It’s been 8 years since the Pittsburgh Steelers last celebrated a Super Bowl win, hoisting an NFL record sixth Lombardi Trophy, the last one with Dan Rooney leading the franchise. The 2008 Steelers were an opportunistic bunch that was proficient on offense and fielded a defense for the ages. They believed in themselves all the way through, what still remains, one of the toughest schedules over the last 30 years. Their motto throughout that season was “It’s a 5-Star matchup because we’re in it”, but it could’ve very well been “It’s not over until we say it’s over”, due to the fashion in which they won many of their games, including Super Bowl XLIII, in the final minutes. Like the Steelers of the early 90’s, the 2008 Steelers were the epitome of the “60 Minute Men”, and the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to bring that attitude back.
Coming off of a season that ultimately left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth, followed by the passing of Dan Rooney, this year’s Steelers are hungry and determined to finish the job in 2017. They want to win a seventh title not just for themselves now, but for Mr. Rooney as well, a sentiment clearly stated by Antonio Brown prior to his charity game. Champions are made, not during training camp, but in the off-season, and James Harrison clearly set the tone early, with one of his intense workouts, almost immediately after getting off of the plane back from New England. Many of Harrison’s teammates have tried to match his intensity as well, and have regularly posted their own workouts on social media throughout the offseason, including Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, LeVeon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Martavis Bryant.
What has the potential to separate this Steelers team from many others in recent years, is that the mentality of the veterans is shared by each member of this year’s draft class. Work ethic and determination allowed T.J. Watt, in 18 months, to transform himself from a fledgling tight end into one of the top edge rushers in the country. JuJu Smith-Schuster played all out through a broken wrist, bruised hip, and a dislocated pinky to help USC win. James Conner kept showing up to work out at Pitt everyday despite being weakend by Chemo and radiation treatments, because it was all about his teammates and helping them to win anyway he could.
The intensity of the Steelers first six draft picks doesn’t diminish with seventh round pick Keion Adams, who has been described as having a non-stop motor, even when he sleeps. According to Javon Hargrave, Adams is utterly relentless, possessing a “crazy bend” when rushing around the edge. Hargrave grew up with Adams in Salisbury, NC, and was an inspiration to the seventh rounder. So far, Adams has been shadowing T.J. Watt, trying to learn everything he can, with both believing they can help each other get better. By all accounts, nobody will be surprised if Keion Adams is on the roster come September.
There is no question in anyone’s mind that the Steelers have the firepower on offense that is needed to play in February. Most of the questions surrounding the team, and potential Super Bowl success, reside with the defense. To be the last team standing at the end of the season, Keith Butler and staff need to accomplish three things.
- the defensive line needs to generate more up the middle pressure on the quarterback.
- The outside linebackers need to produce more sacks.
- The defense needs to produce more sacks without HAVING to blitz.
Pressure on the quarterback and tight coverage go hand in hand. With the Steelers going to more man coverage this season, increased pressure on the quarterback will make the defense extremely fun to watch, and give Ben Roethlisberger and co. more opportunities with the ball. With his teammates following his lead, intense and maniacal workouts included, James Harrison’s work ethic is rubbing off on everyone. In what is likely his final season, James Harrison is charging into 2017 with a single minded mission, and he is bringing his 60 minute men with him.