Since 1969, there have been only two head coaches in the Steel City, Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher. Between them, that’s six Super Bowl appearances, five world championships and what will become two Hall of Fame careers.
Welcome to Mike Tomlin’s world.
In a city known for its dedication to blue collars and the Steelers, it’s easy to see the pressure this 34-year-old guy must face. Tomlin brings a nice resume to town but has no head coaching experience.
That’s OK because his predecessors didn’t, either. Tomlin is known for a defense that is tough against the run and his ability to be a “player’s coach.” Many of his former defensive players in Minnesota think he will shine as the top decision maker.
How can you question the Rooney family? They have been tremendous in handling this franchise, period. Tomlin has made receivers coach Bruce Arians his offensive coordinator while keeping Blitzburgh guru Dick LeBeau as the defensive coordinator. My guess is that Tomlin will do fine on the sidelines and become very successful.
Another question mark, and a big one at that, is the offensive line. This unit was absolutely erratic in 2006. They failed miserably at pass protection and were bailed out in the running game thanks to Willie Parker’s speed and quickness. Max Starks has fallen on hard times at his right tackle position.
Combining Starks’ lackluster 2006 performance with his ineptitude this preseason, Tomlin has turned to second-year man Willie Colon to fill that position. Colon is known for his run blocking skills, but he has also been solid in the passing game in the preseason.
Perennial all-pro guard Alan Faneca’s contract situation is well known. Faneca will play hard to ensure his pay day elsewhere in 2008. Free agent Sean Mahan has won the job at center. Starting guard Kendell Simmons will back up Mahan at center. This unit needs to improve greatly for this team to become championship contenders.
Lastly, the Steelers were beaten constantly by the pass last season. Ike Taylor, a star in 2005, was relegated to a nickel back role by the middle of last season. LeBeau has claimed Taylor still has plenty of confidence and feels he will once again man the left corner spot successfully. Cornerback Deshea Townsend is aging but has yet to relinquish his spot opposite Taylor.
Fan favorite Troy Polamalu provides both nimbleness and power at strong safety, complementing Ryan Clark’s steadiness.
The Steelers have depth in the secondary, but it is not yet determined how good this depth is. Everyone has sung the praises of cornerback Bryan McFadden, but why can’t he beat out Townsend? Rookie corner William Gay out of Louisville has potential, but is he ready now?
Can anyone think of a better way to start this season with a renewal of the Turnpike Rivalry? Look for plenty of black and gold jerseys outlining the stands in Cleveland Browns Stadium today.
Ben Roethlisberger begins this season many miles away from all the hardships of 2006. Look for him to lead a fourth-quarter, ball-control drive and solidify a 24-14 win en route to an 11-5 season and a playoff spot.
Craig Andros is a regular contributor to Voice of the Fan.