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.
Over the course of the past few seasons, rookies were put into pressure situations to start, going back to Maurkice Pouncey in 2010. David DeCastro would have started opening day as a rookie if healthy. Perhaps Jarvis Jones would have in 2013 as well if healthy. And we know that Le’Veon Bell would have.
Last season, Ryan Shazier did start the season opener for the Steelers, becoming the first rookie to do so since Pouncey, but he wasn’t the first rookie to play a major role in his first season, or expected to play a major role.
Most often due to immediate need, Pouncey, DeCastro, Jones, Bell, and Shazier are all examples of rookies that would most likely have been opening day starters if healthy, two of whom actually managed to make that start. This is obviously uncommon for the Steelers, but it has been a reflection of a lack of talent in front of them.
Shazier would likely have been a 16-game starter if he stayed healthy all year. He even missed several games and came back into his starting job until he got injured again and missed even more time, which is very out of character for how the team typically handles rookies.
Then you have both Stephon Tuitt and Martavis Bryant stepping into major roles by the end of the season, with Tuitt starting the last five games of the year, including the playoffs, and Bryant coming down with nine touchdowns in 11 games played.
Such expectations do not appear to exist for this year’s rookie class. And, quite frankly, it’s always a good thing when you’re not forced to count on your rookies to make a big impact in their first season. Not that some of them might not have the potential to do so.
First-round pick Bud Dupree is immensely talented athletically and has some collegiate familiarity with what the Steelers would like him to do. Still, Arthur Moats is expected to start over him, and presumably take most of the reps.
Senquez Golson and Doran Grant were both accomplished collegiate cornerbacks selected in the second and fourth rounds, but Cortez Allen gets the first crack at starting, with Antwon Blake, a former undrafted free agent, is likely next in line.
Sammie Coates may be the most physically gifted player that the Steelers drafted, a wide receiver in the third round. But with that group already at least three deep and in an offense that heavily features the running back and tight end in the passing game, there is little pressure for him to contribute as a rookie.
In 2015, the fate of the team will not be determined by the success or failure of its rookie class, as it should be. As always, of course, this is barring injury that places them into key roles. For now, however, anything that they provide will be a bonus.