Walking the tightrope—some Steelers wilted, others excelled (Sept. 6, 2017)


“I’m up on the tight wire, one side’s ice and one is fire. It’s a circus game with you and me. I’m up in the spotlight, oh, does it feel right? Oh, altitude seems to get to me. I’m up on the tight wire, flanked by life and the funeral pyre, putting on a show for you to see.” (Excerpt from the song, “Tightrope” by Leon Russell)
This past Saturday, Sept. 2, the Pittsburgh Steelers submitted their 2017 roster and were able to put their “scalpels” away…well, at least for the foreseeable future.
There were a few surprises but overall the Steelers seem to have come out of the 2017 preseason relatively happy and healthy. The tightrope walk of hope that many of the rookies, as well as a veteran or two, were forced to walk in order to morph to possibly becoming a Steelers player to actually wearing the “black and yellow” and competing for the Steel City is now over. Some players wilted under the “spotlight” and ended up on the “funeral pyre” but there were others who ended up on the “icy side” of the tightrope, welcoming and excelling under the heat and pressure of competition.
There was one event that shook up training camp and the upcoming Steelers season as well as the AFC—the Cleveland Browns releasing All-Pro cornerback Joe Haden, and being snatched up by the Steelers. Everyone who follows professional football and hasn’t been in a comatose state has been acutely aware that the Steelers have been armed with a dynamic offense over the past few years, but have also been saddled with a semi-anemic defense, especially their bloodletting defensive secondary.
There were times that completing passes against their sporadic cover 2 defense, their supposedly-bend-but-don’t-break secondary was almost as easy as handing the ball off to an eager hole-seeking running back. Everyone knew, including me, you and the bedpost that the Steelers offense would beat you up, but when it was time for the opposing offense to get the ball, well, let’s just say that it was a crapshoot at best and there might be a few “snake eyes” in the mix regarding the Steelers defense and that is usually where the tightrope walk began. Oftentimes it seemed as if the only scenario that the offense of the Steelers could only be comfortable with would be if they had the final offensive possession with two minutes or less remaining in the game and being ahead or down seven points or less.
I was mildly surprised that the Steelers made a couple of trades, sending receiver Sammie Coates to Cleveland and shipping cornerback Ross Cockrell to the New York Giants for a couple of future draft picks. Also, CB Senquez Golson was possibly another casualty of the Haden acquisition by Pittsburgh. When Haden signed here, it was almost a foregone conclusion that one or more of the defensive backfield hopefuls of the Steelers was going to “bite the dust.” If Haden remains healthy, and the Steelers defensive line begins to apply “the screws” to seasoned and inexperienced NFL signal callers alike, causing them to become “skittish” in the pocket, it very well might be a long and unproductive season for the rest of the NFL teams having to face the Steelers.
The practice squad serves as a sort of a “safety net” for those players that may or may not rejoin the team in the future, but for most of the athletes that were released from the team, their walk across the tightrope of competition has, at least for now, come to an end.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at abruce@newpittsburghcourier.com or 412-583-6741.)
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