All posts by Cody Flavell

I am an avid fan of all major and college sports teams throughout the Pittsburgh area.

COLUMN: Dishing On CTE

Chronic Telepathic Encephalopathy, otherwise known as CTE, is probably a bigger topic than how many Super Bowl’s Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will end up with. It’s the most widely talked about topic in football, and possibly sports in general, right now.

In a recent study, 110 out of 111 deceased football players’ brains were found to have some form of CTE. That’s one brain that didn’t show signs of the disease.

There are currently so many theories out there on what CTE really even is, whether football actually causes it, or whether it’s something that can be detected before someone dies.

As of now, CTE can only be detected through brain studies after a patient has passed. There is Alzheimer’s disease, which is being linked to early on-set CTE but it can’t be confirmed at this time.

A lot of the CTE research and physical traits are science. But, to me, there is a lot of common sense that comes with CTE as well.

Anyone who thinks football doesn’t cause CTE is beyond idiotic. In many players cases, and lineman especially, their heads are banging off of one another on every play. While the helmets players wear are padded and well-prospective, it’s not even close to an end-all-be-all innovation to protect someone from head injuries.

How often have you seen head to head collisions result in people being concussed and literally knocked unconscious? I’ve seen it a ton.

One of my biggest problems, though, are the people who cry for football to be eliminated completely or changed to flag football.

Look, people. That’ll never happen.

Football is one of the biggest sporting draws in all of US sporting events. The Super Bowl contends to be one of the most watched television programs in a calendar year and it happens 11 months before the calendar even turns to a new year. People’s Sundays revolve around football. Some people skip Sunday Mass for football. Others will watch it over their wife’s television programming. It’s even aired on Thanksgiving and last season had a few games on Christmas Saturday.

The players love for the sport runs deep. It shows by the passion and the will to play through injuries every Sunday (or Monday or Thursday) even if they shouldn’t be.

The biggest thing is, these players know the risks they face playing such a high-speed and dangerous sport. They sign the contract full-knowing that one bad headshot could end a career. More importantly, it can impact your life after football, which many fans seem to forget that players still have.

Here’s an interesting soundbite from former quarterback Boomer Esiason on his belief that he has CTE:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/boomer-esiason-says-he-most-likely-has-cte-all-football-players-probably-have-it/amp/

As he says, he thinks all players have some form of it due to the head shots they often give and take. He also mentions that players get paid much better and have better benefits than those who played maybe 20 or 30 years ago and obviously further back.

Ask yourself, if those players knew what the current generation of players know now, does the older generation of players still play football?

Likely, the would’ve. But as we see some players like Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, and Brandon Albert retiring at the physical prime of their careers, it makes you wonder what truly would’ve impacted those players. Now, they’ll suffer the consequences.

Consider Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Big Ben has had his fair share of injuries, including concussions, over the years and went so far as almost hanging it up because he wants to be a dad for his kids and now a vegetable. That’s just one case.

That’s why the NFL has a lawsuit against it now with all the individuals who suffered life-altering injuries due to football and the league’s lack of protectiveness for their players.

Many parents are restricting their kids from playing football now because of the dangers and all the studies coming out. If that trend continues, their won’t be anyone to continue to fill out rosters. That shouldn’t be a problem for multiple generations but if large groups begin to quit at a time then eventually there won’t be football anymore.

Can you blame them for blocking their kids from doing it? There are many alternatives out there.

While no sport is really much safer than another, football is very dangerous.

Will that stop anyone from watching? No, including myself.

But do you feel for these families that have to watch their husband, son, father, grandfather, uncle, etc. suffer because he played football? Of course.

CTE is not going away any time soon. It’s going to continue to effect players’ decisions for decades to come. The research will only get more extensive by the day until a cure, or even a way to detect it pre-death, comes out.

COLUMN: Signing Tomlin A Winning Move

Say what you will about Mike Tomlin. All the dude does in win. In fact, in his ten seasons as the head coach in the organization, Tomlin has never had a losing season. He has had two 8-8 seasons and one 9-7 season. All seven others have been 10 or more. That is the definition of success.

