Mark Madden: Landing one of the top ILBs in draft a must for Steelers
With apologies to the first robin, there’s no surer harbinger of spring than refreshing sports notes! They come bob-bob-bobbin’ along!
• In free agency, the Steelers have signed mediocre talents at reasonable prices. It’s what they do. That plugs holes but doesn’t really fix much.
The first round of the NFL Draft is April 25. Before then, the Steelers must do whatever’s necessary to be in position to draft Devin White of LSU or Devin Bush of Michigan. White and Bush are the cream of the inside linebacker crop. White is bigger and a bit better. Bush is faster sideline to sideline and might be the best fit.
The Steelers haven’t replaced Ryan Shazier. This is the only way to finally do it. If the Steelers don’t get one of the Devins, their offseason is a failure. Trade up or perish.
• The re-signing of guard Ramon Foster before he got to free agency was a surprise. B.J. Finney was set to take over and perhaps do better for cheaper.
But quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is comfortable with Foster, and Foster is more than adequate. Retaining Foster keeps an adult in the locker room. He’s a mature leader. If the Steelers are serious about a culture change, Foster helps. (Although he hasn’t. It’s tough to respect any Steeler as a leader given the team’s tidal wave of turmoil.)
Where does that leave Finney? He’s a restricted free agent. New Orleans might sign him. The Saints would owe the Steelers a second-round pick. That’s better compensation than Antonio Brown delivered.
• Ex-Steelers running back Josh Harris (who had an NFL “career” of five games and nine carries) said Roethlisberger fumbled intentionally when he didn’t like a play call. The national media has given this allegation far too much credibility. It’s a severe accusation. You had better have proof. Besides Harris and Roethlisberger, nine others were in that huddle. What did they hear and see?
Roethlisberger not bonding with enough teammates is another point of contention. Should the star quarterback be Miss Congeniality by way of placating the scrubs? Do you associate with everyone you work with? Is leadership necessarily a social thing?
Isaac Redman, another ex-Steelers back, disparaged Roethlisberger in the same article that quoted Harris. Redman since has distanced himself from his comments. Redman couldn’t cut or hit the hole. At least he can backpedal.
• In the NHL’s Eastern Conference, Montreal is the first team out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They’re seven points behind the Penguins, so the Penguins are likely safe. Conventional wisdom says if the Penguins get in, they’re a dangerous team.
But what have the Penguins done to suggest they might make a good playoff run? They won seven of nine before hitting a wall at home this past weekend, losing 5-1 to St. Louis and blowing a late lead to succumb to rival Philadelphia, 2-1, in overtime. The Penguins are a vulnerable 21 wins, 16 losses at PPG Paints Arena.
The weekend typified their inconsistency, as did the denouement of the loss to the Flyers: The Penguins allowed a four-on-two that resulted in the tying goal with 19 seconds left. Bryan Rust and Jared McCann were too high, Sidney Crosby got beat through the neutral zone, and Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk was wide open to finish. Contending teams don’t implode at crucial times. Like the Penguins also did Feb. 23 in the Stadium Series game at Philadelphia. It’s difficult to believe in a team that keeps doing that.
• Tuesday’s game at Carolina seems crucial. The Penguins could use a good start to a daunting four-game road trip, especially with Evgeni Malkin out.
But with the upstart New York Islanders still battling for first in the Metropolitan Division and the division’s top five teams all within seven points, it’s difficult to predict how the seeding falls. Third place in the Metro is fine — unless Washington finishes second. The Penguins would rather play the Islanders, Carolina or Columbus.
Dressing room bravado dictates, “We don’t care who we play.” But privately, they do. The Penguins better. Though the Lightning play a similar style, Tampa Bay is a death sentence. The Penguins won’t suddenly snap out of a seasonlong semi-funk to eliminate a team that has battered the NHL to the tune of 114 points in 72 games. Washington, meanwhile, always is a tough foe. Witness the last three years.
The playoffs are about matchups. The Penguins need a favorable one.
• With no area representation save the Robert Morris women — when’s the last time you filled out a women’s bracket pool? — Pittsburgh will lack interest in March Madness. It’s a real shame when no local men’s team can crack the top 68.
March Madness is mostly lame and clichéd, anyway. I hate “One Shining Moment.” I hate the inevitable “Christian Laettner beats Kentucky” highlight. I hate novelty brackets, like a bracket where you pick your favorite KISS song. (That’s obviously “Shock Me.”) I hate when people play 25 brackets and claim expertise when one almost hits. I hate when people say, “I called that upset.” Yeah, but did you bet that upset?
• When Carlos Santana (the first baseman, not the guitar player) played for Philadelphia last season, he caught a few Phillies playing Fortnite while a game was going on. Santana did what any responsible adult would: He took a bat and smashed the TV being used to smithereens. No more Fortnite. Pay attention to your job.
We live in a time when having fun is prioritized. But where do you draw the line?
Arriving at training camp in a helicopter? That’s fun. Pursuing rap? That’s fun. Documenting every waking hour for social media? That’s narcissistic, but fun. But if you’re immature and not required to be a responsible adult, fun takes over. Fun overshadows work, winning and team. Steelers fans know what that looks like.
Work should matter more than fun unless you’re independently wealthy. Therein, perhaps, lies the problem. Too much, too soon.