger Marvin Philip? There has been some speculation that they will move Kendall Simmons over and plug someone else in at right guard. Will they draft an interior lineman or sign one through free agency?
The lack of a true power running game, a change of pace from Willie Parker, is another area of concern for the Steelers brass. Will they be able to add a back who can grind it out and wear defenses down? Will they look at bringing in a T.J. Duckett, or will they drafting a running back?
This offseason should be filled with interesting moves that will give glimpses of what to expect in the upcoming season. Here's hoping that they get things right!