While one of Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s favorite themes of the 2015 NFL Draft was finding the players who have the tangible evidence in their credentials as prospects, one of the underlying themes of the event, and of the whole offseason, was leadership.
The Steelers are in a period of transition when it comes to reestablishing their leadership base within the locker room after parting ways with such mainstays as Brett Keisel, Troy Polamalu, and Ike Taylor over the course of this offseason.
New leaderships are forming, with players such as Cameron Heyward and Lawrence Timmons taking on ever more prominent roles with regards to guiding their teammates along. Even James Harrison has become an important leader by example, which was part of the team’s justification for re-signing the 37-year-old, undersized outside linebacker.
Part of the great success that the Steelers found during the 2000s came as a result of the strong bond that existed in the locker room amongst the players, which included a group of high-character personas mixed in with vocal leaders, chiefly on the defensive side of the ball.
Most of those faces are gone now, and the rebuilding process is under way, which I think is quite evident in the Steelers’ new draft class. It was reflected in Tomlin’s post-draft press conference, when he addressed the need to create competition to foster the development of leadership.
“I think it’s important when you’re trying to build a young defense around some emerging guys, particularly new emerging leaders…that we provide a competitive atmosphere so that the guys know that the playing field is level and that we don’t care by what means guys get here. Capable guys, guys that prove that they can be positive contributors to our efforts will be given an opportunity to play, and play quite a bit. We mean what we say in that regard.”
That speaks to the competition that they have added all over their team, particularly at cornerback and outside linebacker, but also at safety, wide receiver, tight end, and along the defensive line. They also bolstered the competition at running back and along the offensive line in undrafted free agency.
As the overall age of the team decreases, the younger players will naturally be more ready to turn to the growing veterans as they establish themselves as the new leaders of the locker room. But the Steelers made sure to focus on the future in that regard with the draft as well.
Among their latest draft class is a team captain of a national championship team in cornerback Doran Grant, selected in the fourth round. The Steelers’ first selection, outside linebacker Bud Dupree, also shared team captain responsibilities, and is soon to graduate with a degree in leadership. Anthony Chickillo was a captain for his Hurricanes during his senior season. Leterrius Walton was as well.
In addition to all that, Senquez Golson was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year, while Gerod Holliman won the Jim Thorpe Award for the best defensive back of the season after intercepting 14 passes and having even more deflections. That’s certainly a lot of bona fides for one class, and it wasn’t entirely by happenstance.