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.
Like Troy Polamalu, cornerback Ike Taylor is one of the very few Steelers remaining who can claim to have been a starter on the team the last time that they competed for a championship—let alone the last time they won.
But Taylor’s future is in a much more precarious position than his longtime teammate’s, who signed a two-year extension earlier this offseason to give him three years left on his contract that should allow him to retire with the Steelers.
Taylor is in the final year of his contract, and that is only due to the fact that he was willing to take a $4.25 million pay cut. The likelihood of him being re-signed after this season is quite slim, even with no immediately enticing options to replace him.
Can Ike Taylor still be a piece of a championship puzzle at the age of 34? Many instances over the course of the past season would seem to suggest that he cannot, as he appeared both slower and less decisive in his tackling.
He even failed to record an interception for the first time since his rookie season in 2003, before he entered the starting lineup.
But there is reason for optimism, and it begins with a new understanding of Taylor’s limitations. Many of his struggles from a year ago could be attributed to the coaching staff placing him in a role that he could no longer fulfill on a regular basis.
Taylor used to be one of the league’s few true shutdown corners; perhaps even superior to some in a way. Where many remain isolated to one side of the field, Taylor would follow around any assignment he’s given, which was almost always the other team’s best receiver, though at times he would receive a special assignment.
He often did so with little to no help over the top, but this proved to be a problem last season. Taylor got beat deep multiple times, though some of the fault certainly goes to the safety play, which was out of place more times than is acceptable.
Regardless, the Steelers may only be able to go so far as Taylor allows them to this season. If he plays up to his old self, albeit in a less taxing role, then perhaps they could be a championship team. If not, they may have to put him on the bench and hope for the best.