Sports is and will always be full of clichés, but clichés exist because they serve a purpose. It doesn’t matter if it’s recognized from the outside. If a mantra like ‘the standard is the standard’ or ‘next man up’ is ingrained into a team and accepted as the reality, it is going to have a psychological impact.
Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s ‘standard’ line has become so…well, standard that the team even drilled that slogan into the wall of the team’s locker room, where it will remain indefinitely. Likely even after Tomlin moves on to the next chapter in his life.
It’s become ingrained, second nature, expected. When one player goes down, another has to step up and do the job, or even multiple players as the case may be. The most prominent example of that has been at right tackle this season of course, where two different linemen have had to start in place of Marcus Gilbert.
The most recent has been Chukwuma Okorafor, a rookie third-round pick who made his first start against Von Miller and the Denver Broncos on Sunday. He wasn’t flawless but he played up to the standard and wasn’t an issue. It was with this reference in mind that Tomlin was asked during his press conference yesterday about the importance of cultivating depth.
“It is continually ongoing”, he said of the perpetual nature of player growth and nurturing a deep roster. “Particularly when you build your team primarily through the draft the way that we do, you better develop talent. That’s always ongoing”.
Of course the offensive line is an easy place to point to. It’s arguably the Steelers’ greatest strength from a top to bottom evaluation of the position. Other areas of the roster can’t claim similar luxuries, but they still get contributions, such as from Cameron Sutton at cornerback or Jordan Dangerfield at safety or L.J. Fort at linebacker.
Then there’s, you know, running back. The Steelers were supposed to have a first-team All-Pro at their disposal this year. Instead they had to run with a first-time starter, and he has merely become a likely Pro Bowler in his own right.
Depth at other places has been a bigger issue. The absence of Stephon Tuitt has seemingly been a greater burden on the run defense than some, including myself, anticipated over the course of the past two games, but he looks to be on his way back.
With everybody along the defensive line outside of the starters entering the final seasons of their respective contracts, it’s fair to say that the development of talent there needs to be ongoing. I certainly wouldn’t complain about a reasonably high draft pick being used there in 2019.