The Pittsburgh Steelers had a bumpy road on their way to Latrobe in many respects, but they have been feeling good about their team since they’ve gotten here. While there have been some injury setbacks that are simply a natural part of football, they have been able to forge at least the appearance of a really cohesive and focused group right now, which they hope will serve well in the coming season.
There remain some big personalities in the locker room, but arguably the two biggest are no longer there, with running back Le’Veon Bell signing with the New York Jets in free agency, and especially with wide receiver Antonio Brown forcing a trade, ultimately landing himself with the Oakland Raiders.
Their departure has brought the team closer together on multiple levels. For one thing, the Steelers received a lot of criticism for the nature of their departure, as well as their parting words. Their ability to compete without them was also highly questioned. So it’s understandable if simply that had a boosted effect on the camaraderie on the field.
Veteran tight end Vance McDonald, entering his third season with the team, talked about the importance of that team-before-individual presence they have in camp right now, speaking to Dan Scifo of the Associated Press.
“I never wish that anyone who walks through the doors and puts on a Steeler jersey is going to say that they’re more important than the man beside them, or they’re more important than the team”, he told the paper. “That’s not the mentality that we need, and when you get too much of that, things start to crumble. I’m not saying (Brown) had that, but it’s something we absolutely have to stay away from”.
McDonald is one of those players who is feeling himself rise in stature. He is coming off a career year in which he caught 50 passes for 610 yards and four touchdowns, knowing that there will be even more on his plate following that performance, and with Brown out of the picture.
For the record, he also said of Brown that he “loved the guy”, and while he implied that he didn’t entirely agree with the approach Brown took to his business this offseason, he wouldn’t “judge or frown upon that” for doing things differently than he would have.
Truth be told, while JuJu Smith-Schuster has his own gregarious way of presenting himself, and James Conner certainly carries himself a certain way that expresses confidence in his ability to be great, they do seem to represent a different mentality—at least in this stage of their careers—than that which developed with Bell and Brown.
Will we really experience this team-focused mantra that we’ve been hearing about since April or so? I certainly hope so. But adversity will bring out any falsehoods in the narrative they’re presenting.