By Christina Rivers
The look on the faces of veteran defenders on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster have been ones covered with disappointment. Frustration seems to be a theme that is running through the squad. The Steelers are used to a level of defensive play that could be counted on, but that hasn’t been the case during the 2014 NFL season. While there is a decent expectation that young players on the defense have to be given time to learn the inside workings, veterans are expressing a need for the team to come together as soon as possible. The upcoming Carolina Panthers game will be a true test.
Mike Mitchell played in Carolina last season on the league’s second-ranked defense. Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor have played on Super Bowl defenses with the Steelers. None of them are comfortable with the current pace of the 2014 defense. Whether there is a discipline issue off the field in regards to personal study or not, having to hear your coaches tell you that your squad isn’t playing to the standard or expectation has led to several veterans speaking out.
“You can’t constantly rely on someone patting you on the back,” said Keisel about young players. “You’ve got to be a pro, you’ve got to approach it like a pro, you’ve got to study like a pro. That’s the biggest thing I want these (younger) guys to understand. This is big business, and you’ve got to be ready to go when that National Anthem goes off.”
Keisel was brought back to the Steelers team this season to help bolster what looked to be a talented class of rookies and young defenders who struggled early on and continue to do so. “Its going to take some time, unfortunately. But we don’t have time. We don’t have time for this to be a natural progression. It needs to happen now…needed to happen yesterday. So when we come into work you have to be focused on your job and make sure that when you’re out there practicing that you are executing your job.”
Mitchell echoed similar sentiment regarding playing defense in the NFL. “It’s how you practice and prepare (for the games). It’s not corny; it’s the way that you do the little things…There’s a way that they have to be done (that) begets winning,” said Mitchell on Monday. “You have great guys…that have been around and won Super Bowls and brought championships to this town. So really, young guys have to buy into what (veterans are) saying and what they’re doing and that’s winning – it’s proven.”
Polamalu said that returning to basics, like better tackling and maintaining defensive assignments was critical for Pittsburgh. “We have to work (issues) out otherwise we’re going to be up-and-down like we were all of last year…There’s always a sense of urgency to win whether we’re 2-0 (or) 0-2.” He added that not only will the Steelers be pacing themselves against the Carolina Panthers offense this weekend, but also the defense.
Following the loss to the Ravens, Taylor pointed out, “You’ve just got to be honest with yourself, as a football player and a man. Everybody likes to throw rocks but playing this game, you’ve got to be honest with yourself and ask yourself, ‘Did I play hard? What do I need to work on?’ You need to self-evaluate, because that’s the only way you’re going to last.”
“(There’s) a reason a defense is a good defense,” added Keisel, “because they all understand their role and they’re all accountable…they are where they are supposed to be. If one guy slips up, if one guy isn’t there, these teams that you’re playing against know how to exploit that and that’s happened to us. So we all have to be accountable…”
The request from the defensive veterans on the Steelers roster isn’t a calling-out so much as a call-up. The Steelers have traditionally used veterans to train the younger guys with success and a sense of pride. “You have to have good leaders in order to have a good team,” said Keisel. “We take that position very seriously and we expect to lead by example.”
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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on