Indeed they are, surely but slowly. "You would like to do it all at once, but that's just not possible," Head Coach Chuck Noll said the day before the San Diego game. Noll is only 39 but he came to the Steelers in 1969 with impressive credentials: seven years as a messenger guard and linebacker under Paul Brown at Cleveland (five conference, two NFL titles); six years as an assistant to Sid Gillman of the Chargers (five division championships, two AFL crowns); three years as defensive coach for Don Shula when he was with the Colts (one NFL championship). Noll reflects the personalities of all three; he has some of the reserve and dignity of Brown, some of Gillman's flair and all of Shula's ability to identify with the players.
"We made our big jump last year," he said. "The year before we couldn't move the ball. Now we can score from anywhere on the field. What we have to develop is consistency, and that comes with experience."
While the Steeler offense was developing, the club lived as best it could on a tough defense, which is even stronger this year than last. "We needed more speed on defense," Noll said. "Last year Cincinnati ran us to death on sweeps. Last week our defensive line was quick enough to shut off the sweeps." Cincinnati gained 28 yards on the ground against the Steelers.
One of the quickest men on the defensive line is Greene, who, although he is 6'4", 280, is so compactly built that you do not realize how big he is until you stand next to him. A first draft choice from North Texas State in 1969, Greene has already attained the stature of a Bob Lilly or a Merlin Olsen. And although he plays with the violence inherent in his position, he does not believe he deserves to be called Mean Joe Greene.
"That happened my sophomore year at North Texas," he said, sitting on a stool in front of a commodious locker in the carpeted Pittsburgh dressing room after a practice last week. "We wore green and the defense was going good and they called us the Mean Green. Me being named Greene, it naturally rubbed off on me. I do the best I can on every play and I go hard, but I'm not mean. Sometimes I may talk to the quarterback if I get to him, but it ain't mean. Like one time I sacked somebody, I don't remember who, and when he got up I said, 'Don't bother to run the draw, because I'm going to be sitting right there in the hole waiting for it.' "
Although he has the classic attributes of a defensive tackle—size, agility, quickness and speed—Greene considers another quality even more valuable. "My best asset is my vision," he said. "I can see what is happening, where the blocks are coming from and where the ball is going. I haven't changed much from college except in refining my moves. Last year I guess my biggest handicap was guessing, but Coach cured me of that. Coach pointed out to me when you guessing, you only right half the time. Other half, you get creamed. When you do the job you supposed to do and let the others do their job, then you right a lot more than half the time.
"Now, don't take this as a criticism of offensive linemen," he went on. "But no offensive lineman should ever beat a defensive lineman man on man. They all tough, but we got the advantage. Some of them got great quick, some try to overwhelm you with strength, but they all can be beat, one way or another. I don't study the man going to be blocking on me. I just wait and see what he do when the game starts and I do what I got to do."
Greene paused to autograph a piece of paper for a little boy who had wandered into the dressing room.
"What's your name?" asked the youngster, who was about five.
"What you want it to be?" Greene said, grinning.