Watch Tower: Are the Renegade Steelers the NFL’s Next “Lean, Mean, Fighting Machine?”

The Pittsburgh Steelers opened training camp as a team looking to fulfill a host of needs and the press has done its best to keep Steelers Nation up to speed covering a wide range of topics, giving the Watch Tower ample subjects on which to shine its light.

Renegade! BTSC On-Line Pre Season Magazine Subdues Traditional Press

Sports publications ramping up coverage at the start of NFL training camp goes back decades – who can forget the early 80’s Sports Illustrated commercials that ran in early July talking about “a time when hands are taped and protected…”

The mainstream Pittsburgh media has been no exception, but this year they were outfoxed by Behind the Steel Curtain and its “Renegade” on line magazine, featuring 26 articles in 26 hours (which didn’t quite reach that goal to a technical snafu.)

In case you’re missing it: #Steelers preview posts every hour today to celebrate training camp, and they’re all here:
— BTSC Steelers (@btsteelcurtain) July 26, 2013

What’s more amazing is that the 26 articles were written almost entirely by site editor Neal Coolong, despite the fact that he’s got one top Steelers blogging staffs at his disposal (full disclosure, I also write for BTSC.)

When asked about why he undertook such an ambitious project, Coolong explained, “…I go big or I don’t go at all.” Beyond that, Coolong expressed a desire to produce coverage that offers readers something different than other sites provide.

For example, he intentionally chose video highlights on the Steelers 3rd round pick Marcus Wheaton that underscore his likely role in Todd Haley’s offense, as opposed to trying to ride the “Marcus-Wheaton-is-Mike-Wallace” coat tails.

Similarly he took a more sober, but substantive look at 2012 first round draft pick David DeCastro, opting to review video highlights that show DeCastro’s struggles in the Steelers losses vs. Dallas and Cincinnati in addition to highlights that show some of his promise.

While Coolong declined to provide specific numbers, he did say that traffic was good, although perhaps not necessarily better than it would have been had he opted for a more conventional approach.

  • Regardless of traffic, it is BTSC’s unconventional thinking that the Watch Tower salutes

With respect to the traditional press, both the Tribune Review and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette featured stories pushing the yin vs. yang nature of this Steelers training camp.

Allen Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review wrote that the normal crush of national media and talk about Super Bowl expectations was absent at St. Vincent, but then contrasted that with quotes from Larry Foote and Ryan Clark who of course vowed that the Steelers would prove the critics wrong.

Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette attempted to weave a similar piece together drawing upon his drive to Latrobe, quotes from various Steelers, and a reference to ground hog issues St. Vincent’s have been having.  The Watch Tower has long recognized Collier as one of the nation’s wittiest and most insightful sports writers, but whatever he was trying to do in this article quite frankly did not work.

Ray Fittipaldo Joins PG Beat Staff… Then Disappears

Post Gazette Fittipaldo has done occasional pieces on the Steelers since OTA’s in 2010, providing Steelers Nation with some of their first insights on Jonathan Dwyer, for instance.

At the opening of Steelers training camp, Ed Bouchette announced that Fittipaldo was now working the Steelers beat full time for the Post-Gazette. Fittipaldo then did the opening day a video with Bouchette (where he looked a tad bit uncomfortable on camera.)

  • The funny thing is, during the week since, Fittipaldo’s bye line has appeared only once.

Its way too early to make anything of this, but it is peculiar to say the least.

Meet Sanders the Steelers New Stud Speedster, Deep Threat

Emmanuel Sanders gave Steelers Nation one of the most interesting stories during the Steelers 2013 off season. First Sannders had an offer with New England. Then he didn’t (or at least Sanders didn’t sign New England’s offer sheet). Then Sanders did sign it. Then the Steelers were going to let Sanders walk. Then, with Ben Roethlisberger‘s support, the Steelers matched the offer and kept Sanders.

