By Cian Fahey
Leadership is a vital part of sports which does not appear on the game film or statistics sheet. Leadership is something which transcends through a whole club or franchise from the top to the bottom. However, leadership is also something that is needed at every level for teams to be successful.
The New England Patriots are the perfect example of a team with leadership that transcends through the whole organization.
In New England, Robert Kraft has learned over the years to lead by example opposed to cause friction with his coaches. Bill Belichick is undoubtedly a leader because of his work ethic and treatment of players, while Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork provide two steeples on both side of the ball for players to follow.
While the Steelers are exemplary leaders as far as the franchise goes, with the Rooney\’s and an experienced coaching staff, the roster has recently undergone some surgery which has severely hurt the team\’s leadership on the field.
Leadership is worthless on the sideline if there is none on the field.
James Farrior and Hines Ward were the two most important leaders on the field for the Steelers over the past five years or so. Coupled with the loss of Aaron Smith and their most veteran offensive lineman in Max Starks.
Of course, much like talent, leadership is something that can be replaced. It is almost impossible to identify a leader until he is in that role however.
The Steelers have a few candidates to set the tone in the locker-room and on the field, but they also have some potential for disruption. Defensively, with Dick LeBeau on the sidelines watching on, I would expect Ryan Clark and Larry Foote to step up into the role voided by Farrior.
Farrior was repeatedly referred to as a great leader. It is not impossible that he could still return to the team in a reduced role simply to benefit from his leadership. Outside of Farrior however, and because of the likely reduced role of Casey Hampton, the Steelers will have a different identity defensively next year as far as leadership goes.
James Harrison may be the veteran of the front seven now, but he is not a candidate as a leader. While many of his hits are unfairly scrutinized and his play on the field, at times, can be interpreted as leading by example, Harrison appears to be the quiet type who is focusing on his own role opposed to trying to inspire others.
That\’s not a knock on him of course, that\’s just his personality.
On the other side, LaMarr Woodley is half of a pairing who Steelers fans will be hoping to step up as leaders as both he and Lawrence Timmons enter veteran roles on the team. Timmons and Woodley cannot be counted on as leaders, nor can they be counted out as leaders. Until they are actually given that role, nothing can be determined.
Defensively the team should be fine without Farrior. Offense is a greater worry however.
Generally, I tend not to put much worth in off the field issues such as Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger taking a few weeks to contact each other. The reason for that is generally these things are taken out of context, overblown for effect or don\’t actually matter until the team comes together for camp, by which time they are generally forgotten about.
The reason I put more credence in this miniature saga however is because of the two personalities involved.
It is just a personal observation, but I do not believe that Roethlisberger is a great leader. I think he can be, but his maturity in certain situations worries me. Roethlisberger proved this to me with his reaction to Bruce Arians\’ release.
Obviously Roethlisberger was upset by losing Arians, but his role within the franchise is not to question the decisions made above his head. He is the quarterback, his job is to play the position, provide input when asked and lead the players around him.
By then not exactly welcoming Haley with open arms, Roethlisberger made the transition more difficult than it really needed to be.
Both Roethlisberger and Haley are emotive people who aren\’t shy to confront issues or express themselves. Yet neither player could instantly contact the other when Haley was appointed the offensive co-ordinator.
That lack of communication and leadership is worrying to me.
The Steelers have a relatively young offense. A third year center, a second year left tackle, young wide receivers across the board and a vague running back situation, leaves the Steelers two most likely leaders on the field: Heath Miller and Charlie Batch.
Batch has the respect of everyone in Pittsburgh, but Batch is also rarely on the field. In fact he will likely be the third string quarterback this year presuming the team re-signs Byron Leftwich.
Miller is a more difficult figure to explore. He appears to be a quiet character but realistically, it is very difficult to tell by simply watching his play on the field. Generally quarterbacks lead offensively, and realistically the Steelers need Ben Roethlisberger to their leader.
The Steelers have potential leaders in place on the field, but undoubtedly there is some risk in letting James Farrior and Hines Ward go. It is impossible to both value Ward and Farrior\’s leadership without losing it when they are let go.
Whether it be Roethlisberger, Miller, Brett Keisel, Woodley, Timmons, Clark, Foote or a combination of them all, there is a whole left on the Steelers\’ roster past the physical play of Ward and Farrior.
Who do you think are the most likely players to step up and replace Ward and Farrior?
You can follow Cian on Twitter at @Cianaf