Skip to main content

Labriola On

Labriola on Le'Veon, causes, rotations

LATROBE, Pa. – Ready or not, here it comes:

  • The heat cranked up here over the course of the week, and it had nothing to do with the temperature or the humidity in what the local Chamber of Commerce refers to as "the beautiful Laurel Highlands."
  • It had everything to do with Le'Veon Bell's ongoing absence from training camp.
  • When the Steelers first reported to Saint Vincent College on July 27, Bell didn't report with the rest of the players and really wasn't expected to. He had yet to sign his tender as the team's franchise player and therefore was prohibited from taking part.
  • Naturally, Coach Mike Tomlin was asked about it shortly into his camp-opening news conference, and he responded with things like: "Obviously, I would like him to be here," and "I have had good, clean communication with him," and "But rest assured that he will be ready to play football," and "He is in shape over the course of a 12-month calendar."
  • But as the preseason opener approached, and with the regular season opener essentially being five weeks away, the tone changed. That was to be expected, because the July 17 deadline for franchise tagged players to sign long-term contracts was well into the past, and from the team's standpoint there was nothing left to do now except sign the tender for $12.1 million that would become fully guaranteed, report to camp, and begin the process of working toward competing for a championship.
  • "My feeling is there's nothing to be gained by a holdout,'' General Manager Kevin Colbert told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette a few days ago. "The situation won't change, it can't really change from our part on a long-term deal."
  • Left unsaid were a couple of other issues: the Steelers won't rescind the tender to Bell, which would make him an unrestricted free agent, nor would they offer more money than the $12.1 million on a one-year deal to entice Bell to sign.
  • "So it hurts him not to be here," Colbert continued. "It hurts him because he's not working with his teammates, he's not getting the conditioning work that he's going to need to have a great 2017 season. And he's not working with his teammates to get acclimated to the offense — every year it's different."
  • Tomlin's tone also changed, although he came nowhere close to the anger Chuck Noll always reserved for holdouts of any kind, from unsigned draft picks to future Hall of Fame players who played significant roles in winning Super Bowl championships.
  • Noll's "Franco who" answer to a question about Franco Harris' 1984 training camp holdout is the most well-known, but when Jack Lambert publicly voiced disappointment about being bypassed by Noll when team captains were named before the start of the 1977 season, Noll fired back in the media that Lambert didn't deserve to be a captain because he held out all through training camp.
  • Times have changed, but football coaches still want all of their players in training camp, and when they're not those coaches get increasingly angry and frustrated.
  • Asked about Bell for a segment to air during the Steelers Radio Network's pregame show in advance of tonight's game vs. the Giants, Tomlin admitted that he and Bell have continued to communicate regularly even once training camp started.
  • Said Tomlin, "We don't have any problem talking on a variety of subjects: This season, his level of preparation, what's going on here, what needs to transpire here. But also on a personal level. He's a father, he's got a daughter, his life is changing in a lot of ways from that perspective. I enjoy the personal relationships I have with guys. We're not only talking about the elephant in the room – his contractual situation – but our relationship continues to move in a manner it has moved since we drafted him."
  • Still sounds pleasant enough, but Tomlin's tone changed when asked if he was comfortable that Bell's situation would be resolved in a way that isn't detrimental either to him or to the football team.
  • "I'm not. I'm not comfortable," said Tomlin. "I think it would be naïve to be comfortable. If somebody is not here working and developing in the formal ways that we subscribe, then there are potential consequences for that. Consequences for him individually. There are consequences for us collectively. So, no I'm not (comfortable)."
  • The sign first appeared here in 1995 during training camp, and then it hung in the one end zone at Three Rivers Stadium for the duration of that season. It read, "3 More Yards."
  • Steelers fans had adopted that cause in response to the 1994 AFC Championship Game, in which the San Diego Chargers pulled off a monumental upset, 17-13, in Pittsburgh for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XXVIIII. The defeat was sealed in the final seconds on an incomplete pass from Neil O'Donnell to Barry Foster on fourth-and-goal from the San Diego 3-yard line.
  • And so, "3 More Yards" became a rallying cry for a city, a team, and its fans, and even after the Steelers lost Super Bowl XXX to the Dallas Cowboys there was some sense that "3 More Yards" had been avenged by the last-second victory over the Indianapolis Colts that had sent the Steelers to face the Cowboys.
  • There haven't been any creative signs popping up at Saint Vincent College yet, but camp's not over and the Steelers haven't played a preseason game at Heinz Field yet, either. But still, a similar cause is percolating throughout Steelers Nation, and it's no surprise that it involves a whatever-it-takes approach to defeating the New England Patriots.
  • Nothing wrong with that, because the Patriots again project to be one of the NFL's best teams, and at this stage of the process it seems unlikely an AFC Championship will be possible without beating New England at some point in the playoffs. But the idea that the Steelers should openly identify beating the Patriots as their goal for 2017, that the team should be building its roster and devising its schemes to beat the Patriots would be the wrong approach.
  • It's going to have to be a good team that beats the Patriots, one that is efficient in the red zone, one that gets pressure on the passer, one that can effectively play a variety of coverages behind that consistent pass rush, one that wins the turnover battle. But those elements also will be necessary if the Steelers are to defend their AFC North Division championship, if they are to win in Kansas City on Oct. 15 and against Green Bay on Nov. 26 and in Houston on Christmas Day, just as three examples.
  • Winning the division, compiling enough victories overall to earn a bye in the playoffs and possibly host a playoff game against New England are necessary, too, and those are things that the calendar is going to demand before any postseason revenge could be exacted.
  • The Steelers should be concentrating on becoming a good team right now, because if they focus on that and accomplish that, then facing the Patriots in the playoffs will take care of itself.
  • Once again – and it's a regular issue at this time every season – the topic of rotating players at a particular position, with the goal of keeping them fresh later in games and later in the season, is a common one. The positions typically cited as being the ones to benefit most from rotations are running back, defensive line, and outside linebacker.
  • But the idea often fails to become reality, because once the regular season opens the idea is to win games, and young players and/or backups can be prone to the kind of mental mistakes that can get a team beat.
  • Assistant head coach John Mitchell, who concentrates his efforts on the defensive line, recently expressed both sides of this double-edged sword to Mark Kaboly: "I would love to have (a rotation). With all the good teams in the NFL, you would love to have two-deep at every position. In an ideal world, Cam (Heyward) and (Stephon) Tuitt would play 45-50 plays a game. If we can get to that, we're going to be a better football team."
  • But …
  • "If I can find two good players behind those guys, yeah, but until that happens, (Heyward and Tuitt) have to play. I'll take care of them in the preseason, but when we start the regular season, if some of the young guys haven't progressed or matured, (Heyward and Tuitt) are going to have to play as many plays as they did last year."
This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.