DeCastro’s Preferred Order: Fries with That, Hold the Drama
The Steelers have emerged from their offseason sessions confident they’re capable of playing better. They also maintain a new atmosphere and culture have been established. But they won’t know for certain until they actually start playing.
The offseason the Steelers completed with the conclusion of Mandatory Veteran Minicamp this week was much more refreshing than it was reassuring.
But for a team in need of an emotional makeover as badly as the Steelers, refreshing is more than enough for the time being.
We know this much as everyone departs for the summer: These Steelers sincerely want to distance themselves from the drama that was perceived as ever-present last season. They want to be contenders much more than they want to be hot take and talk show fodder.
Perhaps that’s why guard David DeCastro was so adamant things had absolutely, positively changed for the better upon arriving this week, DeCastro’s first appearance of the spring after having taken the voluntary caveat of OTAs to heart.
“You can really feel it,” DeCastro insisted.”I think everyone’s coming together and realizing what’s important, which is playing football.”
Added quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: “I think everyone kind of feels that same thing.”
That’s their story, at least, and they’re sticking to it.
It’s either that or everyone is genuinely elated Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are no longer a part of the Steelers’ equation.
Yet even if drama is eventually replaced by group hugs and team renditions of “Kumbaya,” the Steelers are still going to have to perform much better on the field than they did a year ago.
Although the football-in-shorts exercises they’ve taken part in over the last month are less than definitive toward that end due to the absence of hitting and opposition, they’ve inspired optimism.
Consider defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s initial impression regarding the impact of adding free-agent signee Mark Barron and prized draft pick Devin Bush at linebacker: “It’ll help us in coverage quite a bit.”
Consider offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner’s assessment of how the Steelers intend to compensate for the production lost with Brown: “Vance (McDonald), JuJu (Smith-Schuster), James (Washington), anybody who’s new, Donte (Moncrief), these guys are all going to have to step up and that’s the expectation, they will.”
And consider special teams coordinator Danny Smith’s opinion as to whether the Chris Boswell the Steelers have seen kicking this spring is the Bad Boswell of last season or the Brilliant Boswell of 2017: “We gotta get back to what he was capable of and what he showed us and that’s where we’re headed and that’s what he’s done us so far.”
The coaches don’t have any reason not to be upbeat, either.
But they’re also realists.
Butler: “They all look good in shorts.”
Fichtner: “I’d be foolish to say you wouldn’t miss (Brown), but we gotta move forward.”
And Smith: “The key is for (Boswell) to get in a game and hit those game-winners.”
Thus, there remains uncertainty as the Steelers disperse before coming together again on July 25 in Latrobe, when the real work will begin.
“The water is pretty calm during this part of the journey,” head coach Mike Tomlin cautioned. “You can’t really judge chemistry or culture until you’re faced with adversity. This time of year, all 32 teams are undefeated, unscored upon and so forth.
“The journey itself is the indicator of that and some of the adversity that the journey provides.”
In the meantime, DeCastro will gladly settle for not having to endure what was seemingly inescapable a season ago.
“It’s hard to ignore things, especially when at the McDonald’s drive thru people are talking about drama,” he reflected.
So far, the Steelers are at least that far ahead of the game.