´ Steel Curtain Rising: Watch Tower: Putting the Haley-Roethlisberger Relationship Under the Microscope... And more

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Watch Tower: Putting the Haley-Roethlisberger Relationship Under the Microscope... And more

The 2013 NFL draft is in the books, most of the Steelers draft picks are under contract, free agent signings have largely been complete, and even OTAs are at an end. But there’s still plenty for the Watch Tower to shine its lights on.

Big Ben Likes the Changes to Todd Haley’s Offense….

The most important news to come out of OTA didn’t deal with the rookies, offensive line shuffling, or even Mike Adams stabbing.

No it was Allen Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review article’s on Ben Roethlisberger’s regarding the changes that Todd Haley has installed to the offense.

As Robinson details, no one was happy with the offense last year, not even Haley himself.  Roethlisberger was coy about the specifics, but he explained that everyone from the position coaches, to the players to Haley himself chimed in on how they could improve.

Robinson went so far as to observe “it was obvious he seemed more comfortable with the offense than he did at any time last season.”

That’s an interesting, not to mention encouraging, observation. Assuming it is accurate. Past history suggests it might not be….

Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley’s Unspoken Conflict in 2012

…No bigger subplot to the 2012 season existed than the relationship between new offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger. Ben had been out right chummy with Bruce Arians and was not happy to see him go and Haley had a reputation for getting in the faces and under the skin of his players.
  • How would the two gel?
The professional press entered the season looking and smelling for the slightest whiff of conflict. Each stray comment got magnified, but each time either Haley and/or Roethlisberger raced to the microphone to assure that nothing was wrong.

Yet, October Ian Rapaport of NFL.com claimed the two men were butting heads, suggesting that Haley would be gone by year’s end. But Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure I also write for BTSC) quickly cast doubt Rapaport’s sources, reminding everyone that his “exclusive” on the extent of David DeCastro’s preseason injury had been wrong.
  • Nothing serious surfaced as Ben was in route to an All Pro season before getting injured. 
Then came the Steelers disappointing loss to Dallas, where Roethliberger openly criticized the play calling in the second half, specifically referencing the inability to get the ball more to Heath Miller, complaining “I just don't think we called the right plays to get him the ball.”

Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review immediately proclaimed a “100-percent legitimate, non-manufactured quarterback vs. coordinator controversy,” further arguing that “No team can function without its quarterback and offensive coordinator on the same page, and these guys aren't in the same library right now.”

But before the 2012 season began, the Steelers fire fighting strategy was to give the press liberal access to Todd Haley, which contrasted starkly from Mike Tomlin's previous practice of preventing the press from speaking with his coordinators.

After the Dallas game the Steelers PR unit moved into high gear, as Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that “The reality is, the Steelers called nine plays designed for Miller in the second half, but the Cowboys' coverage forced Roethlisberger away from throwing to Miller.”

Dulac did not credit that statistic to anyone, but clearly he got it from somewhere inside the Steelers organization, and such a specific information was almost certainly leaked on purpose.

All was well the faithful of Steelers Nation were assured….

We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us…

The Steelers neat little PR strategy for denying any Haley-Roethlisberger rift was undone early in the 2013 off season by their own hand.

Editor Bob Labriola’s lead article in the February Steelers Digest had a picture of Ben and Haley and headline that proclaimed “This Has to Get Fixed First.” Labriola is of course employed by the Steelers, something evident in the Super Bowl ring that can sometimes been seen on his hand in Steelers.com videos (I love Labs, but why does he get a ring?)

Fans often criticize him for being a Rooney stooge, and sometimes that’ true. But historically Labriola hasn’t hesitated to call it like it is, something that goes back as far as his merciless criticism of Joe Walton’s offense during Chuck Noll’s ill fated trek up Walton’s mountain.
  • Labriola did not mince words here either. 
First he admonished Ben and Haley to accept that they’re stuck with each other. He then charges that the situation that saw Haley replacing Arians “was not a positive in 2012” explaining that “Roethlisberger and Haley weren’t communicating last season.”

Labrolia was quick to indicate that Roethlisberger and Haley of course spoke and were civil but implored both men to “communicate in a manner that’s both honest enough and productive enough for the Steelers offense to become a force in 2013.”
  • Has that process occurred? 
Alan Robinson’s article would have us think so. Hopefully Robinson’s report turns out to be more than spin from the Steelers PR team.

Legursky Gets No Love II

Pittsburgh Steelers back up/part time starting Center/Guard Doug Legrusky signed last week with the Buffalo Bills.
  • Not that you’d have learned that if you relied on the Post-Gazette or Tribune Review for your information.
As of Saturday June 9th, news of Legursky’s departure was not reported by either paper despite being reported by Behind the Steel Curtain on June 6th and the Bills website.
  • Legursky leaves a lesson for future free agents
If you’re an unrestricted free agent that wants to leave Pittsburgh without any fanfare, do it during June. Last year Mewelde Moore, one of the unsung heroes form the 2008 Super Bowl season, signed with the Colts and as the Watch Tower noted, Pittsburgh’s dailies all but ignored his defection.
  • Honestly, there is no excuse for this lack of coverage. 
Certainly OTA’s provide reporters with ample access to rookies and veterans which in turn gives them excellent story material. And one can say that in this age of Twitter and 24/7 Sports Talk radio that fans have other means of learning of such departures.
  • But neither is a reason to ignore departures of players like Legursky or Moore.
As Steel Curtain Rising will write in the future, Legursky’s loss could come back to haunt the Steelers mightily in 2013. Did the Steelers attempt to sign him? If not, why? If so was it a money issue, or does he not fit into the new zone run blocking scheme?

These questions are important, and Steelers Nation deserves a press corps that is attentive enough to ask them.

Untold Story Behind the Thomas Signing

And while the Watch Tower is burning into professional press its only right to point out another non-story, this one involving rookie safety Shamarko Thomas.

Days after the Kevin Colbert told season ticket holders that draftee signings would have to occur after June 1st, the Steelers went out and signed 4th round draft pick Shamarko Thomas. Pittsburgh’s dailies reported the move, but did nothing to detail why.

Behind the Steel Curtain did, reporting about how Thomas is supporting his brothers and sisters and can put his signing bonus to immediate use.

Assistant Coaches Get Face Time

One of the treats of NFL draft coverage in the digital age is that post pick press conferences with position coaches get posted on the Steelers website in full.

Watching Carnell Lake and Randy Fitncher was a real treat and an insightful experience, and seeing Johnny Mitchell spar with the press as he compared Nicholas Williams to Steve McLendon was not to be missed. Check them out if you haven’t already.

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media that cover the Steelers, click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising's Watch Tower.

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