Robinson: NFL is poised to return to L.A., Rooney says

| Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Steelers safety Damon Cromartie-Smith is often seen wearing a Dodgers cap. But while growing up in the Los Angeles megalopolis, Cromartie-Smith couldn't wear a hat representing the NFL team in the nation's second-largest city.

Inexplicably, there hasn't been an NFL franchise in the City of Angels (and Dodgers) since the Rams left for St. Louis and the Raiders returned to Oakland before the 1995 season.

That's about to change, and perhaps in a big way, as a back-to-Los Angeles movement gains considerable momentum. With multiple franchises unhappy with their a) lease, b) attendance, c) stadium or d) all of the above, it seems likely there will be an NFL team in Los Angeles in the next five years.

Perhaps as early as next season, though that seems improbable.

It might not be one team, either.

Steelers president Art Rooney II, chairman of the NFL stadium committee, is among the owners most plugged into what appears to be the inevitable return to LA. Because there are no plans to expand the 32-team league, a Los Angeles franchise — or franchises — would result from a relocation.

The prime candidates include the Chargers and, remarkably, the Rams and Raiders. Jacksonville also might figure into the equation.

“I would think that, within five years, L.A. would have a team,” Rooney said. “I wouldn't be surprised if it's two teams. I wouldn't want to make a prediction, but I would be comfortable saying one. But there's certainly a chance there will be two.”

Building a new stadium — a necessity for the NFL to return to Los Angeles — will be expensive no matter the location, given the price of Southern California real estate. So it would appear to make more fiscal sense to have two teams share a billion-dollar stadium, as the Giants and Jets do in the almost-new MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

Commissioner Roger Goodell this summer reportedly sent a letter to owners setting the parameters for such a move; among them, a team must declare by Feb. 15 if it intends to relocate for the 2013 season (and, at least temporarily, play in the Coliseum or Rose Bowl). The NFL also will be involved directly in relocation plans.

There are two proposed stadium sites, in the city of Industry, about 22 miles from downtown, and a downtown location that is being pushed by AEG, the sports and entertainment company that owns Staples Center and half of the Los Angeles Kings.

“I think progress is being made,” Rooney said. “I'm not sure I'd say it's a done deal yet; some work needs to be done. But they're making progress, and I think site selection will probably be the next thing that happens.”

So, in the near future, some NFL owner will be humming the Randy Newman song “I Love L.A.” And the biggest winner might be Fox or CBS or ESPN, all of whom are likely to pick up larger game-day audiences in the nation's No. 2 TV market.

Having two teams in Los Angeles would create more West Coast travel for teams, including the Steelers, who have traveled to California only once in the past five regular seasons.

Despite harm, no foul

When Ben Roethlisberger revealed during camp that he developed a partially torn rotator cuff last season, it raised questions whether the Steelers violated the NFL injury policy by not disclosing it.

The NFL's response: No problem.

“We have had no issues with the Steelers on the injury report,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an email.

Three questions

Chris Carter, a second-year outside linebacker from Fresno State, is filling in for the injured James Harrison, who had knee surgery last week. Carter played in eight games last season.

What is it like replacing one of the NFL's best-known defensive players? “You get in there with guys like Brett Keisel, Troy (Polamalu) and Ryan (Clark) and Ike Taylor, all those guys, you've got to make sure you're on your Ps and Qs. You make sure you execute quickly because you don't want to mess those guys up. They've been in this defense for years — they're (almost) perfect. So you want to keep things going smooth.”

What is it like making it in the NFL despite not being from a BCS school? “When you get here, all those college rankings and all those things that get hyped up really don't matter. There's a lot of guys in the SEC that coaches thought were better than me, and now I'm here and they're not. I didn't go to an SEC school or a big BCS school, but it didn't change my perception. I want to hit somebody just like the next guy. I want to make plays just like the next guy, and I've got the ability and talent to do it.”

What have you learned from Harrison? “Man, the more I get to watch him, (I understand) this man is a genius. He knows a lot about the game mentally; he knows a lot about coverages, knows a lot about offenses. His technique is probably the best of any outside 'backer I've watched in the league. I'm in-house with the guy. I get to talk to him every day, and if I've got any questions, he's there to answer them.”

Position battle

With training camp switching to the South Side this week, it will be interesting to see how the running backs competition plays out now that Rashard Mendenhall (knee) could be practicing within days. How soon will he be ready? Will Isaac Redman (groin) be out long? How will Baron Batch and Chris Rainey divide carries?

Player to watch

Might want to pay attention to nose tackle Steve McLendon during the exhibition game against the Colts, if only to see whether he can duplicate his one-handed tackle of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. When Casey Hampton is ready to play again, will the Steelers dare stack the 350-pound McLendon and the bigger-still Hampton in the middle on run downs?

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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