Season Of Change: Wide Receiver Carousel Continues

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.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It appears that the Steelers will be fielding a new set of starting wide receivers once again in 2015, which they have done almost every single season since 2010.

The 2009 season was the last time that the Steelers had consistency, with Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes both returning to the starting lineup from the previous season. But after Holmes was traded, second-year wide receiver Mike Wallace was thrust into the starting lineup in 2010 alongside Ward.

Technically, that pairing remained in 2011, although Wallace and Ward flipped roles in the pecking order, and truthfully, by season’s end, it was Antonio Brown who was starting, with both Wallace and Brown finishing with over 1000 receiving yards—the last pair to do so.

Wallace and Brown were the Steelers’ starting wide receiver during the 2012 season, which ended up being a down year for both, as neither managed to reach 1000 receiving yards. Nobody on the team, in fact, managed to do so that year.

After that season, Wallace left via free agency, which thrust Emmanuel Sanders into a starting role for the first time in 2013. He posted his best season to date, catching six touchdown passes, earning himself a contract with the Broncos. He went on to post Pro Bowl numbers this past season.

With Sanders gone, however, second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton got his turn on the carousel, in spite of the fact that he was hardly a contributor during his rookie year. And he got off to a good start, playing a key role on game-winning drive, but he finished the season with rather pedestrian numbers.

It’s widely believed that second-year wide receiver Martavis Bryant will replace Wheaton alongside Brown in the starting lineup in 2015 after posting 26 receptions for 549 yards, a 21.1 yard per catch average, and eight touchdowns in 10 regular season games. The postseason playing time for each is also a strong indicator of that.

With a fifth change in the starting lineup in six seasons—and six shifts in the hierarchy, including the 2011 season—there actually hasn’t been a great amount of consistency year-to-year for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Though none of these changes have come involving players with whom he was unfamiliar, as in rookies or free agents, it is just another testament to his abilities that he has been able to play at as high as level as he has with a revolving primary cast of wide receivers. The changes don’t seem to faze him anymore; instead, he gets to work coaching up the next one.

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