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.
One change that the Steelers have made from last season is that they have made a concerted effort to create depth at the outside linebacker position on the defensive side of the ball, which is in stark contrast from when they entered the regular season with just three pass rushers on the 53-man roster, with a fourth as an undrafted free agent sitting on the practice squad.
The front office is doing its best to insulate the position in the hopes of avoiding another situation like last season, where they lost one starter for an extended period of time due to a significant injury and they were forced to turn to the free agent market to pull somebody off the street.
Of course, they were highly fortunate that they had a player such as James Harrison to call up in just such a situation, who last year had retired, and this year had multiple contract offers to ponder after he registered 5.5 sacks in relatively limited playing time.
Since then, the Steelers have re-signed Harrison to a two-year contract, and though they claim to have the intention of limiting his snaps this year, they no doubt know in the back of their collective mind that if need be, he can step up.
Pittsburgh also used its first-round draft pick on outside linebacker Bud Dupree and signed Arthur Moats to a three-year contract, projecting him in the starting lineup after he proved capable last season.
But they added another four outside linebackers to the mix as well, including Howard Jones from the practice squad a year ago. They also signed CFL standout Shawn Lemon, took a chance on Shayon Green, and also drafted Anthony Chickillo.
It’s certainly possible that not one of these players makes the roster, considering that the Steelers’ top four in the rotation already appears to be set, but one thing you can’t say is that they haven’t tried to foster legitimate competition at the position by stockpiling affordable talent.
It seems that everybody has their favorite from the bottom half of that group that they are convinced the Steelers have to keep because another team will scoop him up from the practice squad. At the very least, that gives an indication that there is not a clear talent disparity among the group, which is always what you want to see in such situations.
Whether or not any of these players manage to pan out for the Steelers remains to be seen, but after the disappointing collection that they fielded for training camp last season, this is certainly a welcome, and surely deliberate, change.