Bill Cowher's 14th Steelers training camp concludes today with a number of memorable snapshots from the past 23 days.
There was the Hines Ward holdout, the Joey Porter stamp-out (which ended in knee surgery), the Nate Washington breakout, the James Harrison knockout(s) and countless defensive standouts.
Cowher used to cancel the final training-camp practice and send his team to the movies, but he nixed movie day last season and the Steelers went on to a 15-1 record and played host to the AFC title game.
Odds are, he'll follow last year's formula. The Dukes of Hazard can wait.
"Overall speaking, it has been very good," said Cowher. "We've worked very hard. We were able to get a lot of productive practices in. That last week, everyone is kind of getting a little anxious. It has been a very productive camp. We've been able to get a lot out of it."
Cowher did a solid job of insulating the Steelers while Pro Bowl wideout Ward missed the first 15 days due to a contract dispute. He also dealt with knee injuries to starting tailback Duce Staley and Porter, both of whom are hoping to be ready for the season opener Sept. 11 against Tennessee. Porter has a better shot at hitting the target date than Staley, whom Cowher will not "rush back."
When asked what gave his team the ability to fight through any perceived distractions the past three-plus weeks, Cowher used the term "focused."
"We've had very good veteran leadership," he said. "I think it's a group of guys who recognize the opportunity that we have, also recognize the challenges that we have, and are able to keep it in the proper perspective. You recognize the importance of camp; you recognize the importance of preparation. At the same time, they've been able to push each other, compete against each other, and, at times, pushed the edge a little bit."
That "edge" is what catapulted the Steelers to their greatest regular-season record in franchise history last year. They were coming off a 6-10 mark in '03 and Cowher decided it was time to reinvigorate his team.
The result was the No. 1 defense in the NFL and the No. 2 rushing game.
However, the Steelers didn't reach their ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl, which raised these questions: Did that add to Cowher's motivation this training camp? And did his players notice?
"I don't know if they noticed anything," he said. "I don't know if there's any extra drive. The situation we talked about is to put ourselves in the same position. Try to get in the playoffs and try to create as many home games as we can in the playoffs. At that point, it's a new season. I'm driven every year. Every year you come back, it's like starting over again. There are no shortcuts, there are no guarantees. We can't take anything for granted, regardless of who you have coming back. As I told the players, just because you performed well last year, don't think you're just going to get it done by showing up."
Time will tell if the Steelers find the edge that carried them through last season.
"Coming off a 6-10 season, you have a little bit of a chip on your shoulder," Cowher said. "Coming off a 15-1, you're feeling pretty good about yourself, the confidence is there. I think when they go back-to-back like that, there's not a lot of difference between the two."