Ready or not? Steelers preseason holds answer



Shortly after the offensive linemen broke from their morning meeting with position coach Mike Munchak, guard Ramon Foster — the oldest player on the line — reminded his fellow mates of what happened a year ago when a winless preseason by the Steelers was followed by an 0-4 start in the regular season.

With 21 new players on the 2013 roster, that meant that 40 percent of the team went eight games before experiencing a victory. Certainly not the culture a franchise with six Super Bowl trophies desires with so many new faces.

“That’s not the Steelers way,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “That’s not the way we do things here. That’s not how we’re going to do things here.”

The Steelers are looking to change that this year, beginning with the preseason opener Saturday night against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

It might not be that the Steelers suddenly will put a win-at-all-cost emphasis on preseason games, sacrificing player evaluation and development for a victory in an otherwise meaningless game.

But there will be a greater sense of urgency in the preseason to get off to a better start and set a tone for the regular season, several players said.

“We already talked about that,” Beachum said. “We already got a mindset going in — we’re going in to dominate, we’re going into change that. We’re not coming out of the gate slow, we’re coming out of the gate fast.”

“You say [the preseason] doesn’t mean anything, but there’s always a sense that winning is important, regardless of the circumstances,” guard David DeCastro said. “I think Coach [Mike Tomlin] is going to stress that as well. Preseason is like a job interview. You got to have a sense of urgency.”

Winning preseason games is not necessarily a precursor for how a team will perform in the regular season.

For example, the Steelers were 1-3 in the 1995 preseason, but won their first two games of the regular season and went on to the Super Bowl.

Historically, though, poor preseasons also have led to equally poor records in the regular season. Since 1970, the Steelers have been winless in the preseason only twice before last season — 1987 (0-4) and 2006 (0-4) — and each time they finished 8-7 and 8-8, respectively.

“We know it’s the preseason and there’s a difference from the regular season,” Beachum said, “but we’re going in knowing we need to dominate. We need to be winning right now and be competing at a very high level.”

Conversely, in their years the Steelers went to the Super Bowl, the preseason has served as a precursor to their success.

In their past three trips to the Super Bowl, the Steelers went 3-1 in the preseason in 2005, 2008 and 2010.

“There’s always a great emphasis on winning, but at the same time we’re trying to evaluate and do a lot of different things and have a schedule planned for all players, top to bottom,” said offensive coordinator Todd Haley, a former head coach in Kansas City. “Winning is the name of game. There’s always an emphasis on that.

“But if you start deviating from your structured plan of the way you want to do things to get everyone ready for the season, then you start to mess with something that may not be broke.”


Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.

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