  • And now Sanders is a Steeler again (and wants to stay one apparently.)

The Watch Tower chronicled the Sanders story, and observed that most of the professional press was of the opinion that the Steelers should let Sanders walk and take New England’s third round pick.

  • Those arguments had some merit, but they do add irony to some of the early lead stories on Sanders.

Jim Wexell offered an excellent free piece on his subscription site Steel City Insider, titled “When Did Sanders Get So Fast.”

Dejan Kovacevic wrote a piece titled “Call Sanders the X-Factor” and discussed how Sanders had taken over Mike Wallace’s slot as the “X” receiver. The Tribune Review’s Steel Mill Blog also focused on Sander’s as a downfield threat.

The Steelers the NFL’s New “Lean Mean Fighting Machines?”

The clip is of course from the timeless ‘guy movie’ Stripes.

The movie was released just as the Super Steelers were entering their decline, but if press coverage is to be any guide, the 2013 Steelers have taken John Candy’s “Ox” character’s mantra as their rallying cry.

A quick (and very unofficial) survey of press stories shows that no more than four focus on or at least detail weight loss on the part of the Steelers.

Kudos to Dejan Kovacevic for tying it all together and saying what some fans suspected — last season too many Steelers were out of shape.

At this point it might be apt to include another clip for Stripes, the one where Bill Murray’s character inspires “Ox” to victory in a mud wrestling match with the “Lean Mean Fighting Machine” mantra, but that clip is not on YouTube and this is a family site.

And perhaps it wouldn’t quite be fitting, as Ed Bouchette did do an article about Steve McLendon’s use of ballet al la Lynn Swann, where he also observed that McLendon “officially” gained 40 pounds from his rookie listed weight of 280….

Steelers Salary Cap

John Clayton, former Pittsburgh Press and current ESPN writer, gave Steelers Nation some hope following the 2013 NFL Draft, when he told fans that the Steelers were more or less out of the woods in salary cap trouble. Happy story, right?

  • Not so fast.

Behind the Steel Curtain has done two salary cap pieces taking issue with Clayton’s conclusion. The first went as far as to suggest (citing a Yahoo! article) that the Steelers might need or want to reduce their 2014 salary cap burden by parting ways with expensive veterans, such as Ryan Clark and/or Brett Kesiel.

And BTSC threw further cold water on Clayton’s argument, by providing some analysis that suggest that the NFL’s upcoming TV contracts won’t do much to lift the salary cap – filling in the gaps on what has been a greatly under covered story, both nationally in Pittsburgh.

Steelers Special Teams History Under the Microscope

Bob Labirola did a feature on the Steelers history with special teams in the recent Steelers Digest. One interesting nugget to come out of the story was on Bobby April’s departure.

When Bobby April left Pittsburgh for New Orleans after Super Bowl XXX, word was that he found Bill Cowher too demanding. Labriola sheds a little light here, asserting that the April-Cowher dispute was over who got credit for calling the surprise on-sides.

Not sure what the issue is here, as one NFL Films clip clearly showed April suggesting it to Cowher, Cowher agreeing, and radioing Chan Gailey about the decision.

  • Labriola’s article is good, but the Watch Tower has two bones to pick.

First, there is an error, as Labriola claims that errors in the Steelers 1987 finale vs. Kansas City led Chuck Noll to hire his first special teams coach. Unfortunately the ’87 Steelers finished their season with a home loses vs. Houston and Cleveland (I remember listen to the latter game on the PA Turnpike — it was my introduction to Myron Cope.)

Second, Labriola does a good job of singling out some of the higher profile speicla teams breakdowns in Steelers history, but ignores the quality special teams the Steelers enjoyed under George Stewart, Ron Zook, and Kevin Spencer.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde nature of the Steelers special teams (sniff, sniff, if you’ve read this far you probably are,) then click here for Steel Curtain Rising’s article on it.

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis the Steelers press coverage, click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower.
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