Replacing A Championship Roster – Bridging The Gap Between Smith And Tuitt

The Pittsburgh Steelers have experienced an uncommon amount of roster turnover over the last few seasons, which just so happened to coincide with consecutive years without a postseason berth.

As a result, we’re finding an unusual amount of new faces in the starting lineup compared just to last season, when the season before already introduced several new starters.

The rapid turnover in successive seasons certainly has much to do with the organization’s personnel management over the previous years. Time, as always, came out the victor as they felt the ramifications of trying to hold together a championship roster that could no longer perform like one.

Considering  how different the projected starting lineup for the start of the 2014 season is from just two seasons ago, I think it would be interesting to revisit the roster from the 2010 season—the last time the Steelers competed for a championship—to see how different this new team truly is.

Aaron Smith commanded the left defensive end spot for the Steelers from 2000 to 2011, though his final three seasons were badly marred by injury. He missed all but 15 games from 2009 to 2011.

That includes the final 10 games of the 2010 regular season and the Steelers’ three playoff games, culminating in the team’s eighth Super Bowl appearance.

But the Sports Illustrated All-Decade Team defensive end for the 00s is still the gold standard when it comes to that position on the Steelers’ roster.

Pittsburgh was hoping to have a smooth transition from one era to the next when they took preemptive action in drafting Ziggy Hood in the first round in 2009. The thought was that he could be ready to step in when Smith’s run has ended.

As we saw this past offseason, however, the Steelers felt he never lived up to his capabilities, and they chose not to attempt to re-sign him after his rookie contract was up. Meanwhile, their other recent first-round defensive end, Cameron Heyward, has taken over the right defensive end spot of Brett Keisel.

The new hope for the future is rookie second-rounder Stephon Tuitt, but while he’s expected to get his share of playing time in his first season, it doesn’t appear at the moment that starting immediately is in the cards.

To that end, the Steelers are hoping to bridge the gap between the past and the future by turning to free agent signing Cam Thomas.

The hope is that Thomas can turn in a representative performance reminiscent of the likes of a Travis Kirschke, Chris Hoke, or Nick Eason, though none of those were tasked to be a starter outside of injury necessity.

The organization, of course, wouldn’t mind if the future comes early, with Tuitt proving a quick learner and able to start at some point during his rookie season.

First-year players typically find themselves in more unfavorable situations when it comes to competing for playing time, but with the loss of three defensive ends, it’s a virtual certainty that he will get his share of snaps later this year, but it’s unrealistic to expect a championship-worthy performance from him in 2014.

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