While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: Can the Steelers succeed on defense by turning it over to youth?
When an organization experiences a period of sustained success with a core group of players, it can be difficult to finally cut the cord and allow that era to die gracefully. The Steelers rode a core group of defensive players to three Super Bowl appearances between 2005 and 2010, even with the latter appearance coming near the tail end of that unit’s effectiveness.
The front office has experienced mixed results in moving on from these players—an exhaustive recount of specific examples is unnecessary—but the bottom line is that that era may be coming to its ultimate end this offseason.
The logical end, of course, is a rebuilding, or ‘reloading’ process, and a corresponding youth movement. The old and slow defense is becoming young and fast—but is it getting better, at least for the immediate future?
The Steelers could have as many as four (three new) opening day starters on defense who are entering their third year of experience or less—perhaps even more, if they dip back into the defense in the first round.
Two starters seem to be certain, those being outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Jones started the season on the outside, while Tuitt finished the year in the starting lineup. Jones’ absence from the starting lineup came about only due to a prolonged injury.
Others, such as Shamarko Thomas, Ryan Shazier, and Antwon Blake, could also figure into the starting lineup. There’s no doubt that the Steelers will be getting a lot of playing time out of a lot of young players in 2015.
For many of those young players, however, the jury is still out as to whether or not that will contribute to consistent football. While we have seen them make some plays, we’ve also seen them give up a number of them as well.
Turning the ball over to all of these young players does not immediately suggest to me that the defense will be any better than it was a year ago, which, frankly, was not very good. It may become that in time, but it’s easy to be pessimistic about this unit’s performance for 2015.