When it comes to ‘drama’ in sports, the important thing to remember is that, likely in just about every case, the perception with which such events are met from the outside of the locker room is going to be greatly exaggerated in contrast with how it’s received by those actually living it.
Now, that isn’t always going to be the case. Sometimes the public doesn’t have all the information at hand, and there is drama buried behind the scenes and kept under wraps until it simply explodes, as just one explanation toward that notion.
To ask James Conner, though, the drama the Pittsburgh Steelers have weathered in recent years is far from the maelstrom the media and fans have made it out to be. “From the outside looking in people might think it’s like some chaos or something”, Jeremy Fowler quoted him as saying during OTAs.
“Really we’re a tight-knit group”, the third-year running back expanded. “That locker room is incredible. With all the guys in there, the camaraderie, everybody loves each other, really. People might think it’s chaos, but it’s not like that at all”.
It may never have been exactly how others on the outside may have pictured it, but there is no doubt that the climate has changed from this offseason to those of the recent past considering the absences of high prominence. With wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell no longer with the organization (whether they were present at the facilities or not), that is going to produce some changes in tone.
That’s two Pro Bowlers lost from the offense, but two headaches, two volatile personalities that have to be mitigated or managed, that are no longer an issue. Two burdens that no longer have to be borne by their teammates, especially in the form of questions from the media.
And it’s no surprise that Brown and Bell have added their own drama to their new teams with the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets, respectively, whether it’s simply not showing up for practices or even being in the middle of a power struggle.
So it might be two Pro Bowlers gone, but the Steelers already had two Pro Bowlers waiting in the wings, with Conner being one of them. Unbeknownst to him, Conner ended up being the full-time starter once the regular season rolled around last year and Bell never showed up. He ended up averaging 113 yards and one score per game.
JuJu Smith-Schuster had a similar impact in his second season, though it wasn’t even in Brown’s absence. They both made the Pro Bowl last year. The pair of third-year players also bring a different attitude and personality to the table than did their predecessors.
Brown and Bell seemed to welcome the drama at times. Not so for Conner, who’s ready to move on and focus on what matters. “No players motivate us”, he told Fowler. “We’re motivated by a trophy”.