The Pittsburgh Steelers have had consecutive 8-8 seasons, something we as Steeler fans don’t like to see. We see an 8-8 season as a down year and start worrying about the Steelers “rebuilding” . Let me tell you, the last two seasons weren’t as bad as some of you think. An 8-8 season would be a huge step for some franchises, such as the Browns, Jaguars, and Raiders. When you consider going .500 a down year, your doing pretty good. And let me tell ya, the Steelers are not rebuilding. If they were, the entire coaching staff would be gone, including Mike Tomlin. Ben Roethlisberger would be out. You would see the Steelers in the top 10 of the draft if they were rebuilding. The Steelers are simply “reloading” as some people like to call it. They are out with the old and in with the new.
The Steelers are basically replacing their aging veterans who are Super Bowl heroes with rookies and young guns who hope to be Super Bowl heroes themselves one day. Some example of these the past couple years are Jarvis Jones with James Harrison, Cameron Heyward with Brett Keisel, and Mike Mitchell with Ryan Clark. Unfortunately for us Steelers fans who do wish to host the Lombardi every season, reloading took back to back non-playoff seasons. Not terrible seasons, just no January football. However, the reloading is just about over, with only a couple spots left to fill before the Steelers will be contenders again, which will be next season.
The past two season have been down because we have unloaded rookies and young players into the starting lineup. If you didn’t know, rookies don’t always have success right away, especially when your playing in Dick LeBeau’s system or even Todd Haley’s to say the least. Their “growing” should be about done, and now with an understanding of their respective systems (offensive and defensive) they can start playing. All it takes is time. There is example after example of players on the Steelers that it just took time before they broke out. Jason Worilds, Keenan Lewis, Cameron Heyward, Antonio Brown.
Going into next season, the Steelers obviously have Ben Roethlisberger at the helm, and with him alone, there is always a possibility. He has All Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown to throw to probably until he retires. Heath Miller is coming into the offseason completely healthy and will be a major part of the offense once again. Markus Wheaton is coming into his second season with a question mark and has big shoes to fill, but has loads of potential. Lance Moore can pick up where Cotchery left off, maybe putting up more yards, but probably not as many touchdowns. Le’Veon Bell is entering his sophomore season with huge expectations and has many people excited to see what he can do with the workload. Will Johnson has had two seasons in Todd Haley’s system, and should become a bigger part of the offense. He fits into what the Steelers plan, Haley just needs to use him. Him and Bell can become a good duo.
The offensive line will be coming off a good end to the season last year. They played very well, and they didn’t even have Maurkice Pouncey. With Pouncey back in the lineup, he should be able to take this offensive line to the next step with the help of new offensive line coach, Mike Munchak. David DeCastro had a very good season last season, and only looks to build upon it playing next to Pouncey. Both could earn Pro Bowl appearances next season. Marcus Gilbert struggled at the beginning of the season, but he even played well down the stretch and is also in a contract year. Kelvin Beachum was the surprise, and is looking to solidify himself as a starting left tackle in the league.
The offense is full of potential next season. It’s loaded with youth across the board who all have experience in Todd Haley’s system and SHOULD start to show what their made of.
To the defense, they were disastrous at times last season. At points, there were 3 rookies on the field at once, something unheard of under LeBeau. Shamarko Thomas is waiting in the wings, and actually pretty admirably for a rookie last season before he got injured. He should see more playing time this season and hopefully can show his Polamalu like instincts in his second season and grow in the system. Vince Williams must have the confidence of the coaching staff, or they wouldn’t have cut Larry Foote. That really shows faith for Williams from the coaching staff of the Steelers. He showed to be a reliable run defender, but has yet to prove he can play on third down or defend the pass.Jarvis Jones started as a rookie not because of injury like Williams did, but because he earned it training camp. He didn’t, however, have the season many imagined him having, only recording 1 sack. He did consistently grow throughout the season and had himself a heck of a performance the last game of the season against the Browns. If that’s a glimpse of what’s coming, Jones will prove his first round status to be a good one. Many believe, including me, that he will be a force to be reckoned with this coming season.
Cameron Heyward was mentioned before as a player who all it took was time before he started to show his true potential, and he did it in a big way last season. Now going into the season as the starter, I believe he will pick up right where he left off. Imagine what he could have done with an entire season as the starter. Steve McLendon was the scapegoat last season for the poor run defense. As many have proven to you doubters, McLendon wasn’t the only to one to blame. Remember, there were 3 rookies on the field at some points, not to mention Ryan Clarks struggled season as well. McLendon may benefit with a move to DE, but that would leave the Steelers without a starting DT, as Cam Thomas was brought in to be a backup. I am currently on the Alex Carrington bandwagon, hoping he will be brought in to start at LDE.
Jason Worilds going into the offseason with confidence from the Steelers organization should benefit him greatly, as he has rotted behind Woodley and Harrison for three seasons, and when he finally does get the chance to start, a first round phenom linebacker named Jarvis Jones is brought in. Look for him to put up double digit sacks next year.
To the secondary, they struggled last season. Ryan Clark was a part of the problem, and he is now gone, replace with Mike Mitchell. He should definitely be an upgrade over Clark, and can bring a different presence Clark never really brought, turnovers and sacks. Steeler Nation loves the sound of that. Polamalu is on his last leg with the Steelers, but still showed his greatness last season. Shamarko Thomas and Polamalu could possible even share playing time next season. Ike Taylor is in his last season with the Steelers, and he can’t get much worse than his season last year. Cortez Allen disappointed some last season, but guess who the last cornerback who broke out in their fourth year with the Steelers? Keenan Lewis. Allen has shown more his first 3 seasons than Lewis did, so this is a make or break year for Allen. If he makes it, he could make it in a big way. Maybe even a contract extension for him later this offseason.
Last but not least, special teams. The special teams unit played much better under special teams coordinator Danny Smith. I no longer cringe when the unit runs on the field. Mr Reliable Shaun Suisham will look for a perfect season, after only missing two kicks last season, both coming in one game. Long time long snapper Greg Warren is also returning, signing a 1 year contract. He has been a constant for the Steelers and will continue to do so. If it isn’t broken, why fix it, aint that right Greg. Punter is somewhat of a question mark. Brad Wing is currently under contract, and if he can get his act together, he has a booming leg and could stick with the Steelers. The Steelers tried veteran punters last season, and that didn’t really work so well. If they don’t like Wing, maybe a late round draft pick is in the play.
That’s why the Steelers will strive next season. Their roster is loaded with young talent who have now gone through the two playoff less seasons of growth and now time to show the potential they have flashed on a consistent basis. We saw it the second half of last season, now were ready for the whole season and back into the playoffs!
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