Surviving the Offseason, Part 3: The Nuances of Development
by Ivan Cole
The Steeler Way: Development. The Football Way: Interdependence.
If, as so many claim to do, you bleed black and gold, there is an implication that your knowledge extends beyond just knowing the team colors. Yet it is sad that so many look to untutored outsiders to be instructed as to how to think about the Pittsburgh Steelers and how they, very successfully by NFL standards, do their business.
Mike Tomlin recently sat down with Bob Labriola to talk about the 2015 season.
From the very beginning of the interview when Labriola asked Tomlin to discuss what he spoke to the younger players about in their exit interviews, the limitations of making evaluations solely upon performances in the lower levels of football, measurables, and snapshots became glaring.
Players getting “acclimated to professional football”.
Players such as Jesse James and Bud Dupree being asked to adapt to playing at a significantly lower weight.
Getting beyond “preconceived notions about professional football”. “There’s a lot you don’t know”.
But there are no such concerns in Kiper World, suburban radio, total access and all the other places where great minds and their disciples congregate.
The thing is, we’re not talking about esoteric knowledge that is beyond the grasp of the average fan. To the contrary, we’re talking about the sort of common sense that almost anyone over the age of seventeen probably can reference from in their own life experience.
For years I worked as a college administrator, instructor and counselor. Every year the universities for which I worked would offer admissions to thousands of applicants (rejecting thousands more), all of whom were qualified, vetted and declared capable of successfully matriculating at these institutions.
Every year we had our share of ‘busts’. Students failed to smoothly acclimate due to reasons as mundane as failing to get out of bed and going to class, or just being homesick. There were also more complex causes such as wilting under the pressure of higher workloads or intense competition. Some adapt, some don’t, and many don’t experience any issues at all.
These are common concerns whenever people transition into something that is novel to their experience. Marriage, parenthood, first job, new job, independent living, the list goes on. And no one can predict in advance with any accuracy who struggles and how. Why would football or any other professional sport be any different?
Part of the genius of the Steelers Way lies in their mastery of the nuances of development. One of the differences between higher and lower level selections is not in their potential, but how much has to be done to get them ready to compete effectively at the professional level. Because teams like the Steelers and the Patriots are, because of their success, drafting lower than their competitors, they had better be more competent at placing players in a position to succeed. They also have to think outside of the box in terms of recognizing talent that has the potential for success.
And there is another problem.
Success in football, more so than many other sports, is contingent upon interdependence as opposed solely to the skill set brought by an individual player.
As great a receiver as Brown is, his receptions suffered when Ben was not throwing him the ball. Tom Brady can come undone due to an inept offensive line. So when asked about the problem with pass defense yardage, Tomlin’s response was,
“We were 30th in the league in pass defense. I’m not going to overreact to that. We wanted to create negativity. Smash the run. Sack the quarterback. We wanted to create turnovers. That was down our list of priorities, pure pass defense yardage.”
This raises a lot of interesting questions concerning what would be best to improve the defense. Might adding depth at defensive line and maintaining it at linebacker be just as important, maybe even more so, than adding high profile defensive backs? Particularly since we have all seen Ben and his receivers make some of the best defensive backs in the league look helpless if they are given enough time?
But the verdict is already in according to group think, egged on by the experts. The top priority is a defensive back. And they will be happy to provide referrals. They are also happy to share what to do about free agency and the salary cap. This, in spite of the fact that Tomlin and just about everyone close to the situation say it is too early in the process, too many variables that are in play, to talk concretely about such things. There is little chance that those who subscribe to this way of thinking are listening or believing.
It’s just entertainment right? Why not just live and let live? I have two reasons.
First, social dysfunction really is contagious. It is about dumbing down and trivializing what it is to be a fan. And not only does ignoring it not make it go away, the tendency instead is to constantly push the envelope and make things worse. One of the best recent examples is daily Fantasy sports. We find that beyond just being annoying, it was exploitative of the common fan and probably criminal to boot.
Second, it really is having an adverse effect on the enjoyment of other fans. There is a coarsening effect that many are experiencing as unpleasant. The in-person equivalent would be when the stadium experience is sullied by inebriated, boorish, disrespectful fans. I have found myself rooting hard for certain outcomes not just because I obviously want the Steelers to win, but, sometimes just as importantly, I want to avoid the absolutely nauseating atmosphere that has become the norm on fan sites and elsewhere. Eventually some people opt to avoid the experience. Exactly, I would think, the kinds of people you don’t want to be opting out if you are thinking about long term viability.
As I argued in Part 1 of this series, it would be easy to put the full onus on the fans, but they didn’t get this ignorant, clueless and obnoxious on their own.
I have written earlier this year about a Pittsburgh media personality who declared Ike Taylor a bust, a terrible decision by the franchise, when he was drafted. He didn’t stop there. He also declared that because Taylor was a Proposition 48 student, that he was also dumb to boot. We now know that Taylor was neither a bust nor particularly dumb. In fact, he’s doing better in the media business at present than his critic.
So what’s the problem? Isn’t everyone entitled to their opinion? Yes. And if he were sitting in a corner bar in Munhall half crocked I would defend to the death his right to say such things. But when you have a platform things change.
When you express your opinions in one of the better metropolitan dailies in the region, if not the nation, the impact and consequences of disparaging the abilities and intelligence of another human being to potentially hundreds of thousands of people are of a different order.
It is one thing if on their own a fan concludes that professional football is a cartoonish industry easily mastered by any moron with a passion. It is quite another when individuals empowered with the credibility which comes with these corporate platforms (Kiper is with the World’s Leader, Rebecca has a mom and pop, who has more reach and juice?), tutors and encourages fans to think in moronic ways as a marketing ploy.
The result? As we enter into the seasons of the draft and free agency, the people that know the most don’t have any answers, while those who know the least honestly believe they either have the answers or, at least, all the information necessary to discern them.
The Children’s Table
This is what social media desperately needs. A place where it is understood that one can say whatever their id inspires them to say without fear of consequence to themselves and no real harm to anyone else, because it is understood that they are children mentally, with all that designation implies.
What we have now is something more reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, where childlike thinking is leading us down the path to barbarism.
Is that too harsh?