MIKE TOMLIN is heading into his eleventh year as Steelers head coach. He’s 103-57, with a Super Bowl win and two AFC Championships on his resume. (Photo by Brian Cook)

There will be a passing of a torch, but not the torch when the 2017 NFL season kicks off for the Steelers against Cleveland, Sept. 10.

Now hold your horses boys and girls. I am in no way minimizing or trivializing the final preseason “skirmish” between the Steelers and Panthers, Aug. 31 in Charlotte. But…

There may be bigger fish to fry with the Steelers as they prepare to open the regular season. There are issues at the backup quarterback position, and a few discrepancies as far as the Steelers’ defensive backfield is concerned, but one thing is clear; If the Steelers’ future NFL Hall-of-Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is injured for any length of time, there will be a huge problem. Let’s begin with the ordained No. 2 QB, Landry Jones. There were a few talking heads promoting that Jones “competed” and “improved” in the Aug. 26 game against the Colts. There are a few barrels filled with yada, yada, yada regarding having an experienced backup signal caller behind Big Ben. Jones was the second of two fourth-round picks that the Steelers had in 2013. He was inactive for all 16 games that year.

ANTONIO BROWN LEAPS for a pass during the Aug. 26 preseason matchup vs. the Indianapolis Colts at Heinz Field. (Photos by Brian Cook)

In 2014, Jones was also inactive for the entire season including the Steelers’ one playoff game. Jones had excellent collegiate stats but that skillset has not evolved into his NFL performances, well, maybe with the exception of a flash here and a spark there. Regardless of his recent abdominal injury, he should have dissected an Indianapolis front seven and secondary that was mostly comprised of second stringers. The Steelers should not have lost by four measly points. Jones has had a four-year audition. He’s had many opportunities to stand in for Roethlisberger but the majority of the time, Jones did not stand out. The 2017 preseason should be the final “steel” curtain call for Landry Jones. It is time for Jones to get his last visit from the “Turk” to demand that he turn in his Pittsburgh Steelers playbook. The Steelers must now begin preparing and grooming two hungry rookie quarterbacks, Joshua Dobbs, the former quarterback for the Tennessee Volunteers, and Bart Houston from the University of Wisconsin to be the two QBs backing up Roethlisberger.

FOLLOWING A YEAR-LONG SUSPENSION, Martavis Bryant seems ready to wreak havoc against opponents this year. Courier Photographer Brian Cook captured Bryant on the sidelines, during the Aug. 26 game against Indianapolis.Recently-reinstated Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant looks to be working himself back into Pittsburgh’s ultra-dangerous offense. Big Ben has to be very happy, happy that No. 10 is back in the saddle again. Before the end of 2017 Roethlisberger and his “crew” are going to have a few NFL defensive coordinators crying in their “brew” trying to figure out a way to cover a Steelers wide receiving corps masquerading as greyhounds for 60 minutes.

There have been a few Steelers fans as well as many of the talking heads that “cover” the Steelers pointing out that almost every time the Steelers excelled in the past, it was because Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin inherited most of his personnel from former coach Bill Cowher. However, when Pittsburgh falters, the responsibility for their failures begin and end in the pastures of their current shepherd, Tomlin. There have always been a few more lions and tigers and bears, oh my, in the pasture of the Steelers since Tomlin has possessed the “rod and staff” to oversee the team. Except for the Rooney family, Tomlin did not receive a royal or any other kind of welcome from the fans or the writers when he landed the job as only the third Pittsburgh head coach since 1969, following in the footsteps of the late, great Chuck Noll and the fiery, spittle-in-your-face motivator, Cowher. Michael McCambridge wrote a book titled, Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work. In the book, he writes: “A few weeks after the retirement, Chuck and Marianne were sitting on the Steelers’ private charter jet out of Pittsburgh headed down to Hilton Head. There was one other passenger—Bill Cowher, who’d recently been named to succeed Chuck as head coach. Cowher’s face was an open book; nose broken by too many tackles, thick mustache giving the appearance of a new cop on the beat, an energized conversationalist who occasionally emitted clouds of spittle when he was particularly excited. In personality and demeanor, he was the polar opposite of Chuck. But Cowher also had a deep respect for football history and the tradition he was inheriting in Pittsburgh. Leaning over before takeoff, he said to Chuck, ‘I would appreciate your input. Is there anything you think I should know?’ ‘You’ll be fine,’ Chuck said. ‘Be yourself, do your best, and I am sure you’re going to be fine.’ Of course, Cowher getting the coaching job meant that Joe Greene hadn’t. On the day of Chuck’s retirement press conference, Bill Nunn had brought Greene into his office and counseled him that, while he might be a head coach one day, he was not ready for the job yet. But Greene, as the player most responsible for the Steelers dynasty, and the first—and most important—player Chuck ever drafted, had to be considered for the job.”

LOVIN’ THE STEELERS—Courier photographer Brian Cook captures Steelers fans enjoying their time at the Aug. 26 game against the Colts.

Noll and the late Bill Nunn Jr., the team’s “superscout,” aside from the players themselves, were two of the most successful talent evaluators in the history of the NFL. Tomlin did not have the opportunity to sit down on a private jet flight with Cowher to discuss the past, present or the future of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tomlin had and continues to have a large target on his chest and his back. When the torch was passed from Noll to Cowher, it was displayed on the highest hill for all to see. When the torch was passed from Cowher to Tomlin, there was a fire hose ready to snuff it out. But alas, the torch of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Mike Tomlin continues to shine bright, illuminating the valley of the Pittsburgh sports world.

(Reach Aubrey Bruce at 412-583-6741.)

 

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