I don’t think there’s much doubt that the Pittsburgh Steelers made a concerted effort to get younger this offseason, helping to nudge a couple of aging veterans into retirement while releasing another. In fact, the youth movement has been an ongoing process for several seasons now after the team identified that they were seemingly beyond their championship years.
There are now just 11 players on the entire 90-man roster who are or will be 30 years of age or older by the time the regular season starts, and if all of them are not locks to make the final 53-man roster, then they are the next best thing.
While it’s true that the Steelers did consciously move away from many of their older players, it’s also true that they were prudent enough to retain a couple of these veterans who were still capable of performing, and retaining them in strategic areas.
I refer mainly to outside linebacker James Harrison and safety Will Allen, neither of whom are expected to start, but are anticipated to play a large role next season all the same. Both veterans started at least four games last season, and could potentially end up starting again this year if the need arises.
Harrison has spent all but one year of his professional career with the Steelers, while Allen is entering his sixth season with the team after spending his first six years in Tampa Bay, where his secondary coach was none other than Mike Tomlin for his first two seasons.
Over the years, the two have become leaders in the locker room, setting the example for the younger players to follow. No doubt that is largely why both of them have remained for so long, though that is more true for Allen than for Harrison, who was last a full-time starter in 2012.
Their presence is necessary now more than ever with the amount of youth and experience that exists among the linebackers and defensive backs—and more specifically within their subgroups of the outside linebackers and safeties.
With the retirements of outside linebacker Jason Worilds and safety Troy Polamalu, the two most veteran players at either position, the Steelers lost a lot of experience this offseason. Harrison and Allen can help bridge the gap to the next generation and soften the transition in the process.
Third-year safety Shamarko Thomas is expected to enter the starting lineup, and he has talked about Allen helping him to prepare for that role. Harrison has also been actively working with all of the young outside linebackers, including third-year starter Jarvis Jones, and no doubt now rookie Bud Dupree. Their veteran eyes can help the younger players pinpoint what to key in on while on the field.
The Steelers also have a young group of running backs, it is worth noting, including starter Le’Veon Bell, and the team signed a 10-year veteran in DeAngelo Williams in part to serve as an example—which has worked, according to Bell. Meanwhile, rookie tight end Jesse James has his favorite player growing up—Heath Miller—there in the film room and on the practice field to show him the ropes.