As the dissection of 2012 continues, don't underestimate the leadership lost when Hines Ward, left, was not wanted back after 2011. He often helped out the younger receivers in practice or camp situations.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers Young Money crew did not live up to expectations in 2012, and that may be as big a reason as any why the Steelers slithered to 8-8 and missed the playoffs. What might have been done to prevent that? • They probably could have used the leadership that Hines Ward brought to their meeting room. The youngsters -- Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown -- not only did not perform up to expectations, sources say they needed someone to keep them in line as well, that they became more selfish in 2013.
• • • •
Ward wanted to come back, and while the Steelers decided he no longer could perform well enough on the field for them to give him one more year, they badly understated his influence on their receiving corps.
"They have a bunch of young, talented guys," Ward said in a recent interview. "The organization chose to go young and in a different direction. My argument was, 'Great, but I don't think any of those guys other than Mike Wallace were in crucial situations to ask them to carry the load.
"They were asked to be put into a huge role at such a young age. I had to deal with it. I was a veteran guy my second year. It's a learning curve for those guys. The transition going to next year, maybe they'll learn from their mistakes.
"I love everything about those guys. I wish them nothing but the best with those guys. ... Hopefully, the light bulb will turn on for those guys and they'll understand what the profession is on and off field.
"With A.B., Mike and Emmanuel, sometimes it takes more than work ethic. You have to put in the time both at work and home to take care of your body and your playbook."
Ward believes the defense remains in good hands, but they have to find a premier running back to make Todd Haley's offense go.
"They're a team in transition, losing some of the older guys. The marquee names are getting older, and it's time for younger guys to step up.
"On defense, they're still playing good football. They'll always finish in the top five. In the secondary, Keenan Lewis had a big year, Ike Taylor is getting older, and there's a transition. You have to find some young stars to step up their play and allow them to be consistent.
"On offense, all those guys are young. Maurkice Pouncey is still young, and they have some new draft picks in the line.
"They have to find a new running back or young stud if they don't sign Rashard Mendenhall. All they have is Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. That's key, especially for Haley's offense. Art Rooney wants to get back to running the ball and playing good defense. Personnel-wise, that was hard for Todd Haley to run his offense.
"This is the year for Pittsburgh to go out and draft a marquee guy to run Todd Haley's offense."
The Bus: One heck of a fall guy
How was Jerome Bettis able to play at a Hall of Fame level for 13 years weighing 250 to 265 pounds when nearly every other back over 240 pounds was a flash in the pan?
"There are two keys in the NFL for running backs," said Bettis, pictured at right. "You have to have the ability to make somebody miss. I don't care if you're 150 pounds or 250 pounds. If you can't make a guy miss, then you're not going to have a long career in the NFL because there's going to be situations where you have to make somebody miss in the hole, or something happens really fast where there's a guy in your face, if you don't have quick feet. If you don't have the ability to be elusive enough where you can make a guy miss in a small area, then you're not going to be effective.
"I was blessed with quick feet; I wasn't fast but I was quick.
"The second thing you have to understand: You have to know how to fall. Just do the math. If you carry the ball 25 times, 9 [games] out of 10, you're going to be on the ground 25 times. So you have to know how, with the football in your arm, how to fall, how to not break ribs, how to not separate your shoulder, how to be good going to the ground and not separating or hurting your elbow or breaking your wrist or something."
When is the last time a player talked about how to fall when tackled?
"People don't realize how important something like that is. A guy puts his arm down, well you have two guys falling on you, so you have 600, 700 pounds of pressure on you. So you break your collarbone or you separate your shoulder because you tried to soften the blow ... I think I was really good understanding that early in my career."
It's cold outside: A history lesson
The Steelers may consider drafting an outside linebacker in the first round this year. Buyer beware because they have a dreadful history of drafting players to play outside linebacker in the first round. In fact, since they switched to a 3-4 defense in 1982, they haven't drafted an outside linebacker worth a can of beans in the first round.
The Steelers have not drafted one in the first round to play outside linebacker in the past 21 years. The last time they did so it was a disaster, picking defensive end Huey Richardson of Florida No. 1 in 1991. They also failed drafting another defensive end to play outside linebacker when they took Aaron Jones of Eastern Kentucky No. 1 in 1988.
The only outside linebacker the Steelers drafted in the first round who had any success since Chuck Noll took over as coach in 1969 was Robin Cole in 1977, when they played a 4-3. A few years after they switched to a 3-4, Cole moved inside.