After two straight seasons of equivalent wins and losses, it’s certainly no surprise that the front office of the Pittsburgh Steelers has been busier and more active than usual in their efforts to reshape a middling roster into a true competitor.
The past few months could be fairly described as a season of change amid the shifting fates of a franchise that had just been to the Super Bowl three times in the very recent past. It may well be that past success that has helped drag them down of late.
Of course, selecting late in the draft annually doesn’t help, nor do the big contracts going out to the players that helped you reach that success. But the true death knell has been an unwillingness to recognize when to let go.
The Steelers had hoped to hold together that championship core for a while longer, but the last two seasons have been the wake-up call necessary to introduce the wave of change that we’ve seen this offseason, designed to steer the organization back in the right direction.
If you missed this past offseason’s most significant change from last year, it may be because it simply zipped right by you.
That’s because the Steelers have worked to significantly upgrade their overall team speed over the course of the past half year since the end of last season.
It started with free safety Mike Mitchell, the team’s big ‘splash’ in free agency, who will be taking over for one of the most speed-deprived spots on the defense a year ago previously occupied by Ryan Clark.
They also added wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey in free agency, one of the fastest receivers to ever enter the league, even if he’s never fully put his skill set together and certainly isn’t guaranteed a roster spot.
Then came the draft, and that’s where the major injections of speed have come from. The headliner in this category is, of course, running back/wide receiver Dri Archer, who was the fastest player in the entire draft.
Seeing him on tape is like watching a cartoon, where he’s being fast-forwarded through the scene and everybody else is moving in real time. His speed could be lethal especially in the return game, but he will also contribute on offense.
First-rounder Ryan Shazier was the fastest linebacker in the draft, and one of the fastest linebackers in the league now, and he will start immediately. In terms of pure velocity, he is a huge upgrade from last season.
The other two picks in the first four rounds, Stephon Tuitt and Martavis Bryant, are also no slouches in the speed category either. But the forgotten headline here is the players taking on bigger roles from last season.
People like Shamarko Thomas, Markus Wheaton, and Antwon Blake are expected to contribute more in 2014, and all three boast tremendous speed. They’re not new pieces but two were rookies and one was a second-year player and a late addition to the roster. They should be significantly improved this season.