Steelers move to address leadership void after losing Farrior, Ward
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — It is impossible to quantify, yet ill-advised to ignore.
That is why leadership was taken into account before the Steelers released longtime captains James Farrior and Hines Ward as well as Aaron Smith, another veteran that commanded respect from his teammates.
It is also why the Steelers' anticipation of what happens off the field may rival the competition that takes place on it leading up to the 2012 season.
"It will be interesting to see whose team this becomes because James Farrior was the team leader, not just the defensive leader, so we'll see who steps up," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. "To me it's wide open, but it's something you can never predict because you never know who is going to show up when it's really required."
That is not the only reason why leadership looms as such an X-factor with the Steelers.
Turnover may be inevitable in a league where the average career span is less than four years, but the Steelers' offseason purge cost them three captains.
Farrior, an inside linebacker and defensive quarterback, and Ward, the Steelers' all-time leading receiver, had been captains for a combined 15 seasons. Arnaz Battle, released before Farrior and Ward, joined them as a special teams captain last season.
"I can't sit here and say, 'This is our leader,'" Colbert said. "We're looking for that right now."
The good news for the Steelers is they still have a significant veteran presence in their locker room. Even better: They are not new to the transition that takes place when core players from championship teams have to be replaced.
"We went through this during the '70s," Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney said Monday while taking a break during the NFL owners' meetings.
The Steelers had to replace defensive tackle Joe Greene and linebackers Andy Russell and Jack Ham following the run that produced four Super Bowl titles.
Rooney and Steelers president Art Rooney II said they expect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a two-time captain, to take on more of a leadership role this season. And the elder Rooney said, "You still have (nose tackle) Casey (Hampton). He's a good leader."
One thing Steelers brass seems to agree on is that leadership can't be forced or conferred upon any one player.
The Steelers could not have guessed that Farrior, who signed with the franchise in 2002, would blossom into the unquestioned leader of a team that won two Super Bowls.
"It can't be something where you just say, 'OK, you're the leader,'" Rooney II said. "The leader has to really be someone that the players buy into. I think we have quite a few good young players who are the kind of players who can be leaders on the team, and we still have veteran players who can play that role, too. But it's something that evolves, and it can't be artificial. It's got to be something that just develops as the chemistry of the team develops every year."