Labriola On

Labriola on 'mandatory,' Faneca, Cope

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • It once was used as a bargaining chip, and it was seen as a way to try to get some attention without having to resort to the nuclear option of skipping the opening of training camp. Missing minicamp still can be utilized as a negotiating ploy, but because of the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in 2011, it's now a VERY EXPENSIVE negotiating ploy.
  • Steelers minicamp concluded yesterday, which means that for all intents and purposes, school's out. Any player unhappy with his contract was free to skip all of the offseason program – Phase 1, Phase 2, and the part of Phase 3 that contained OTAs – but there's a reason it's called mandatory minicamp. The fine for skipping minicamp for any player who's under contract is $76,580.
  • Broken down, it costs $12,765 to miss the first day, another $25,525 for the second day, and then the $38,290 tab for day No. 3 brings the total to $76,580.
  • These fines are only for players who are under contract, not guys who haven't signed their franchise tenders or who remain on the open market or who haven't signed their rookie contracts as of yet. And absenteeism gets a lot more expensive come training camp, when the fine goes up to $40,000 per day.
  • Steelers minicamp is over, as well as their offseason program, but the big news of the week was the team's announcement that it would wear its 1934 throwback uniforms for the Oct. 9 game against the New York Jets at Heinz Field. Of all of the things that energize Steelers Nation and also deserve to be labeled "irrelevant with respect to the actual winning and losing of football games," this whole throwback uniform thing annually finishes at the top of the list.

The final day of the 2016 minicamp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

  • The Steelers' 1934 throwbacks have come to be known affectionately – or mockingly in the case of some of the team's fans – as the bumblebees. As someone with a physique that definitely isn't flattered by horizontal stripes, the bumblebees aren't for me, but I've always been puzzled/amused by the outrage some fans express over this apparent violation of their fashion sense.
  • As I wrote in a recent installment of Asked and Answered, the outrage isn't universal among Steelers fans, because there are bumblebees in decent numbers in every stadium the Steelers visit every year, and there usually are a decent number of them buzzing around inside Heinz Field on game days as well.
  • Just a side note to those who really dislike the bumblebees: your best bet toward influencing some change would be apathy instead of outrage. Word to the wise.
  • Once everyone reconvenes at Saint Vincent College in late July, a good bit of the attention will be directed toward a defensive unit many believe holds the key to whether these Steelers are to develop into championship contenders. Already having been asked what the defense must accomplish statistically to make those Super Bowl dreams come true, I'll repeat my opinion here: a top 10 NFL ranking in red zone defense and a top five NFL ranking in takeaways.
  • And the 2009 New Orleans Saints are submitted as an example of how that type of defense can complement a dynamic offense and result in the raising of a Lombardi Trophy. That New Orleans defense finished the 2009 regular season ranked 25th in total defense, No. 21 against the run, No. 26 against the pass, and No. 20 in points allowed per game. But this was mitigated by the team finishing No. 2 in takeaways, and No. 2 in red zone defense with a 39.3 touchdown percentage.
  • Plus a healthy dose of Drew Brees.
  • It started as a chance for Alan Faneca to dip his toes into the coaching waters, with the team's former All-Pro guard helping Mike Munchak with the offensive line through OTAs and the three-day minicamp that ended yesterday. Faneca apparently hasn't been scared off so far by the demands of a coaching career, because he now will extend his "internship" with the team into the opening segment of training camp.
  • How long Faneca spends in Latrobe likely will be tied to how much he can stand, because Coach Mike Tomlin is eager to have him impart his wisdom and experience on a group that has developed into more of a team strength over the past couple of seasons. And Faneca gets to sample the life of an NFL assistant with a team and in an environment that is very familiar to him.
  • Last Friday in this space, I presented some examples of Myron Cope's award-winning writing skills, with passages from the magazine profiles he had written on Cassius Clay in 1962 and Howard Cosell in 1967. But most of you are here for Steelers news, and Cope's book, "Double Yoi," published in 2002 is a must-read for fans who may only have known him as a broadcaster and the father of the Terrible Towel.
  • Today, we close with one of the many anecdotes you can find in "Double Yoi:"

*     I have had a genuine fondness for the Fat Man, as Ernie (Holmes) was also known. In a battle against the hated Cleveland Browns in Cleveland, Browns defensive end Turkey Jones made a play on Terry Bradshaw that for old-timers lives in infamy. He lifted Bradshaw high into the air and violently planted him upside-down on his neck as if driving a spike into the hardened turf.
     Afterward, at the Cleveland airport, an ambulance carried Bradshaw onto the tarmac where all of us in the traveling party stood waiting for Terry to be transferred to the team's plane. He had been strapped on a so-called spine board, on which he lay as medics removed him from the ambulance. "Let me have him," Fats told them. He wrapped his mighty arms under the spine board, arched his broad back, and alone carried the big quarterback up the stairway onto the plane.
     On instructions from team doctors, he gently carried Terry the length of the aisle to the plane's farthermost reaches where the arms of seats had been retracted to create a makeshift bed.
     Years later, when Fats Holmes returned to Pittsburgh for that 25th anniversary of the Steelers' first championship team, he told his teammates he loved them. He meant it.

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