Personally, I can say that I have stood by Tomlin for as long as he has been here. I did, however, turn against him during the losing skid last year. I had wanted him fired for the sole reason that, in a year where the Steelers were built to contend, they had fallen to 4-5 and seemingly had their playoff hopes crushed. Obviously, they did not lose a game the rest of the way.

Friday afternoon, the Steelers announced that they had given Tomlin an extension through the 2020 season.

As the news emerged, fans began voicing their opinion on the move throughout the social media waves. Many were in favor of the move. Others were mildly disgusted.

Tomlin can easily be ranked as one of the top five most polarizing figures in Pittsburgh sports today. Not that that’s something sports figures enjoy, but Tomlin isn’t one to listen to the outside noise. That is something that separates Tomlin from other coaches and players around the league.

Tomlin was well aware of his team’s first half underachieving in 2016. He didn’t need to check his Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook to know it. He surely wasn’t going to take it from the media members.

He had lost Cameron Heyward very early on due to injury. He was without Ben Roethlisberger for one of the most important regular season games of the year against New England. He had to take a 4-5 team and right the ship and somehow carry his team to the playoffs. He had to trust his quarterback to find the right player to stretch a touchdown across the goal line in some crazy Christmas miracle.

He took this 4-5 team and turned it into a team that headed back to New England for the AFC Championship and simply got outcoached by one of the best to ever wear a headset.

Despite this, people forget that Tomlin was not only the youngest head coach to reach the Super Bowl, but also the youngest to win it. He is also only the eighth head coach to reach 100 wins in his first ten seasons. That means only seven other coaches in NFL history had averaged 10 wins in their first ten seasons. The Steelers are the only franchise to have three.

But people still want more, right?

One argument I’ve seen used over the years is that Tomlin has underachieved. He’s always had a Hall of Fame quarterback. He’s always had a very good running game to complement. While the defense hasn’t always been spectacular, the offense could’ve made up for it. So, is that on Tomlin?

I’ve always thought that Tomlin was good at in-game adjustments and had always risen to the occasion when the Steelers needed a big win. Whether regular season or a long playoff run, the Steelers’ head coach since 2007 has always stepped up.

Another knock on Tomlin, though, are his unimpressive numbers against sub-.500 opponents. He is well below the .500 mark in those. It’s said that he doesn’t get his team up for these games and always overlooks opponents.

Last season, they were shredded by a rookie quarterback, Carson Wentz, against Philadelphia in week three. He put up 34 points. They lost to the Miami Dolphins in week six by a 30-15 score. They allowed 422 yards, including an ungodly 204 yards to running back Jay Ajayi, which were the highest numbers allowed all season in both overall and rushing yards allowed.

How did Tomlin respond to his critics? By burying the Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card round. By beating the Kansas City Chiefs relying on Chris Boswell to nail six field goals in an 18-16 victory and losing to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game like previously mentioned.

Which brings me to my next point.

Belichick and Brady might be the league’s best quarterback-coach tandem in NFL history. Both have won five Super Bowl’s in their Patriots tenure. How can one possibly argue against someone who has constantly fallen to the two guys who make a case to be the best EVER at their respective jobs?

The Steelers are the best franchise in NFL history and that is backed up by the fact that they have won more Super Bowls than any other franchise in league history while putting themselves in a position to win another every year. They didn’t do it by hiring bad head coaches. Ask the Steelers what they thought about Chuck Noll (four Super Bowl’s) and Bill Cowher (one Super Bowl) and compare Tomlin likewise. It’s not even close. Mike Tomlin is an elite active NFL coach.

Who’s The Steelers Second Most Important Player?

It’s pretty apparent that the most important player on every roster usually ends up being the quarterback. When your quarterback struggles, your team usually suffers the consequences. When your quarterback is an elite quarterback, your team usually makes a deep playoff run.

The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger, so until he’s done, they don’t have much of a problem in that regard.

KDKA sports anchor Bob Pompeani posed a great question a few days back on his weekly segment on 93.7 The Fan Pittsburgh. He asked who the Steelers second most important player behind Roethlisberger was.

Some people said wide receiver Antonio Brown. Others took the obvious with Le’Veon Bell.

