The Pittsburgh Steelers have parted ways with a number of aging talents that epitomized success in the community during the height of their careers. While their on-field assets may have diminished over the years, however, one should not underestimate the ripple effect that their departures could have within the locker room.
While the concepts of camaraderie and leadership may be somewhat elusive when it comes to the team chemistry of a sports team, there is no doubt some truth to the idea that these qualities help build a winning team, especially when it comes to a game as interconnected with one another as is football.
The last several offseasons have seen some quality championship characters exit stage right, and their vacant lockers no doubt diminished the overall character of the room as a whole. Just recently, the team saw both Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu retire, even if their departures were already in the plans for this spring.
The question now becomes identifying who the new locker room leaders are, both now and in the future. I believe we do have some immediate answers, with a few waiting to be developed in the coming years, so let’s get to know some of these men who are leading the locker room these days for the Steelers.
It certainly goes without saying that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the leader of the Steelers, even if this hasn’t always been the case throughout his career. There have been criticisms about his leadership ability fairly deep into this career, through both public and private comments from teammates, but he has evolved into the leader that the team needs over the past few seasons.
It really began in earnest in 2010, during arguably the lowest point in Roethlisberger’s personal and professional life, when he was accused, but never charged, of sexually assaulting a woman. He was publicly disgraced, and was even suspended for six games (later reduced to four) for the incident.
He had no choice but to climb out of the ditch, both personally and professionally. He seemed to rededicate himself to his craft, and to take better care of his body. He got married, and has since had two children of his own.
Just last season, he put up the best statistical year of his career, throwing for nearly 5000 yards to go along with a franchise-best 32 touchdowns, posting the highest completion percentage and lowest interception ratios of his career.
Far beyond the stats sheet, however, has been his growth as a leader of the team, which came as a natural transition for him. He inherited a veteran team when he became a young starter, so he didn’t need to be a leader. But now, as part of the old guard, he sees all the young faces look up to him.
And he knows that it’s up to him, more than anybody, to get the most out of these players. Even though he has been around for five seasons now and is an All-Pro, he still rides Antonio Brown. He pushes Martavis Bryant and gets on him when he makes a mistake, because he knows this offense can be great, and that he is the chief catalyst.