When you look back just to the start of last season and project the starting lineup that the Pittsburgh Steelers can be expected to field when they resume play in September, you’ll see that they’ve undergone quite a bit of change. Certainly more than usual.
With two exceptions—Heath Miller and Le’Veon Bell—the changes to the opening day lineup will be made either due to free agency losses or gains or simply superior play. The two aforementioned players, of course, projected as starters but missed the early portions of last season due to injury.
This series will take a look primarily at the starting positions that will be filled by new faces, replacing the old faces that are now gone—Emmanuel Sanders, Ziggy Hood, LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote, and Ryan Clark.
Position: Slot Receiver
2013 Opening Day Starter: Jerricho Cotchery
Projected 2014 Starter: Lance Moore
The Steelers were bracing for the loss of Emmanuel Sanders dating back to last year, when they drafted Markus Wheaton in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Sanders then promptly left in free agency this past season.
Far more surprising was Jerricho Cotchery also leaving in free agency, which somewhat caught the organization off-guard. They quickly scrambled to set up a visit with the recently released New Orleans Saints wide receiver Lance Moore.
Nearly as soon as the news surfaced that Cotchery chose the Carolina Panthers over staying in Pittsburgh, the Steelers acted, signing Moore to a contract, and thereby drastically shrinking the average height of the team’s receiving unit.
Realistically, Moore will not replicate Cotchery’s production from last season. Cotchery wouldn’t replicate his own production. Catching 10 touchdowns for a slot receiver in almost any offense is quite an anomaly.
After all, Cotchery had just two touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Steelers, though in a less prominent role. He just so happened to find himself in an ideal position to produce, with tight end Heath Miller still slowed from a torn ACL. As a result, he caught just one touchdown a year after a career-high eight touchdowns.
Still, Moore is no stranger to the end zone. He’s scored at least eight touchdowns in a season three times in his career, and twice topped over 900 receiving yards while never being a full-time starter.
Moore’s greatest assets are his route running and his hands, which leads to excellent production on third downs. That will likely be his biggest responsibility with the Steelers, as he’s proven with the Saints that he can move the chains.
With Moore in the slot this year, Ben Roethlisberger will have a different look than Cotchery and his height. The Steelers would like to see more rhythm passing from him, however, in order to keep him upright, which is befitting Moore’s skill set.