Kovacevic: 'Dissension' done, Polamalu, Clark say
You know, the Steelers just might be kidding themselves. All this talk of close losses in 2012, all this emphasis from Mike Tomlin on being more diligent with little details … all of it could prove to be eyewash in the end. Or hogwash. A state of denial. A dereliction in addressing the real problems at the root of 8-8.
But I don't think so.
And I don't think so, I'm not embarrassed to admit, primarily because Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark don't think so.
The safeties are the souls of any defense, but with these Steelers, these two are the souls of the franchise. Polamalu and Clark, more than anyone now, espouse and embody what's been great about this team for the better part of five decades now, on and off the field.
I interviewed both gentlemen late Saturday night after the preseason opener at Heinz Field, and both spoke passionately about how what this collective group needs most at this pivotal point — Reloading? Rebuilding? Rethinking everything? — is simple stability. To push something of a spiritual reset button.
Such a catharsis, of course, has to begin with recognizing the problem. And it's safe to say the safeties get that.
“I believe the strength of this organization is in its camaraderie and its family atmosphere. We didn't have those last year,” Polamalu said. “To me, that's kind of what separates us from most teams, that we've had that foundation here. When talent is pretty equal across the board — and it is in the NFL — you're looking in areas other than schematics to gain an edge. And that was an edge we didn't have.”
Remember when Hines Ward suggested as much last winter on national TV and was laughed off by some in the Steelers' locker room?
Well, don't laugh when Polamalu says it.
Or Clark, for that matter: “This camp has been leaps and bounds better than last year as far as the chemistry. Guys aren't necessarily working harder. They're just working better together. There hasn't been that dissension ... even through the media, about this guy not getting along with that guy, different fights happening, you haven't seen that. I think that bodes well for us. That's the Steelers you're used to seeing. And I think it showed in our play and our execution.”
Roll your eyes if you want. Few will want to hear or read about chemistry or intangibles after 8-8. And for sure, no one will want to offer brownie points for playing nice together.
Especially not if all this apparent harmony is simply the result of some Mike Tomlin directive to keep any discord in house.
“Coach?” Clark came back when I raised that possibility. “No, he's still being Mike T. and letting us be men, allowing us to do and say the things we feel. I just think it's more about his sense of urgency, correcting things with this team from last year … that filters down. We understand how serious he is about getting this fixed.”
Clark's eyes then widened.
“But also, we hate it. We hate being attached to 8-8. So we're trying to fix that ourselves, through the leaders, through the guys who have been here, we're trying to implement the old Steeler Way. You know, getting along, chemistry, hanging out, working hard on the field but having a good time doing it.”
To that end, Polamalu, Clark and other team leaders — Brett Keisel, Larry Foote, Ben Roethlisberger, Jerricho Cotchery — have, by all accounts, welcomed this promising rookie class as if it's truly something special. And it's gone beyond helping with the playbook or practices. It's almost as if they're looking at these draft picks as some symbolic chance to start anew.
“Absolutely. Oh, absolutely,” Polamalu said at the mere mention of the draftees. “When you bring in guys that have that humble disposition, guys who have that Steelers Way about them … they play hard, know their role, know the chain of command. I can't tell you how happy we are to have them here.”
“We've showed it in Latrobe the whole camp,” Clark said. “It's one of the positives of having camp away from home, where we're all together. Those two hours between meetings or other free time we have, we're using them now to get to know Jarvis Jones, to get to know Le'Veon Bell. We want to embrace them. First of all, they're talented. It's a great group. But we also want to bring them into this. We want to make them Steelers.”
If not, I can offer at least six compelling — and silver and shiny — reasons why the safeties might be onto the smartest route.