The horses are rounding the backstretch of the 2017 NFL preseason race and even deep into the Pittsburgh Steelers roster the team appears to have more Secretariats than Mr. Eds.
After eking out a victory against the New York Giants in game one, the Black and Gold earned their second win by a count of 17-13 over last year’s bridesmaids in the Atlanta Falcons.
It’s a good looking start to the year on paper. But are appearances deceiving? The Steelers new, revamped scheme for its pass defense hasn’t got sliced and diced like that since…well, the last time they played a meaningful game against the New England Patriots (must we even utter those words).
Matt Ryan could have been Tom Brady, who could have been Aaron Rodgers…it didn’t matter. Heck, even the Falcons backup quarterbacks couldn’t wait to get in on the fun.
Does this mean all of the offseason activity was for naught? Are we being déjà vued all over again?
No. Because this is a deeper, more talented, and dare we say it…healthier squad than it was last year. It will take time for the insertion of young talent, and the newer more aggressive style to show it full effects. Mark these words. This defense will be good.
We’ll also learn more Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts when starters LB Ryan Shazier, LB Bud Dupree and LB James Harrison get on the field.
What’s ahead as the horses approach the final stretch? Let’s Spin it out:
For Whom The Bell Tolls
There is nothing like having a 12 million dollar disgruntled employee. The big elephant in the room for the Steelers preseason is actually the big elephant that isn’t in the room. All World RB Le’Veon Bell is still dealing with bruised feelings after the team insulted him by giving him an offer only a running back would love. He claims he is both a running back and a number two receiver. All the Spin can say is we’re thankful he didn’t run a halfback option pass last year or he’d be asking to be paid like QB Aaron Rodgers. The fact of the matter is that both an outraged Steelers Nation AND Bell are right. As Bell asserts, he is a major talent, a versatile athlete, and a player who is among the most dynamic players in the NFL. There are many teams out there who would overpay him in a heartbeat. Somebody would write that $15 million a year check he’s been rapping about. But, what Bell is neglecting to acknowledge is this would also make him a journeyman player. A superstar, highly talented mercenary. But a journeyman none-the-less. What he’s walking away from is the opportunity to be one of the greatest players in Steelers history. What he’s cutting ties with is a chance to play for the greatest fans in the NFL. He’s also forgetting the grace the team and its fans have extended to him on multiple occasions as he suffered from extraordinary professional growing pains. Yet, the hard, cold truth is none of this matters to Le’Veon. He’s enjoyed Pittsburgh. It’s offered a good launching pad for his career and his inevitable big contract elsewhere. But this whole Steelers Nation thing? It’s been real, but it ain’t love. That’s why this is what the Spin says, if the team gets a good offer for Bell. Unless he has an instant, and radical about face, that trade should happen as quick as it takes to twirl a Terrible Towel. It’s pretty easy to cheer for RB James Conner. As it stands now, the Spin doesn’t have a lot of enthusiasm to see Bell play. Ten yard run? Yawn. Game winning touchdown? Who cares? Not Steelers Nation. And that’s a shame.
The Shadows Circling Above
One of the advantages of being a premiere team in the NFL is ticket sales will boom, you’ll be televised nationally with frequency and your logo-embroidered everythings will be in top demand. The downside? Well…if you quiet down you’ll hear it above. That’s the flapping of vulture wings from the dreg teams of the league. They’ll be ready to snatch up several of the players on the Steelers roster who don’t make the final 53. In particular, those members of the defensive line that have been so well coached by John Mitchell. You’ve got your talented starters who will be pressing for Pro Bowl status. Then there are the next wave of talent that has been playing as well as the starters. There’s DE L.T. Walton who may be the most improved player on the roster. He looked outstanding against the Falcons. DE Tyson Alualu is already looking like another brilliant mid-level acquisition for General Manager Kevin Colbert. DE Johnny Maxey hasn’t flashed a whole lot, but he would be a tough player to let go. And for those of you who are members of the “I Can’t Wait Until They Dump Dan McCullers Glee Club” have you actually seen the big man play this preseason? If you can remove your Haters glasses for a moment you will find yourself mightily impressed with how much impact he’s had with the woefully few snaps he’s received. He almost single-handedly caused both interceptions in the fourth quarter. In his first play on the field (which resulted in the first interception) he gave a punch that nearly dismembered his opponent from the trunk up. You may be done with Big Dan, but the NFL isn’t. Other targets for the predators circling above? The Steelers offensive line is deep…and they also have several players who would be perfect special teams pick-ups for other squads if they get the axe. In fact, the Pittsburgh practice squad will serve mostly as a farm league for other organizations. It may take a while, but they’ll start disappearing from the roster like magpies on a telephone wire. D you have somebody you love trying out for the Steelers this year? You better hope they make the 53.
The Lazy Man’s Guide To Analyzing The Draft
Forget the way gurus Mel Kiper and Mike Mayock approach the draft with all of their high-falluting pre-draft analysis and draft day forecasts. If you want to get the analysis right, all you have to do is wait five years after the draft and you’ll be spot on one hundred percent of the time. Well…we can’t wait quite that long, so we’ll grade this year’s Steelers draft class a couple of games into the preseason. They’ve already locked in a “B” with a chance to raise it to a “B+” or “A-“. In these days of the draft where getting fresh and inexpensive new talent is so critical you have to nail the Number One selection and LB T.J. Watt is making the front office look smart. Keep in mind, Watt was a bit of a reach in the first round. Although his family pedigree was world class, his college resume was as thin as the paper it was on. He started as a tight end, injured his knee and sat out more than a year, before getting his chance at defensive end where he excelled. So far, so good with Watt. Injuries with WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and CB Cameron Sutton keep them shrouded in mystery but they both flashed in camp already. RB James Conner is already a fan favorite, and his quickness against the Falcons proved the faithful have good taste. Say what you want about QB Joshua Dobbs, but he’s shown strong upside with both his arm strength and agility. You should read what they said about Hall of Famer Brett Favre in his rookie season if you are already giving up on Dobbs. Gunslingers who can’t aim very well early on are going to look…a little like the Steelers fifth round pick. For you Special Teams enthusiasts you’ve got to love the sixth round grab of long snapper Colin Holba. Although Keion Adams hasn’t had a chance to strut his stuff, he’ll get time to grow on the practice squad. All in all…the 2017 draft class of the Steelers is already looking rock solid. But…for the Spin’s real analysis, check back in five years.
Removing The Shrink Wrap
The main excitement about the Indianapolis Colts matchup is that Coach Mike Tomlin will be removing the shrink wrap off of his favorite Steelers toys for this third game of the preseason. QB Big Ben Roethlisberger will play only long enough to experience success and for the conservative Tomlin, a healthy trot out to the huddle might just suffice. Everyone is looking forward to seeing LB James Harrison on the field…just because he’s part superstar and part museum showcase. Then there is LB Bud Dupree. Can he be what he was toward the end of last season? How will he look bookended with Watt? Can rookie CB Cameron Sutton make an impressive entrance in a secondary that could use some help covering people? Then there is the return of the team’s most dynamic defensive player in LB Ryan Shazier. Is this an All Pro season for Shazaam? Pretty exciting…all told. And who says preseason games don’t really matter?