Karl Rosen photo/ Steelers.com
By Ivan Cole
I begin with my usual disclaimer that I focus on potentialities rather than predictions. Many things can and will happen between now and February that impact outcomes. I will address some of these shortly. That being said, it’s not going out on a limb to assert that the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers are legitimate Super Bowl Champion contenders as measured by the accumulated talent, organizational leadership and support. Unfortunately, there is more involved. What follows are the four horsemen of the Apocalypse that alone or in tandem can undermine a season.
Karl Rosen photo, Steelers.com
By Ivan Cole
Fully digested, this is all you will need to prepare yourself for the upcoming season. At this exciting time of the year care must be taken to inoculate ourselves against several reoccurring narratives that seduce us as the NFL regular season prepares to commence. The surprise conclusion (to this point) of the Steelers’ quarterback competition has exposed the foundation of sand upon which we base our so called ‘common wisdom’ concerning how things unfold with this game.
It is the right and privilege of fans to speculate about what is, can and should be about the game, but with the understanding that we are amateurs speculating from afar. What has been poisoning the well for years now is a media establishment whose purpose is to push that same level of questionable expertise from powerful platforms as ‘expert analysis’ or ‘Truth’.
Photo via Steelers.com
I suppose my title is not quite accurate. The players were playing real football, but a good many of them were very likely (hopefully?) not the guys that will be suiting up for the regular season. This is, presumably, part of why so many people hate the preseason. Me? I love it. The games are almost worry-free (other than the injury issues) as the end result doesn’t actually matter very much. And it is exciting to see how the youngsters perform in game action.
As for the players, as David DeCastro said, they enjoy the chance to hit other people. I laughed when Tunch Ilkin said the same thing the other day in a post-practice report, but I can see that especially for the veterans it would be a relief. When you’re hitting your own guys you don’t want to be the one that injures someone. While presumably you don’t want to injure other people’s players either—after all, the guy you obliterate could end up being a teammate later on—it surely doesn’t have the same impact as possibly taking out someone you know and whom your team might need down the road.
Photo via Steelers.com
Saturday’s practice was a big upgrade in terms of what we could actually see. [“We” being Ivan, Homer J., Greg, and me.] We snagged seats in the shade, fortunately, as it was plenty hot that day. (However, by the MT Hotness Index, it wasn’t really hot, as MT was only wearing a grey long-sleeved shirt over his long black sweat pants. If it had been really hot the shirt would have been black.)
It was with great anticipation that my lovely niece Laura and I headed for Latrobe Memorial Stadium and Friday Night Lights. I have never been to this event, and Laura has never been to any sort of football practice. (She will perhaps, like me, learn the error of her ways in later life.)
But it was not only the practice and the atmosphere I was anticipating, because we were meeting up with Greg (of the late lamented Weiner’s Circle,) Homer J., and Ivan. They arrived considerably earlier than we did and grabbed seats on the 40 yard line. It was then only a matter of catching up as we waited for the yellow school busses to arrive from St. Vincent’s. (Yes, the players are brought in yellow school busses. I don’t believe they are specially kitted out yellow school busses either. Mike Tomlin likes to keep the guys uncomfortable and humble during camp.)
I don’t have a single note on my yellow pad from Friday night, because as great as the 40 yard line seats on the 2nd row appeared to be, in fact the majority of the reps took place in the red zone, one way and another, and it was difficult to see too much. (This explains in part why I so seldom go to games. You can actually see much better on the TV, and are more comfortable besides. If this makes me a bad fan, well, I think there are an awful lot of bad fans.)
Karl Rosen/Steelers.com. “Coach, I need me some first-team reps…”
Mike Tomlin is fond of saying that “football is a game of attrition.” Well, there’s a great deal of attrition taking place. I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but I’d rather be that than Pheidippedes, the guy who ran from Marathon to Athens to report the Greek victory over the Persians and then fell down dead. Not that I would ever risk my life by running a marathon…
But our beloved Steelers are out on the field almost every day, risking their limbs, at any rate. The injuries have been piling up (although for those who might criticize Mike Tomlin for starting padded practices so early, it’s worth noting that there were at least two injuries to significant players, Morgan Burnett and Jerald Hawkins, during the “football in shorts” phase.)
photo via Steelers.com
2018 third-round draft pick OT Chuks Okafor seemed like a luxury pick when he was selected. Or perhaps not so much a luxury as a “Haven’t dem Stillers noticed that the problem last season was the durn defense?!!!” pick. But with the (temporary) demise of third-year tackle Jerald Hawkins during OTA (torn quad) it started to look a good deal smarter.
And now G Ramon Foster, who is entering his 10th season in the NFL, is out, at least for the nonce. In Foster’s case the news is considerably better than first feared when he was taken off the field with a knee injury during the Steelers’ first padded practice on Saturday, It turns out he has a hyper-extended knee with no ligament damage, which is projected to keep him out for 4-5 weeks. Fortunately the heir apparent, YouTube star* B.J. Finney, has had a considerable number of game reps by now coming in for injured players—mainly Foster, but he also played some center last season, with mixed results.