Labriola On

Labriola on 3 OLBs, Troy, HOF speeches

Ready or not, here it comes:

Now, there are three.

To be mathematically accurate, there always were at least three outside linebackers on the roster the Steelers planned to take into training camp, and sticking with the accuracy theme there even were three with starting NFL experience. But these three are better than those three.

The Steelers made it official on Tuesday morning when they announced the signing of veteran outside linebacker Melvin Ingram III to a one-year contract that reportedly is worth $4 million. This signing came months after the team's flirtation with veteran free agent Ryan Kerrigan, who ultimately decided to sign a contract with the NFL team on the other side of the Commonwealth – the Philadelphia Eagles.

It speaks to the combination of the need at the position and the dearth of players remaining available at outside linebacker that the Steelers would diverge from some of their preferences when it comes to signing unrestricted free agents. Ingram is 32 years old, a nine-year veteran with 6,000 snaps on his body, and he's coming off a season in which he was limited to seven games because of what has been described as a nagging knee injury.

But what Ingram brings is the ability to play both left outside linebacker and right outside linebacker, which makes him a perfect fit for the Steelers' idea of a rotation system; and his production vs. the pass over the previous three years indicates he's not a liability in coverage. The Steelers may not ask their outside linebackers to do a lot in coverage or to do it often, but the whole notion of those players not always being where the quarterback believes they'll be or not always doing what the quarterback believes they'll do is important to the effectiveness of the defense.

Ask Kurt Warner about that, and you might find he has an interesting anecdote to relate on the subject.

There are two ways to view how quickly Ingram will be able to integrate himself into the way the Steelers play defense, and specifically how they want their outside linebackers to play within the scheme of their defense.

There's the glass-half-empty version, based on how Ingram was used by the Chargers during his final four seasons with the team. After being an outside linebacker in a 3-4 for his first five seasons in the league, Ingram was switched to defensive end in a 4-3 when the Chargers changed defensive coordinators for the 2017 season.

The glass-half-full perspective is that it's not so much about what the position Ingram played was called, but more about how he was used within the defense.

In San Diego, Ingram played on both ends of the line of scrimmage, from where he was responsible for setting the edge against the run and coming off the edge to put pressure on the passer. He sometimes was dropped into coverage, as evidenced by the three interceptions and 11 passes defensed he was credited with during the four seasons he was listed as a defensive end. Ingram also was used by the Chargers as something of a rover, which is an experience that also should help him in Pittsburgh.

So instead of balking at adding a thirtysomething veteran coming off a knee injury that ruined his most recent season in the league and may face a bit of a learning curve because he's coming from a team that used a 4-3 as its base alignment, the Steelers looked beyond some of the obvious to do the best they could to reinforce a critical area of their defense.

There is no guarantee that Ingram is going to be the answer to whatever issues the Steelers may have at outside linebacker this season, but signing him before the start of training camp to give him the best possible chance to succeed was worth the effort.

Pro Football Focus often is cited by the media as being the final word on evaluating and grading players and then ranking them compared to others at their position in the NFL. It has become almost routine for an opinion to be made/supported or countered/debunked by referencing the individual's Pro Football Focus grade.

Was Trai Turner a worthwhile signing? Well, his run-blocking grade was X percent, according to Pro Football Focus, which made him the Xth-rated guard in that category in the league that season. Should the Steelers have kept Steven Nelson and cut Joe Haden? Well, Pro Football Focus graded Nelson as the No. X cornerback against the pass last season, while Haden was No. Y in that same category.

The latest bit of Pro Football Focus analysis as it intersects with a move made by the Steelers is the recent revelation that it had Melvin Ingram graded higher than Bud Dupree among edge rushers based on the 2020 regular season. I'm not using this factoid as a backdoor way to disparage Ingram, and I already have chronicled why I believe signing him was a good move by the Steelers, but here is my issue:

If Pro Football Focus is the all-knowing, definitive, infallible evaluator of everything pertaining to NFL players, why did the Tennessee Titans give Dupree a five-year, $82.5 million contract that included a $16 million signing bonus and $35 million in guaranteed money during the legal tampering period before the official start of free agency back in March, and Ingram was still available for the Steelers in mid-July before signing a one-year contract?

