Contrasting blueprints bring similar results for Jets, Steelers
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The Steelers and the New York Jets are as different as two elite teams can be, head coaches aside.
The Steelers were built on a foundation of homegrown talent, with 17 of their 22 starters acquired through the draft.
Only five of the current starters weren't drafted by the Steelers. Linebacker James Harrison was an undrafted free agent in 2002. Inside linebacker James Farrior was signed as a free agent following the 2001 season, and safety Ryan Clark was signed as a free agent following the 2005 season. Tackles Flozell Adams and Jonathan Scott, signed as free agents, are in their first season with the Steelers. Adams and Scott replaced draft picks Willie Colon and Max Starks, who are on injured reserve.
The Jets starting lineup was put together in a different fashion.
Offensively, Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards — formerly of the Steelers and Browns, respectively — rank second and third on the team in receiving. Leading rusher LaDainian Tomlinson was signed as a free agent following nine seasons in San Diego. On defense, linebacker Calvin Pace, who is second on the team in sacks, was signed as a free agent, along with linebacker Bart Scott and safety Brodney Pool, who rank second and third in tackles.
Colbert constructed the Steelers for the long haul. Eleven starters played for the Super Bowl XL championship team five years ago. No other team has as many starters with Super Bowl experience.
Among the Jets, Holmes and tackle Wayne Hunter are the only starters to reach the Super Bowl. Holmes was Super Bowl MVP with the Steelers two years ago. Hunter appeared in one game for Seattle when the Seahawks met the Steelers in Super Bowl XL.
"Some of us have been together so long, we kind of hold the same values, the same ideals about playing the game," Steelers veteran defensive end Aaron Smith said. "This a special group of guys. If you went around the league, you'd find that this locker room is very special in the sense the guys truly care about each other, enjoy each other and enjoy working with each other."
Several of the Jets' key players spent this season getting to know one another.
The Jets were put together for short-term success. For general manager Mike Tannenbaum, the future is now. Tannenbaum's blueprint for success involves acquiring talented players from different organizations with little concern for team chemistry.
Holmes and Edwards, who left their former teams on bad terms, are in the final years of their contacts. It's unlikely the Jets will be able to keep both because of their likely high salary demands.
Among key Steelers starters, cornerback Ike Taylor, an unrestricted free agent and a starter since 2005, is in the final year of his contract and is the player most likely to leave after this season. Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley is in the final year of his original four-year deal, but under the current collective bargaining agreement, the Steelers can retain his rights for two more years.
Taylor said stability and consistency allow the Steelers to remain on top.
"I've been with (Troy) Polamalu for eight years," said Taylor, who entered the league with Polamalu in 2003. "I've been with Ryan Clark for five years. I've been with William Gay for four years, (Bryant McFadden) for (five) years. I've been with James Farrior for eight years, James Harrison for eight years. Me knowing what Troy's going to do, what Ryan Clark's going to do — and them knowing what I'm going to do — helps a whole lot. It speaks to how well the organization tries to keep guys."
According to Clark, the players' familiarity with one another results in a closeness extending beyond the field. Following each defensive series in every game, members of the secondary kneel together in prayer on the sideline.
"We kept praying," Clark said after the Steelers defeated Baltimore in the divisional playoffs last weekend. "Coming to the sideline every time, we prayed about 'these are the plays we gotta make.'"
Starks, who started at left tackle when the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII, said management has a high priority for natural leaders who welcome a team concept when selecting players. A cursory look at the Steelers roster reveals that several players — including Smith, Woodley, Polamalu, McFadden, tight end Heath Miller and defensive end Ziggy Hood — were team captains in their final college season.
Adams put the team first when he accepted a move to right tackle after playing his first 12 seasons at left tackle with Dallas. Taylor still plays on special teams and holds for kickoffs in windy conditions.
"There's not a lot of ego in our locker room," Starks said. "Everybody kind of has very similar characteristics when it comes to their work ethic and their willingness to sacrifice for the betterment of their teammates. The Rooneys and Kevin Colbert have always done a great job to make sure they draft guys with all similar personalities and traits.
"You don't hear about guys having reality TV shows or in the media making noise. The worst was (former linebacker) Joey Porter calling people out. But we always backed it up and he never stepped beyond his bounds. That's what makes this group great. We're not robots like some organizations that just kind of have a blanket thing that they say or they just don't talk. We all have our different personalities, but we're all committed and dedicated to each other and winning."
So are the Jets. But they've yet to attain the Steelers' level of postseason success.
Today's AFC title game could result in a referendum on which way is best. To this point, the Steelers have history on their side.Additional Information:
Players on Steelers' roster who played with other teams: 17
Players on Jets' roster who played with other teams: 21
Current Steelers starters who played with other teams: 6*
Current Jets starters who played with other teams: 11*
* • Totals include kickers and punters
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