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: Are the Steelers properly insulated from injury along the interior offensive line?
The Steelers’ three interior offensive line starters have all had a significant injury history within the last few years. With that in mind, one would think it might be of great importance for the team to have itself properly insulated from injury there.
As a matter of fact, the Steelers have had to deal with a number of injuries on a consistent basis along the offensive line for the better part of the past decade. Oftentimes, the replacement players have been found wanting. Does Pittsburgh have the right parts on the inside for the offensive line now in case of injury?
Fortunately for the Steelers, they only lost two starts between their three interior offensive linemen a year ago. Cody Wallace, a veteran with no previous starting experience before joining the Steelers in 2013, filled in for Ramon Foster during Weeks Three and Four, and was the weakest link in each of those games. Admittedly, you would expect your backup in that instance to be the weak link, but it’s preferable if it’s not overly noticeable.
Despite the team as a whole running well against the Panthers, Wallace lost his share of individual battles against Carolina’s front four. Against Tampa Bay, he was whipped around in the passing game more than a few times. Mind you, it could have been a lot worse, but he did look more comfortable playing center the year before.
The only other interior offensive lineman on the depth chart is Chris Hubbard, who was an undrafted free agent a year ago who spent 2013 on the practice squad before making the roster in 2014. He only has eight snaps to his name thus far, and frankly not much can be deduced from that.
The Steelers drafted Wesley Johnson a year ago in the fifth round, a player who showed promise at center during the preseason and who had played all five positions during his college career and in training camp. He was lost off waivers mid-season, however, and now the team has to wonder if they are comfortable with what they have or if they need another jack of all trades type. It wouldn’t be surprising if they try to add two linemen late in this draft.