Mike Tomlin was born on Beware the Ides of March day....March 15th. So I'm checking out what gifts he's getting on his 41st birthday.
He gets: An 8-8 football team, the worst record in his 6 seasons as head coach. He gets a rebuilt offensive line, with the potential of being a very good one. Some day. But to go with that potentially imposing line, he doesn't have a feature back to run behind it. So, throw the ball. OK. But, to whom? His number 1 receiver, Anonio Brown, is a guy who took giant steps backward (literally) last season. Literally, because he showed his immaturity when he ran backwards through the red zone in one of his alarmingly few ventures into the end zone. After which he was taken to the woodshed by the coach and some teammates who informed him, or reminded him, that this kind of behavior may work for Terrrel Owens, and it may work at Central Michigan, but not in Pittsburgh. I don't know if they told him fumbles and dropped passes are also not acceptable. I thought Brown had matured as a person and player in the second half of 2011. His play was exceptional, which earned him the big contract, and was partially the reason they parted with Mike Wallace. But Brown's response is unsettling, and there are big questions about his ability/maturity to step up and be the go-to guy. Their prospective number 2 receiver is barely a competent number 3 receiver. Emmanel Sanders has talent, but his injury list is the biggest part of his resume. And while he seems to have little trouble getting open, he has big trouble catching the ball when it's thrown to him, and at least as many problems hanging on to it when he does. If Emmanuel Sanders is the Steelers' number 2 receiver, they are in trouble.
There are 2 saving graces, if you will, for the offense. If the offensive line, with 2 number 1 picks and 2 number 2 picks coalesces, they could lessen their passing issues by just running the ball, not to mention protecting Ben much better. But again, even if the O-line reaches or exceeds the lofty draft positions of its members, who do they have to take advantage of it? Jonathon Dwyer and Ike Redman are plodders. They get you 4 yards if the O-line creates 4 yards for them. Nothing more. They need a something more kind of RB.
The other saving grace is #7. You've got a franchise quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, not only one of the top 5 in the game, but a guy early in his prime years. There's a lot of good football left in this Hall of Fame member in waiting. But he can't do it alone. And right now, he's pretty much alone.
At Tomlin's birthday gift unwrapping, he has a defense that is strong on stats, but weak on game changing plays. Back in the day, they excelled at both. They dominated teams, they dictated games. Not any more. Those days are gone, because many of the players who made those defenses to be feared are gone as well. Now you add James Harrison to the list. OK, he'll be 35 in a few weeks, you've got salary cap issues. We know the drill. But who steps in, and who steps up? Jason Worilds? Maybe, but that's a huge maybe. And you might be able to breathe a bit easier if you knew what you could expect from LaMarr Woodley. But his performance and injuries make him a huge variable in 2013. And even if he does come back to 2010 form, how much will his effectiveness be compromised by having Worilds instead of Harrison on the opposite side? You think teams won't give a tackle some help blocking Woodley while they figure they can deal with Worilds one on one?
Larry Foote's new contract was a gift to Tomlin, but the truth is they still haven't adequately replaced James Farrior. Foote is competent, may not hurt you, but OK and may not hurt you in too many places is what leads you to 8-8.
I could go on and on. So could you. But let's end the winter of discontent now, and see what the spring of hope will be after the draft. But one draft is not going to plug all the leaks that have sprung up just in this one offseason. A
lthough he will say at some or many points in the coming weeks... "We look forward to the challenge" and "We only worry about the players that are here, not the ones that aren't"...I can't imagine this 41st birthday being a very happy one for the Steelers head coach. Beware the Ides of March. And in the team's case, beware the inevitable winds of change!