However, no one mentioned my choice for second most important which happens to be linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The impact Shazier has on the field is impeccable. He is one of the league’s premier playmaking linebackers and is the fastest linebacker in the NFL.

Shazier can be blitzing the quarterback one play and then dropping into coverage to help cover receivers on another.

One of his weaknesses, though, is his size.

Shazier stands at 6’1″, 230 lbs. But he doesn’t look like the prototypical linebacker when you see him. Don’t let that mistake you.

The Steelers weren’t at all concerned when they took Shazier with the 15th overall pick in 2014. Only Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr were taken ahead of the Ohio State product.

Shazier has often had troubles staying on the field due to injuries. But when he is on the field, nothing seems to be able to stop him.

In only his second career game, week 2 of 2014 against Baltimore, Shazier had 15 tackles (11 solo) despite a losing 20-6 effort. It was then that the Steelers knew they had an impactful player on the rise.

2016 was Shazier’s coming out party.

In the season opener against Washington, he had two pass deflections, forced a fumble, and picked off Kirk Cousins in a lopsided Steelers victory.

Despite missing 3 weeks due to a knee injury, Shazier finished the season with 87 combined tackles, 9 pass deflections, 3.5 sacks, and 3 interceptions. He started 13 games. He also intercepted Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore in the Steelers Wildcard victory.

Just this past week, NFL analyst Pete Prisco released his list of the most overrated and underrated players on every team. While Ramon Foster was deemed the most underrated player on the Steelers’ roster, Shazier was considered by Prisco to be the team’s most overrated player.

Prisco sighted Shazier’s lack of durability to be a huge issue and that he is totally useless when injured, which is true.

But, injuries are part of the game. Shazier’s impact when he’s on the field is bigger than anyone on the Steelers’ defense. His fast and physical presence makes it tough for anyone to run on the edge without being caught. Nothing can replace his speed.

Shazier will play his fourth season in the NFL in 2017 and he’ll again be a very important piece if the Steelers want to make a run at their seventh Lombardi Trophy in honor of the late, great Dan Rooney.

What’s In Store For James Conner

The Steelers have a situation on their hands with the Le’Veon Bell situation that is currently happening. They decided to let DeAngelo Williams walk in free agency this offseason due to his age. They wanted to get younger at the running back position and they did just that.

They drafted James Conner with their fourth round compensation pick.

Conner is the former Pitt Panthers running back who battled through more adversity than most players ever see by the age of 25.

Conner tore his MCL in the season opening game against Youngstown State in 2015. It caused him to miss the entire season.

Then, something even worse happened to him.

Conner got a call on Thanksgiving morning that he had been diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, the same disease that slowed Penguins great Mario Lemieux.

This all on the shoulders of a college kid.

Conner was cured in time to play when the 2016 season opened. He had three touchdowns against Villanova in the opener and was well on his way to getting drafted.

Now, Conner will play his home games in the same stadium he played at the past four seasons in college for Pitt.

The Steelers have expressed the idea of giving Bell more of a break in the backfield due to his extensive touches last season. His injury against New England in the AFC Championship game has many believing it was attributed to being the workhorse for the team in their first two playoff games. Conner will allow for the Steelers to do that.

It may seem that Conner being drafted by the Steelers was done just for the story. It’s more than that.

The adversity that he’s faced throughout his young years is unmatched. It shows his toughness and his commitment to football as a whole.

The Steelers haven’t been able to rely on Bell to stay on the field due to off the field issues and injuries. He wants $15+ million after turning down a long term deal that would’ve given him $12+ million.

This is where Conner comes into play.

Over the past few years, the Steelers have employed guys such as Williams, Fitzgerald Touissant, and more as their back up running backs. Conner is going to be an unreal change of pace from Bell.

Bell’s shifty and quick feet type of play is hard to stop. Couple that with Conner’s bruising up the middle type of running and it’ll be tough to stop.

Conner also has a bit of speed if he gets an open late or gets the corner. He is someone who will greatly benefit the Steelers this season.

Conner will serve as the perfect third down running back to be able to spell Bell for a down or so.

This was for more than just the story. This is the prototypical Pittsburgh Steelers running back.