The Pittsburgh Steelers are now halfway through their 2014 season, and they stand at 5-3—right where they were at the halfway point of the 2012 season, before it all crumbled with Ben Roethlisberger getting injured the following week.
But Roethlisberger hasn’t missed a single snap since returning from that injury, excluding a handful of snaps in a blowout victory earlier this season. In other words, he’s been healthy, and as a matter of fact, he appears to be very much at the top of his game.
As always, the franchise quarterback is the heart and soul of just about every championship team. Without a franchise quarterback, it’s almost impossible to win the big one. But teams must rebuild their rosters every year to maintain success, and a big part of that is, of course, drafting well.
Since we’re now halfway through the season, it would be a good time to pause and take stock of how the 2014 rookie class has or has not been able to contribute to the Steelers’ success, taking an individual look at each draft pick, starting from the top.
Ryan Shazier, ILB: 4 games played (181 snaps), 4 starts, 24 tackles, 1 pass defensed
Shazier finally returned to the field in the last game after missing the past four and a half with a knee injury, and he probably played his best game, even though he was on a snap count. He did a bit of everything, playing the run, the pass, and rushing the quarterback. He may not be thinking as much, now that he has had time to sit. He’s likely to up his snap count as the weeks wear on, but he’ll likely continue to have some rookie moments throughout the season.
Stephon Tuitt, DE: 8 games played (115 snaps), 0 starts, 2 tackles
Tuitt has slowly but surely begun to log more reliable playing time over the last few weeks, but that might change as the defensive line starts to get healthy again. Has he earned the right to stay in the rotation, even if he’s not necessarily getting to the ball and making plays yet?
Dri Archer, RB/WR: 6 games played (32 snaps), 0 starts, 7 carries for 53 yards (5.3), 4 catches for 9 yards (2.3), 17.9 kick return average
Archer’s major contribution in his rookie season was supposed to be on kick returns, but he was benched from doing that due to poor performance. He hasn’t been able to contribute much on offense, either. He played one snap in the last game and was benched after he dropped an easy pass.
Martavis Bryant, WR: 2 games played (57 snaps), 0 starts, 7 catches for 123 yards (17.6), 3 TDs
Bryant appears to be the big receiver Roethlisberger’s wanted, if the past two weeks are anything to go by. The rookie was inactive for the first six weeks because the coaching staff wasn’t comfortable with his level of understanding of the offense, but he’s excelled in package work on go routes and in the end zone, as you can tell be his numbers. His 52-yard reception in the last game is the longest passing play for the team this year.
Shaquille Richardson, CB: Waived injured from practice squad
Richardson, like some of the other draftees below, had difficulty staying healthy in training camp and hardly played during the preseason. It was almost surprising when he didn’t land on the injured reserve list prior to the start of the season. He made the practice squad, but was recently waived with an injury settlement. Would the Steelers be interested in bringing him back in the offseason? Who knows, but they typically don’t come back to draft picks they let go of.
Wesley Johnson, OL: Released, claimed off waivers
Johnson was billed as an every position player, but he only got to play center during the preseason. He performed well against lower competition, but was shown up in the preseason finale against a higher pedigree of players when he started that game. He made the roster, but was released to make room for Ross Ventrone for special teams purposes. He was claimed off waivers before the Steelers could place him on the practice squad, which is unfortunate, but not the end of the world.
Jordan Zumwalt, ILB: Placed on injured reserve
Zumwalt was almost fortunate to get injured enough to land here. He was behind from the beginning due to school commitments and then couldn’t stay healthy in training camp. He played little in the preseason. He figures to battle Terence Garvin next year as the two-way linebacker and special teams ace.
Daniel McCullers, NT: 2 games played (14 snaps), 1 tackle
McCullers was inactive for the first six games of the season, and will likely go back to being inactive, now that Steve McLendon is expected to return to the starting lineup. The massive rookie defensive lineman did show some potential in his limited snaps, and registered a tackle in the last game, but he has some technique issues to work on before the coaching staff fully trusts him.
Rob Blanchflower, TE: On the practice squad
Blanchflower battled some injuries during the preseason, but came on nicely in the final preseason game to make it on to the practice squad. He lost out on a roster spot to Michael Palmer, who has played 10 snaps in eight games. He was targeted twice, both times in the end zone from the one-yard line. The first time, he not only dropped the ball, but drew an offensive pass interference call. He did catch the second one. It stands to reason, however, that Blanchflower is likely being groomed to make the roster in year two as a two-way blocking and receiving option, even if he’s likely to see little time.