Switch on Sirius NFL radio, or watch the NFL Network, and you’ll hear how every team is positive and optimistic about their prospects for the 2012 season. Well, that is unless you are the Jacksonville Jaguars and your first round pick doesn’t know how to call a cab. From the Buffalo Bills with the newly acquired Mario Williams, to the Washington Redskins with the much-anticipated RGIII, mediocre to piteous teams from 2011 are embracing their clean slate and are interpreting their sans-contact workouts-in shorts as indicators of their awaiting success.
This optimistic sentiment is not a trend that has burgeoned this off-season; conversely, this is simply how it is in the NFL during this time of the year, every year. Players who struggled in the previous season “feel a lot more comfortable than they did last year” and believe that they are “light years ahead of where they were last year at this time.” While that somewhat may be the case this year when considering last year’s lockout, the reality is that OTAs, mini-camps, and even training camp to an extent do not a successful regular season and playoff make. What we find during this rose-colored-glasses time of the year is players piecemeal-ing sports clichés to express their “newfound passion for the game” or their “better grasp of the defensive schemes.” It is great that players feel a sense of optimism and belief as they move into a new season, and fans and coaches alike would want it any other way. Imagine for a moment a player saying, “Well, I really feel lost out there during OTAs, and I feel like I have taken a step backwards from last year.” This would not exactly be reassuring to fans.
The off-season is a time where all teams (yes, even the Cleveland Browns) have an undefeated record, and where the yet-to-be narrative that will detail the 2012 season is debated and prognosticated throughout the league and media. Perennial losers ponder the prospects of a winning season and rationalize how somehow, this year will be different, while customary winners like the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, and Green Bay Packers rigorously self-analyze to tweak their approach to improve upon their accomplishments from a season ago. Ultimately, the off-season represents an intemperate enthusiasm and hope.
And so before too long, all of the questions that are facing the Steelers that have fans jammed up will be answered. When the Steelers take the field against the Denver Broncos, the Mike Wallace contract situation will have reached some sort of resolution (for better or for worse), the starting left tackle and left cornerback will have been determined, and the players’ grasp of the Todd Haley playbook will be on display for all to evaluate. Only then, on that agonizingly distant Sunday night, will the decisions made in the off-season truly be able to be judged.
All that fans have now is hope and anticipation for a successful 2012 Steelers season, as they are patiently waiting for the new season to start, and in the meantime, they are hanging on any crumb in the media related to the Steelers that they can get.
The off-season is an investment for fans, just as much as it is for the team. And with each day that we study and learn about new players or changes to the team and coaching staff, the greater our eagerness becomes. Our wishes are that the regular season is just as successful as we envisioned it in the off-season. And if it isn’t, we will long for the draft and mini-camps of the springtime and a chance to be hopeful for a winning season once again.