The Steelers have named linebacker Patrick Bailey as this year’s recipient of the Joe Greene Great Performance Award. The award is given annually to the team’s top rookie.
Bailey came to the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Duke. He has been used almost exclusively as a special teams player, and he is tied for third on the team with 12 special teams tackles.
This is great news for Bailey, but I’m not so sure that it is great news for the Steelers. Does anyone else remember the ecstatic reaction by Steelers’ fans during the draft when we learned that Rashard Mendenhall had fallen to the Steelers in the first round. Or how about when we learned that Limas Sweed was available in the second round? He was the “big receiver” that Ben had been begging for. Then UCLA sack specialist Bruce Davis fell to us in the 3rd round, and former all-american lineman Tony Hills from Texas dropped to us in the fourth round. Some fans were concerned that we should have addressed the offensive line sooner, but having a player of Hills’ caliber fall to us was yet another blessing in what looked like a great draft. Then, as if things couldn’t get any better, Dennis Dixon, the quarterback from Oregon who was leading in the Heisman race before suffering an injury, dropped into our laps.
This was going to be a draft for the ages. Mendenhall and Sweed were going to be instant rookie sensations and provide offensive punch for years to come. Davis, Humpal and Mundy weren’t expected to contribute much on defense this year, but all were expected to contribute on special teams. Hills was potentially going to help an offensive line that was full of question marks. At least that’s what many fans thought would happen.
Fast forward to today, and we see that nothing has worked out quite the way that we thought it would. Many fans thought that the Steelers would never be able to overcome what was being touted as the NFL’s toughest schedule. Many projected that if the team finished the year with an 8-8 record, it would be a successful season. Some fans thought that there was no way the Ben Roethlisberger was going to make it through the season, since the Steelers hadn’t spent all of their draft picks on offensive linemen. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY predicted that the Steelers would be fighting for the top seed in the AFC and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Perhaps the only thing that seemed more unlikely at that time was that an undrafted rookie named Patrick Bailey would turn out to be the Steelers’ top rookie.
Bailey’s award, and the Steelers’ performance this season, just go to show that none of us is particularly good at predicting the future. But of course, we’ll all do the same thing during the next NFL draft. We’ll complain when the Steelers don’t select the players that we want them to. We’ll prophesy doom and gloom when they don’t use their top picks on offensive linemen. We’ll whine when they inevitably allow some free agent player to leave for greener pastures elsewhere. But the one thing that very few of us will do is to remember that the Steelers have an uncanny knack for landing on their feet. They have been consistently competitive for as long as any of us can remember. Sure, there have been a few bumps in the road, but for the most part, the Steelers have enjoyed tremendous success. Just imagine if our team were the Browns. Or the Bengals! Yuck!
One of the reasons that the Steelers always seem to rise to the occasion is because they get tremendous production from the least likely suspects. Just look at James Harrison. And Hines Ward. And Willie Parker. And Nate Washington. And Patrick Bailey.
Now if only the Steelers could learn the secret to getting a similar performance from some of the guys that we all EXPECT to turn in better performances. You know, guys like like Keith Gary, John Rienstra, Aaron Jones, Kenny Davidson, Huey Richardson, Troy Edwards, Alonzo Jackson, Ricardo Colclough, Willie Reid, Anthony Smith, Limas Sweed, and Bruce Davis.
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