Labriola On

Labriola on OTAs, getting a call from the Hall

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Ready or not, here it comes:

  • OTAs began for the Steelers this past Tuesday, and the attention it attracted was reminiscent of a Wednesday during the regular season, when teams turn the page to focus on the upcoming opponent. Not a complaint, but just pointing out that things have changed, and they have changed rather dramatically and within a relatively short period of time.
  • The Steelers moved into their South Side facility in 2000, which means this offseason is their 16th in this building. There were times during the end of Bill Cowher's career here where even he didn't attend every OTA session. Right, the head coach either wasn't there, or he would watch a portion of the drills on a balcony overlooking the fields.
  • No one saw this as a dereliction of duty, either. Back then, OTAs were such that for a long time it was thought the 'O' stood for optional, instead of organized.
  • But then came the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was signed in the summer of 2011. Once that was ratified, there were no more two-a-day practices in pads at training camp; in fact, there were no more two-a-day practices at training camp, period. With the teaching/evaluation process at camp seriously curtailed, OTAs became more important to players and coaches alike.
  • Now, attendance is 100 percent. Not only was every single player on the Steelers' offseason roster in attendance, but so was Ike Taylor. Dipping his toe in the coaching profession waters, it seems.
  • Paul Lukas, an ESPN.com columnist, billed on that website as "sports journalism's foremost uniform reporter," recently did power rankings for the uniforms worn by the NFL's 32 teams. Lukas based his rankings on "the basis of its primary colored and white uniforms, with alternate and throwback uniforms taken into account if they're part of the team's regular (uniform) rotation."
  • Lukas ranked the Steelers' uniforms as best in the NFL. "Aside from the switch from block numbers to italics (which many fans still gripe about, although it's been nearly 20 years now and we should all just get over it already), the Steelers have stayed the course," wrote Lukas. "They still have their logo on only one side of the helmet, they still don't use helmet numbers during the preseason (you have to earn them by making the final roster cut), they still have that instantly recognizable sleeve striping (the Rolling Stones are even using it to promote their show at Heinz Field), and their gold pants still work equally well with either of their jerseys. And while some folks can't stand the bumblebee throwbacks, that design is actually a big hit here at Uni Watch HQ and helps vault the Steelers into the top spot in this year's Power Rankings. First rate."
  • The rest of the top five included the Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, and San Diego Chargers. All classic looks. Nothing Oregon Ducks about any of them. Yay.

Sights surrounding the 2013 International series game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Vikings in London, England.

  • Steelers President Art Rooney II, a member of the NFL International Committee, said recently he expects regular season games to be staged in both Mexico and Germany within five years. The NFL already has established a beachhead in London, where an all-time high of three regular season games will be played in 2015.
  • London. Mexico. Germany. So why not Canada?
  • Steelers Nation Unite, the team's fan engagement platform, currently counts members in 101 different countries outside the United States, with the highest concentrations coming in Mexico, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
  • So again, why not Canada? Why not regular season NFL games in Canada? It likely has something to do with the NFL not wanting to kill off the CFL. There currently are nine teams in the Canadian Football League, and while the NFL allowed the Buffalo Bills to flirt with Toronto as a site for some preseason and regular season games, the league remains reluctant to establish an active presence north of the border.
  • OTAs are said to be more about teaching than evaluating, but here are two things I have been able to evaluate already. Daniel McCullers is a 6-foot-7, 350-plus pound man who is not flabby, and Clifton Geathers is bigger than McCullers. If you're at training camp this summer, look over at the defensive linemen and see for yourself.
  • The process of getting elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, for many players, can come down to having some highly respected member of the football community stepping up and vouching for you.
  • Joe Greene once told a story about a game against Oakland when Bob Brown was an offensive tackle for the Raiders. Greene remembers L.C. Greenwood complaining in the defensive huddle about the trouble he was having going against Brown, and Greene said he his teammate, let's just switch positions and let me have a go at him. After one snap, Greene said he went back to the defensive huddle and told Greenwood he was switching back, that Bob Brown was his problem. Brown was inducted the next year.
  • Chuck Noll rarely got involved in these things, but he did speak up once for Lynn Swann and it had an impact on the Steelers receiver finally breaking through and getting elected to the Hall of Fame. Tommy McDonald, a receiver who played for the Eagles, Cowboys, Rams, and Browns during a career than spanned 1957-68, was inducted as part of the Class of 1998. After that happened, Noll said, "I played against Tommy McDonald, and Tommy McDonald couldn't carry Lynn Swann's jock." Swann was inducted as part of the Class of 2001.
  • Tony Dungy might be doing the same thing for Donnie Shell. Dungy played for the Steelers for two of his three seasons in the NFL before embarking on his distinguished career as a coach. Despite intercepting 51 passes and recovering 19 fumbles – a total of 70 takeaways – in 14 seasons as a safety, Shell has been a finalist for induction only once, in 2002, and then was eliminated in the first cut.
  • Dungy recently said this about Shell to Rick Gosselin, a long-time respected columnist for The Dallas Morning News and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Board of Selectors: "Donnie played in the box and was like another linebacker as a run defender," Dungy said. "He was probably the most physical player on a physical defense and also had 51 interceptions. He covered Hall-of-Fame tight ends like Ozzie Newsome man-to-man and covered wide receivers in the nickel package. He patrolled the deep zones. He could do it all."
  • According to Gosselin, Dungy also used the words, "tremendous, versatile, physical," about Shell. Added Dungy, "The Steelers traded a Pro Bowl safety in Glen Edwards to get Donnie into the starting lineup, and he stayed there for a decade."
  • Gosselin concluded his piece with, "Shell was a much better player than history thus far has given him credit for being. Safety is the most under-represented position in the Hall of Fame. There are only seven pure safeties enshrined. Shell has the credentials that could, would and should make him the eighth."
  • When it comes to Canton, maybe there is still a chance for Donnie Shell. Let's hope.
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