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Season Of Change: Converting Outsiders Into Mentors

Over the course of the past couple of years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have undergone an uncommon amount of change, which could have been largely correlated with the fact that the team had finished 8-8 in consecutive seasons while failing to advance to the postseason.

In deference to general manager Kevin Colbert, the attitude used to approach the offseason in those years was that this was an 8-8 team and these were 8-8 players. It’s little surprise that a lot of things changed during those years.

For a few players in particular, however, one season shifting to the next has meant a great deal in terms of where they place within the broader dynamics of the team. Where once they were outsiders, they are now welcome, some even mentors and leaders.

The Steelers brought in an uncommonly large group of free agent players last year, and while they produced mixed results, they actually managed to hit especially on a few key bargain deals, with Arthur Moats, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Brice McCain all panning out and earning another contract—albeit, in McCain’s case, a bigger contract with another team.

Moats was brought in as a player that they hoped could provide some depth at outside linebacker, but he seemed to adapt to things quickly, enough that the Steelers were comfortable carrying him as the third outside linebacker.

It wasn’t long before he was thrust into a starting role, and he held his own, even if he snap count diminished over time. He was rewarded with a new three-year contract and the driver’s seat to a starting job this year, as well as placement among the more veteran linebackers on the team.

Heyward-Bey, meanwhile, was a wide receiver still shaking off the first-round bust label after a failed stint with a second team in 2013. He had to scratch and claw just to eke out a roster spot in 2014, but he performed so well on special teams, and showed strong mentoring characteristics to the young wide receivers, that it seems to me his roster spot is virtually assured.

There was also, of course, Mike Mitchell, who was asked to step in for a former Pro Bowler while playing next to a future Hall of Famer, which is no enviable task, especially when you are the team’s featured free agent signing, from an organization averse to making such a splash.

That was a lot of extra attention being focused on him, all while dealing with a groin injury. No doubt his first season in Pittsburgh proved to be a grind in more ways than one. But he seems reenergized this season and ready to start fresh, and to become one of the mouthpieces of this team.

Of course, such things as these scenarios described above happen to every team, surely. But I’m not sure how many cases there are out there of players like Will Allen, who spends a long period of time on one team only to find a true new home on another, like he never belonged anywhere else, all while serving in a sort of leadership role despite not being a starter.

That’s something about this organization that has always fascinated me—the outsider perspective turned insider. And I think we’re beginning to see that already just from last year’s group of former outsiders.

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