Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, poses for photographers, backdropped by the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben in central London, Tuesday, July 2, 2013. Pittsburgh Steelers will play against the Minnesota Vikings at Wembley Stadium in London, on Sunday Sept. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
It’s no secret that last season was deemed by many as a failure. An 8-8 finish in a year that had lofty expectations was a major disappointment for the players, coaches, ownership and of course the fans. There are many reasons the team underachieved in 2012; one of those reasons was a lack of leadership. Inside the locker room the team will have you believe that wasn’t the case but it’s hard to say otherwise. The Steelers started off strong and basically fell apart once Ben Roethlisberger was injured. A team with quality leadership wouldn’t allow that to happen.
While the players returning to the team last year won’t flat out say they lacked leadership, they have all admitted in their own round about ways that there needs to be a change in the locker room; more of a team first attitude. The big question is who amongst the players can lead his teammates into battle? Who has the presence, ability and respect in the locker room to do so?
The answer in the past was obvious, Hines Ward, James Farrior, Joey Porter. As this team transitions from old to young, the answer isn’t as blatant.
My first candidate for captain and leader is the easiest of all the picks, it’s Big Ben Roethlisberger. He’s the franchise quarterback and the guy that most players will automatically look to first. He’s the best player on this team and can lead by example on the field and resource his vast experience of winning big games off of it when he’s working with and talking to the younger guys. Roethlisberger has matured vastly over the past few years and it’s now time for him to take this team on his back and lead them as far as he can. He knows he has to do this and I believe he can.
Sticking with the offensive side of the ball; Maurkice Pouncey seems like another great candidate to lead the guys on the offensive side of the ball. As the Center, he works with just about every unit and player on offense. He’s a hard worker, perennial pro bowler and a guy who isn’t afraid to speak his mind. To me, he’s the perfect guy to teach the guys on the offensive line, both young and old as well as take the running backs under his wing too. As a guy who is down in the trenches on a down by down basis, he has a lot of respect inside that locker room and if he can step up and take on the responsibility of being a leader, it will help this team go a long way.
On the defensive side of the ball my first pick to lead the guys is Brett Keisel. He’s a man who’s played for many years with great success. He’s acknowledged that he may be retiring after this season and it’s a good bet he’d like to add one more ring to his hardware. Being the long term veteran on a relatively young defensive line, it only makes sense for him to lead the group. He can still play well and put up some very impressive statistics and much like Big Ben, he can resource his experience in winning the big games to help tutor the youth that’s surrounding him.
Lastly another grizzled veteran; Larry Foote. Foote put up one of the best years he’s ever had in 2012 and he too can lead on the field with his play as well as off with his experience. Foote has a lot of respect in the locker room and is a guy that won’t let things get out of hand if a guy or two starts to become individually focuses vs. looking at the teams’ long term aspirations. Look for Foote to step up and quite frankly he may be the best leader this team has by the time the season rolls around.
Leaders however are not picked by me, you or even the coaches. Leaders step up on their own and other players begin to gravitate towards them. If the 2013 version of the Steelers has any of the four above players step up as leaders, they’ll be well on their way. If it’s not these guys, it will need to be another set of guys or else this team will find itself right where they were in 2012, disappointed, frustrated and looking for answers.
Editor’s Note: Mike Pelaia hosts the website Steel Nation Association http://www.steelnationassociation.com – Covering the Steelers and helping Children’s Hospital All Day Everyday. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org