Kevin Gorman: Steelers should be setting new tone at rookie minicamp
This apparently wasn’t the time or place to talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers and their problems of the past year, not with dozens of players being introduced to the organization at rookie minicamp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
I asked Mike Tomlin anyway.
The Steelers, after all, missed the playoffs last season and became a never-ending NFL storyline, if not a punch line for the pundits all offseason.
All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown quit on the team in the final week of the regular season, then demanded a trade and a new contract. Brown got his wishes granted when he was shipped off to the Oakland Raiders for third- and fifth-round draft picks and signed a three-year, $50.125-million contract.
All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell, who sat out the season in protest of receiving the franchise tag for a second straight year, left in free agency for the New York Jets and signed a four-year, $52.5-million contract.
And, on the eve of the NFL Draft, the Steelers announced they signed 37-year-old quarterback Ben Roethlisberger — whose leadership was questioned by analysts all offseason — to a two-year contract extension worth $68 million.
So I asked Tomlin if all of this caused the Steelers to do a self-evaluation and change something.
“We’re just talking about the rookie minicamp,” Tomlin said, cutting off the question. “We’re focused on the guys that are new here and getting them introduced to this environment. There’s going to be times to talk about that, particularly as we focus on those that are returning. But our focus this weekend is introducing ourselves and getting to know the new Steelers.”
And I get that, considering Tomlin’s coaching staff is conducting practices with nine draft picks, 11 undrafted free agents, 18 players invited on tryouts, seven holdovers from the practice squad and 15 first-year players on futures contracts.
Whether the new Steelers will prevent them from being the Same Old Steelers of last season remains to be seen, but the NFL Draft was a good start to bringing in new blood.
Not only did the Steelers draft players with pedigree, but Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert emphasized how much character counts and how much their draft picks love the game.
“It always does, but not in response to anything that’s transpired,” Tomlin said. “It always does.”
Tomlin’s right and wrong. It always should, but especially in response to what transpired.
The Steelers showed a willingness to change when they made the most aggressive move of the first round, trading up 10 spots to select inside linebacker Devin Bush of Michigan at No. 10 overall.
That Bush’s father, Devin Sr., played safety for eight seasons in the NFL and his godfather is Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks are positive signs the rookie understands how to conduct himself like a professional.
That running back Benny Snell, a fourth-round pick from Kentucky, is the great nephew of a Super Bowl champion and the son of a former Baltimore Ravens running back is more proof pedigree counts as much as character to the Steelers.
“We do value the football character element of it,” Tomlin said after the draft, “the commitment to the game … and we feel really good about the grit displayed in a number of these guys.”
Then again, Bush made headlines by showing his flair for fashion with the holster-inspired suit he wore to the draft and branding his UNDRSZD official clothing line. And Snell already is referring to himself regularly in the third person, going so far as to call his style of play “Benny Snell Football.”
Neither Bush nor Snell has played a down in the NFL — they haven’t gone through a practice in pads yet — but both look like they have the promise to be perfect fits with this franchise.
That’s to say they could be just the type of players the Steelers need, polished and productive talents with the potential to become an All-Pro or a prima donna. Bush and Snell are a lot closer to the former than they are the latter.
That could just be the reality of the modern-day NFL, but it’s something Tomlin should address both publicly and privately, and sooner rather than later, before it becomes a problem.
We already know how that story ends for the Steelers.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .