It is no big secret, Ben Roethlisberger would much rather be gearing up for another year of running Bruce Arians’ Offense than having to learn the one new Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley is currently trying to install. After “The Bubble Screen Wizard” left (thankfully), Ben voiced his displeasure, and still appears a bit salty about the move to replace Arians. Last week, Big Ben complained that the new Offense’s difficulty to grasp had him and his teammates a bit perplexed, and Roethlisberger even joked that the “Rosetta Stone” was needed to decipher the intricacies of it. Granted, I am sure there will be kinks to work out in terms of formations, play names will almost assuredly change, and game-plans will be altered accordingly to the personnel. But you know what helps out and makes a difficult transition like the aforementioned one a bit smoother, Big Ben & Co.?: Talented Players.
Improving Offensive Line
The biggest and most important upgrades the Steelers have made on the Offensive side of the ball have been along their Offensive Line Front over the last few seasons. The Front Office and Coaching Staff made a firm dedication to Big Ben’s health this past off-season especially when they acquired two of the most talented Offensive Linemen in The Draft (David DecCastro and Mike Adams) to protect Big Ben well into his 30’s, and shore up an injury-plagued and inconsistent unit.
Maurkice Pouncey is already an All-Pro player, and Marcus Gilbert had a fine Rookie campaign and gained some valuable experience and displayed his versatility as a Left and Right Tackle in 2011. If veteran Willie Colon ends up staying healthy and/or kicks in to Guard, in two years, a healthy group of Mike Adams, Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert will be keeping Roethlisberger upright and winning at the point of attack for years to come.
Pass-Catchers Are Fantastic
As for weapons to throw to, Ben your pass-catchers are highly talented and bring a whole mess of skill-sets to the table. In terms of a deep-threat, there are few which can match speedster like Mike Wallace (2010: 72 Catches, 1,193 Yards, 8 TD’s) in terms of raw speed and his developing talent. Wallace will be as hungry as ever this season because he is in a crucial contract year, and will be looking to cash-in once the season ends. Antonio Brown (2010: 69 Catches, 1,108 Yards, 2 TD’s) is jack-of-all-trades athlete and is well on his way to developing into one of the League’s most dangerous all-around pass catching threats.
Sure, Hines Ward is gone, but the Steelers still have some underrated and savvy slot options which understand route-running and have dependable and reliable hands like Emmanuel Sanders (2010: 22 Catches, 288 Yards, 2 TD’s) and Jerricho Cotchery (2010: 16 Catches, 237 Yards, 2 TD’s) In the event one or both can stay fully healthy this season, acres of room will be open for them to eat Linebackers and Safeties alive when Pittsburgh employs 3 and 4 Wide Receiver sets, and help convert important 3rd Downs to keep drives alive.
Oh yeah, I totally forgot, the Steelers also have a Pro Bowl Tight End named Heath Miller (2010: 51 Catches, 631 Yards, 2 TD’s) on the roster that will likely be a bigger feature in the Offensive game-plans as well. Hopefully Todd Haley recognizes the value of a big, reliable, smart, and talented target in the Red Zone and Miller will get many more chances to catch passes there unlike when Arians was in charge. If that is the case, Pittsburgh will improve their Red Zone numbers, and Heath will emerge as a weapon teams must account for down near the goal line.
Running Back by Committee is Diverse Group of Talent
While the Steelers will likely go with a Running Back by Committee this season, Isaac Redman (2010: 110 Carries, 479 Yards, 3 TD’s) will get the first crack to earn the “RB#1″ role this season after two solid years as Pittsburgh’s change of pace, “pound the rock” guy. Over his career, Redman has displayed an ability to pick up tough yards and even do some nice things in the passing game. The hope of many, including myself, is that Redman can build off of his successful Playoff outing in Denver last season, and prove to everybody that he can be the “RB#1″ in Pittsburgh for years to come.
Fighting for carries behind Redman will be the bruising Jonathan Dwyer and John Clay, both of whom will likely be battling against each other for one of the final backup spots on the roster. Baron Batch will also be trying to earn a roster spot this season as the the Steelers’ 3rd Down Back as he works his way back from the devastating knee injury he suffered during Training Camp last season.
It will be a tough task for Batch though, because Rookie Chris Rainey will get his shot to become Pittsburgh’s 3rd Down Back, and Special Teams Return extraordinaire. The Steelers will likely be utilizing the diminutive Rainey in a role similar to Dexter McCluster of the Chiefs, the team Todd Haley just came over from. And getting the ball to Rainey in space a few times per game will be a high priority for the Steelers if they are in search of some splash plays. If Rainey makes a guy miss, big plays will almost assuredly follow.
The X-Factor in all of this Running Back situation will be Rashard Mendenhall (2010: 228 Carries, 928 Yards, 9 TD’s), who could contribute as early as mid-season. If Mendenhall proves he is healthy, and that his knee can hold up, the Steelers might consider giving the former Pro Bowler some work once he returns. Because 2012 will be his contract year, Mendenhall will be hungry to produce as much as possible, and the Steelers could be big beneficiaries if he is fit to play this season.
Change is never easy to deal with, and I can understand where Ben and some of the other members of the Offense are coming from in regards to their displeasure. However, this team is loaded with Offensive weapons and is only getting better. Not only is Pittsburgh loaded with Offensive weapons with plenty of experience at the skill positions, they have a 2-time Super Bowl winning Quarterback leading them as he enters the prime of his illustrious career! With the Offensive Line being solidified with a nice mix of experienced youth and talented youth, this Offense could be a “sleeping giant” this season, and a real force for seasons to come.
I would guess that many outside of Steeler Nation do not have high expectations for this Offense because of the new Coordinator and a perceived lack of production. Sure, the Steelers went outside of their norm by hiring Haley outside of the organization, but the Front Office and Tomlin must feel that the guy is the perfect one to mesh all of this talent together and get them to play at their highest level. So let’s not look at Haley’s hiring as a negative. In fact, let’s be happy that a change was made, because Haley proved what he could do with great weapons in Arizona when he helped take that Offense to the Super Bowl in 2008. Yeah, there might be some growing pains along the way, and a steep learning curve to master for some. Yet the talent is there to succeed, and with some hard work, and a small amount of patience, there is plenty to be optimistic about for seasons to come.
So chime in “Steeler Nation:” Are you excited to see what this Offense will do under Haley? Should Ben stop complaining? Will Wallace show up this season? The floor is yours.
Statistics Courtesy of Steelers Team Page on ESPN.com