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Thursday, February 21, 2013
Can Steelers fix fractured locker room?

By Jamison Hensley

As everyone knows by now, the Steelers have a fractured locker room. What's unknown is if the Steelers have the players to fix it.

All of this mess started Sunday when an anonymous player ripped LaMarr Woodley in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for being out of shape. Safety Ryan Clark compounded this by telling the NFL Network that this Woodley-bashing comment shows a "fracture" within in the Steelers locker room. Wide receiver Antonio Brown then told ESPN that Steelers locker room was divided last season, pointing out there were players who were more focused on individual goals than the team's record, which ended up a mediocre 8-8.

Way to keep the issue in-house, guys. What's next? Is Troy Polamalu going to share his feelings about this on Dr. Phil? Before you blame the media for blowing this out of proportion, it's Clark and Brown who are speaking out about a disconnect on a team that has already dealt with turmoil during the season. That's the problem here. Stop talking about this on national television and start addressing this matter with one another. This is how one non-playoff season turns into another.

Antonio Brown
Said Antonio Brown: "For guys to throw a guy like LaMarr Woodley, a Pro Bowl player, under the bus just shows you the men we had in our locker room."
The leaders on this team have to step up and rectify the matter. The Steelers players have to police themselves, and that's obviously not happening now. That's the Steelers Way. Inside linebacker Larry Foote said there have been fights in the Pittsburgh locker room but that never leaked out to the media. The reason why it remained inside the Steelers' walls was the leaders made sure it remained that way. It was the picture of solidarity when Alan Faneca and Jerome Bettis manned the locker room. There were no such problems when Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith were here.

The Steelers said new leaders would emerge after the team cut Ward, Farrior and Smith last offseason. That didn't happen based on the incidents over the past year. Running back Rashard Mendenhall didn't show up for one game after being told he wasn't going to play. Nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu led police on a drunken chase through Pittsburgh. Wide receiver Mike Wallace blamed his drops on a lack of focus from not getting the ball often enough. Then, to top it all off, an unnamed teammate calls out Woodley. All of sudden, they've become the Pittsburgh Jets.

"It’s just sad," Brown said Wednesday on ESPN's First Take. "Our team was a team last year where guys wasn’t really together. As we know in the NFL, you got to have a band of brothers. Everyone got to be together and it got to filter down from the leadership. And for guys to throw a guy like LaMarr Woodley, a Pro Bowl player, under the bus just shows you the men we had in our locker room. And it’s something that we want to get corrected for 2013.”

Do the Steelers have the leaders to get this corrected? We'll find out. Last March, after parting ways with Ward and Farrior, general manager Kevin Colbert said he couldn't sit there and identify the team's next leaders. I wonder if he's still saying the same thing almost one year later.

It's easy to blame coach Mike Tomlin for the problems. He needs to provide better direction for his players, but most of the accountability has to fall on the players. The Steelers suspended Mendenhall. They cut Ta'amu. There's only so much discipline that can be handed out. It's now up to the players to uphold their part.

The Steelers' problems in-house spilled out onto the field, where Pittsburgh stumbled repeatedly. There were embarrassing losses at Oakland, Tennessee and Cleveland -- teams who combined for 33 losses this year. You sensed there was something "off" with this Pittsburgh team.

According to Brown, Polamalu was among the veterans who spoke out and tried to explain to the team that selfish behavior wouldn’t be tolerated. But that apparently didn't work. Truth be told, if the soft-spoken Polamalu wasn't using a microphone, I'm not sure anyone could hear him.

The logical candidate to take a leadership role is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But there have been signs that Roethlisberger hasn't been the most popular player in the team's locker room. After his second sexual assault allegation in less than a year, he wasn't voted to be a captain by his teammates in 2010.

With Brett Keisel and James Harrison nearing the ends of their Steelers careers, the team has to find leaders in the next generation of players. But no one knows if Brown, Maurkice Pouncey and Lawrence Timmons can handle such a role.

"Winning is not talent," Brown said. "It’s all about being on the same page, and each guy having the guy next to him’s back, and being committed to winning. You see a Ravens team that was committed to winning and togetherness, and that’s what it’s all about.”

When the Steelers say they need to be more like the Ravens, you know there is a problem in Pittsburgh. It's up to the players to fix it.