Maybe the Titans forgot to renew their subscription to Pro Football Focus.

Sometimes it works out better when you don't necessarily get everything you want.

It wasn't a secret that Troy Polamalu wasn't ready to retire during the 2015 offseason, but the reality at the time was that he was done, a shadow of the player he had been. Age is undefeated, and by the end of the 2014 season, Polamalu couldn't run anymore. That made him a liability if deployed in the deep third of the field because he couldn't cover the necessary ground, and it neutered his effectiveness in the box because his characteristic explosiveness was gone.

He had become just a guy by then, at times a borderline liability because of the sentimentality often attached to great players who aren't great anymore. It had happened before, too, to others before him. Great players. Significant players. Generational players. Dwight White in 1980. Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood in 1981. Jack Ham in 1982. Franco Harris in 1983. Really, to each and every one of the franchise's great players who have their names etched on multiple Lombardi trophies.

There just comes a time when it's over, and 2015 was Polamalu's time. Those are difficult words to hear, and it's not unnatural for there to be bitterness toward the person or people who speak them. Maybe Troy Polamalu didn't personalize it the way a lesser man may have, but it's certainly understandable that he would react by removing himself from the people and the situation that combined to make him feel unwanted.

In about a fortnight, Troy Polamalu will stand at a podium in Canton and accept his enshrinement to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and his bust will join many of those other Steelers who once were told what he was told in 2015. In every way for everyone involved, it will be a joyous occasion.

"Was it my decision to end a Steeler? It was not," Polamalu said in a media session during the run-up to Hall of Fame Weekend, "but I'm so grateful because it was absolutely the most perfect time for me to retire. It took me a while to realize that."

How long of "a while" did that process take? Polamalu estimated that time frame as six months before concluding, "Without a shadow of a doubt, I'm so grateful to the organization."

It's the ceremony that has become synonymous with rambling acceptance speeches and the mis-use of podium time to pursue individual agendas, but based on recent history the Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is gaining ground on the Academy Awards.

During the ceremony in Canton to celebrate the induction of the Class of 2019, both Ed Reed and Tony Gonzalez spent right around 40 minutes behind the microphone. And all due respect, half of that amount of time is twice as long as either should've needed to thank the significant people who contributed to them being where they were.

Because of COVID-19, there was no Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 2020, so that Centennial Class will be inducted on Saturday, Aug. 7, to be followed by the Class of 2021 Induction Ceremony on Sunday, Aug. 8. Which means 12 men will take the podium on Saturday night and seven more will follow them on Sunday night.

Do the math. At 40 minutes per inductee – well let's say they're not as long-winded as Reed and Gonzalez and go with 30 minutes per – that means six hours' worth of speeches on Saturday night and three-and-a-half hours' worth on Sunday night. Which doesn't even include the time for each individual presenter's speech, plus the commercial breaks and other stuff that goes into making it the national television broadcast it has become.

It took Abraham Lincoln two minutes to deliver the Gettysburg Address, and I'm betting that 150 years from now no one will remember a word of what was said in Canton on Aug. 7-8, 2021.

A couple of weeks ago, Peyton Manning said the Pro Football Hall of Fame told the members of the classes to be enshrined this year that speeches are to be limited to eight minutes.

"(The Hall of Fame) stressed that (brevity) in the past, but I don't think it was enforced very well," Manning told "This time, my fellow inductees and I have kind of talked about 'Let's everybody be respectful of the person coming behind you and be on time.' Besides, I don't want to be up there and have them start flashing a red light and playing music and finally having somebody come up and yank me off."

The Pro Football Hall of Fame confirmed that it strictly will enforce time limits this year. "Enshrinees for both classes have been asked to limit their remarks to six minutes," read a statement from the Hall of Fame. "An 'Academy-Awards style' musical cue, if needed, would end each speech at eight minutes."

Or risk having Saturday night's speeches run right into Sunday night's speeches.

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