One of the most important elements of building a team involves the team itself. You can have the greatest coaching staff in the world, but sometimes the most valuable resource a team can have for developing its young players is, in fact, the veterans around them.
If you have a locker room in which the veterans take the young guns under your wing, then you have a decided advantage. This was a defining quality of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ championship years of the 2000s. They have similar leadership now, and it’s growing.
In the secondary, for example, they now have two veterans cornerbacks who have stepped up as leaders of the team, especially in the back end, and have provided valuable insight to the young players at the position—no matter who they are.
Take James Pierre, the rookie college free agent who made the team as the Steelers’ sixth cornerback, one of the surprise roster decisions from the front office and coaching staff this year. He credited the veterans at the position, including Mike Hilton, for taking him under their wing.
“It was two of them. I had Joe Haden, and Steve Nelson”, he said yesterday when asked if there was anyone on the team who helped him along. “When I first came in, they were teaching my the gameplan, the playbook. They taught me a lot. I talked a lot with Steve. Steve was telling me like, ‘just work hard’. That’s basically what it was with the whole process. Just work hard, control what I can control”.
The interesting thing is that neither Haden nor Nelson were drafted as Steelers. But they fit right in when they got here and took it upon themselves to take ownership of their position and of the defense as a whole. They’re now woven into the fabric of the locker room.
“I was very surprised”, he said about how open the veterans at his position have been in sharing information and advice with the young players. “And they were telling us, everybody here’s the same, open arms. I just lean on both of them a lot. Mike Hilton, too. Mike Hilton talks to me a lot”.
Of course, you can only talk a player into so much talent. He has to bring the skill to the table that will actually allow him to succeed on this level. it’s important to be able to have people in your corner that you can lean on, who have walked the path you have walked, but at the end of the day, you’re out there on the field relying upon your own abilities.
Now, we probably shouldn’t expect to be seeing Pierre out there on the field very often this year, if at all. He will likely be a healthy scratch, possibly for the entire season if the group actually manages to stay healthy. But is this just the first step toward something better? That’s in his power to determine.