When linebacker James Farrior was released early in May by the Pittsburgh Steelers, so too was the leader of the defense. Farrior, along with wide receiver Hines Ward, who was also released along with Farrior, were the grandfathers of the team both on and off the field. Their exits means new leaders must now pick up the leadership torch that both of those players have carried for many years.
On offense that role will obviously fall squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, as it should. With Ward now gone he is the oldest player on offense at the age of 30. Team President Art Rooney II said as much on Friday as he was quoted by Scott Brown as saying, "He (Roethlisberger) will be somebody that perhaps is looked to more now than in the past even, now that some of these other players have moved on. Maybe that leadership role will grow as we move forward."
Filling the leadership role on defense though does not have to be just one player as there are several that can carry on the work of Farrior. Defensive end Brett Keisel is entering his 11th season, all of which have been played in the black and gold. He is a very vocal player on the field and keeps a very even keel off of it. He will easily be the leader of the defensive line unit going forward. This is not anything he hasn\'t done though for the last few seasons, but with Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke now retired, the leadership role falls squarely and solely on his shoulders with the group up front.
Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley is entering his 6th season with the Steelers and is well suited to take over leadership of the linebacking group with Farrior now gone. Larry Foote, figures to be the signal caller for 2012 and will also play a huge leadership role with that group as well, in what figures to be his last season in Pittsburgh. Woodley should have no problem with the leadership role as he was the defensive team captain for Michigan during his senior year. By the 2014 the Steelers defense figures to be all is and it could quite possibly happen by 2013, depending on how much veteran turnover there is after next season.
As far as the secondary goes, Ryan Clark is the obvious choice. While Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu are also seasoned veterans in the secondary, Clark is the most vocal of the group and that is evidenced with his opinionated views off the field. Clark might be asked by head coach Mike Tomlin to tone it down a bit off the field moving forward, but Clark knows his role and is always willing to try to keep NFL commissioner Roger Goodell honest with a jab here and there. The secondary is loaded with youth in the form of Keenan Lewis, Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen and Clark will be looked upon by them as the leader of the secondary once again.
2012 will see the Steelers start making a big shift to a much younger team. Players like Farrior, Ward, Hoke and Smith may have been past their playing prime, but they weren\'t past their leadership prime. Rooney said on Friday that other players will have to fill that leadership void this season and that is all he has to say. The defense figures to be in great hands with Keisel, Woodley and Clark moving forward and I am sure they will make Farrior proud.
Being as the Steelers sole goal is the Lombardi Trophy every year, I will end this post with a great quote about leadership from Vince Lombardi himself and another great quote from current Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
"Leadership rests not only upon ability, not only upon capacity; having the capacity to lead is not enough. The leader must be willing to use it. His leadership is then based on truth and character. There must be truth in the purpose and will power in the character." - Vince Lombardi
"The standard is the standard." - Mike Tomlin