Random Post-Training Camp Observations: The Lombardi in August
by Ivan Cole
Some of us Steelers Nation folk who live in the Washington DC metro diaspora have found much amusement over the years as we have watched Washington fans celebrate capturing the Vince Lombardi Trophy in March. They have declared all sort of aggressive maneuvers, thus assuring themselves possession of that silver trophy and ignoring certain obvious realities. I would quickly add that followers of other teams do it as well. Many of the chronically clueless of Steelers Nation often lament the fact that Pittsburgh seems relatively uninterested in this sort of exercise.
But before we pat ourselves on the back for our wisdom, we might meditate upon the habit of doing something very similar in July/August. They don’t give out the Lombardi in August either. Or in September for that matter. There are things such as key injuries to concern ourselves about in preseason and the first quarter or so of the regular season, but for me the story doesn’t really begin until sometime around Columbus Day. And there is still plenty of mystery to deal with even then usually. So, while there are interesting issues afoot, forgive my relative lack of angst short of Labor Day.
Missing Charlie: Part One
Don’t you hate those people who say ‘I told you so’? So let the hatin’ begin. Remember those folks who year after year were being all crabby about when the Steelers were going to get rid of Charlie Batch? He was old and fragile and just not very good in the expert estimates of many. Surely there were literally dozens of prospects out there who could step in, as is, or be coached up a little bit and do better than Ol’ Charlie, and maybe even replace Ben Roethlisberger, who is also getting up there a little. I mean, how difficult could that be?
Well, I bet there are those who would prefer the mummified corpse of Batch over the current situation at backup quarterback now. But before continuing, full disclosure: Anyone who has been paying attention knows that I have been never much of a Landry Jones fan, so I may actually be more charitable than most with his four interception performance against the Eagles. My expectations aren’t that high.
I realize that we have all been spoiled. Batch could easily stand as Exhibit A as to the competitive balance provided by the Steeler Way that I outlined in my previous post. Not just a former starting NFL quarterback, but a quality one at that, one who could have been the man at any number of teams, but was content to serve as a backup for years with his hometown organization. Using the language of head coach Mike Tomlin, Batch could get you out of the stadium with a victory as short term backup or even as a starter.
As good a highlight as any was his very last game. He led the Steelers to victory against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens on their home field. He was not in a game management mode, and his efforts were not trivial in contributing to the win.
After driving the team to the game winning field goal as time expired Batch collapsed in tears in the arms of Roethlisberger. If we had known then what was to follow at the position of backup quarterback since that day, all of Steelers Nation would have been crying.
This is not to say that it is unreasonable to expect more than what we have been getting lately. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that the Steelers had been blessed with an extraordinary period of quality depth in terms of talent and leadership at the quarterback position that is now only a memory.
Missing Charlie: Part Two
Let us not forget that Batch was not just a team leader on the field but a league leader off it. Charlie was a member of the executive committee of the NFL Players association. You will recall that the Steelers were the only team to vote against ratifying the 2011 CBA. The reason given was that it left too much power in the hands of the Commissioner. Hmm. Fast forward to the summer of 2016. Two names; James Harrison and Le’Veon Bell. Need anything more be said?
Losing to Philly in the preseason
The last Steelers game, pre- or regular season, that I personal attended was a preseason matchup against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Philadelphia won that game too. Afterwards, an Eagles fan approached and expressed satisfaction with how his team looked in victory. As gently as I could I broke it to him that the teams would meet again in October, and that time it would be for real. The look of horror that dawned over his face was priceless. As you may recall, the Steelers tore the Eagles a new one that day.
The Steelers did lose something significant in that particular game at Philadelphia. David Johnson, who had been, in my opinion, winning a training camp competition with Will Johnson, suffered a season ending injury. This time last year the Steelers had already lost kicker Shaun Suisham to a season ending, and it would turn out, career ending injury. Others would go down that preseason as well.
As of now, if the Steelers make it an important late season run in December or the playoffs beyond, all significant contributors are on pace to be available. This is, as they say in some quarters these days, huge. I could care less who is hurt now (or suspended for that matter). Get a grip.
This is not an untested team that needs validation in August in order to believe in itself. They can play the water boy and get run out of town for all I care. We are learning who can’t play. Fine, just what this time of year is for. Just, please, do the best they can to keep their front line people healthy until the games count. So far they have. The injuries suffered so far have been a nuisance, they always are, but not catastrophic or requiring heroic measures of the next man up, drag someone off the couch variety. At least not yet. That defines a successful camp to me.
I saw hardly any of the Eagles game, but I understand Jesse James didn’t play that well. As I recall he didn’t play all that well last preseason either. Last summer they were talking about Ryan Shazier perhaps being a bust (and still floating fantasies about switching him to safety). [Note from Rebecca—people are still writing to Bob Labriola for his “Asked and Answered” column to suggest just that.] Doran Grant and Shamarko Thomas were guaranteed failures as well. A few years ago they were saying that Cam Heyward was a bum. Jason Worilds too.
Surely some of the players on this roster are busts and bums. But given the track record I just don’t have a great deal of confidence in the discernment of fans and pundits of Steelers Nation to reliably make that call. You wanted the team to commit high draft choices to the secondary, they did it. No one enshrined in Canton yet? Patience please. Ladarius Green a disaster? Jarvis Jones a waste? Bud Dupree this year’s Ryan Shazier? No backup offensive linemen? No help for Heyward and Tuitt? What’s wrong with Coates?
Whatever you say. But I, for one, am not paying a bit of attention.