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: Will Dri Archer become an asset to the Steelers in 2015, rather than an afterthought?
I must admit that even I allowed myself to get excited about the prospects of what a running back with 4.2 speed could do in a burgeoning Steelers offense with an offensive coordinator who has shown at times the ability to be creative.
But if last season was any indication, then Todd Haley and the offensive brain trust still has work to do in order to figure out how to utilize Dri Archer when he’s on the field. That’s not even considering the unenviable task of figuring out how to get him on the field in the first place.
When you have an offense that boasts three wide receivers, plus a tight end and a running back, who all contributed over 500 yards to the receiving game, it will, simply put, be difficult to work in other players rotational. You already have the five players that you want on the field most often.
That in itself might be Archer’s biggest hurdle, but he does have the luxury of a two-game cushion at the beginning of the season during which the Steelers will have to make do without Le’Veon Bell, who is anticipated to serve a two-game suspension. If Haley and Archer can work together to establish his offensive identity in that timeframe, then he should be in for a much better sophomore campaign.
But, if last year’s playoff appearance is any indication, I have to imagine that figuring out how to use him will still be problematic. It’s an issue that I wrote about at the end of the season and I don’t know that there is an obvious fix.
Even if he is used properly, however, there are legitimate concerns about how he will manage to succeed. He proved last year that he is indeed not just short, but also small, and unable to escape tackles on his own.
He admitted following the season that, despite his own speed, the overall pace of the professional game took him by surprise. He struggled to read his blocks as a runner, and failed at times to see the edge as a receiver. I think next year will determine whether he is a running back-wide receiver hybrid, or simply neither. But, at the very least, you would like to see him become a special teams contributor, even if he fails on offense.