The Pittsburgh Steelers got a mulligan last week by virtue of their extra preseason match in the Hall of Fame game against the Minnesota Vikings. So how did they respond with their second drive off the tee against the Jacksonville Jaguars?
Unfortunately, it was another generous serving of “meh” as the Steelers deep roster on the whole failed to win friends and influence people while competing against a woeful team that finished 3-13 last year.
Truth be told, Coach Mike Tomlin could probably turn in his 53 man roster today without many regrets. Maybe it’s time anyway to focus on honing in the performance of the starters as the defense looks in need of much rehearsal.
So with some general grumpiness with the preseason thus far, here are your Rapid Fire Conclusions:
The Quarterback Controversy
A few years back during Spring camp, the Pittsburgh media got their first live look at then rookie quarterback Landry Jones. The initial reports were alarming as it was reported with some horror that Jones was neither an accurate thrower or in possession of a strong arm. Flash forward to the two preseason games of 2015 where fans have been force fed Jones and the conclusion remains the same. The fourth round selection of Jones was bizarre then and the fact he still holds down a roster spot still is even more so. You don’t groom a rookie slinger to be a back-up quarterback. You bring in a veteran like Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich. The only young quarterbacks you develop are those with huge upsides. In this league you can’t compete with slow receivers or weak-armed quarterbacks. It allows safeties to press up another five yards and radically simplifies defensive assignments. Now, with their number two quarterback nursing a bum shoulder (and even healthy he was no Steve Young behind Joe Montana) the Steelers brass have left the team without an insurance plan. With Ben Roethlisberger healthy the team could reasonably target a 12-4 record. Without him, they are a 7-9 team. Time for a wake-up call Steelers. There are three preseason games left. There is plenty of opportunity to bring in some new quarterbacks to camp (raw and talented and/or experienced veterans) to address this situation immediately.
As We Darn Well Please
Speaking of Roethlisberger, what an impressive display by the first team offense against the Jaguars. Backed up by one of the most confident offensive lines the team has had in years (if not decades) and surrounded by big time talent, the offense (as long as Big Ben is still standing tall) should be even more explosive than last year and might well end up being the NFL’s best.
The Cover 2 Cover-Up
How many times were Steelers players and coaches asked: “What differences are you seeing between new defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s playbook and that of Dick LeBeau?” And how many times did we hear, “Not much has changed at all?” Yet, all we’ve seen is heavy doses of Cover 2 and even 4-3 looks. What’s with the cover-up fellas? It’s not like Bill Belichick isn’t going to know ahead of time. Why not just be honest with us?
Those of us who relied on the NFL Network to watch the preseason game had to endure a full game of the Jaguars announcers who obviously didn’t bother to do their homework on the Steelers. Within the first five minutes they introduced Dri Archer as “Dry Archer” and noted that the Steelers had a “good one” in quarterback Landry Jones. It reinforces how talented Cris Collinsworth is as most of his color commentary during the Hall of Fame game against Minnesota Vikings was shared as if he was a Steelers insiders.
It was another strong showing by fan favorite and camp phenom Alejandro Villanueva. Sure, he started the game off a little slow in being a bit shy against the bull rush. But that’s what happens when you have to practice against James Harrison all week. After a series or two Villanueva settled in and absolutely swallowed up his opponents in pass protection and pushed the pile effectively on run plays. It brought to mind one of the greatest Jaguars of all time, tackle Tony Boselli who had a similar body type as Villanueva. Yes…Alejandro had a LONG way to go, but he continues to impress.
Some astute Steelers Depot readers have suggested that Villanueva play tight end for the team. Crazy you say? Not only will Villanueva make the team’s 53 but coaches will work to get him on the field, especially during two point conversion attempts. Just as Mike Adams was used well in the past as a blocking tight end, Villanueva will be just as effective with a significant bonus: he played tight end in college. Is there a Jumbo Slash position in the making?
The Hired Gun
Why does it seem that every opponent’s kickers in the NFL can soar kickoffs out of the end zone with ease while the Steelers float theirs to the five yard line to set up juicy returns? What is it about putting on a Steelers jersey that saps leg strength? In replacing Shaun Suisham with Garrett Hartley as their 2015 placeholder why didn’t they put a higher premium on kickoff ability? Let’s hope Hartley eats his Wheaties and is able to start booming them out on kickoffs as it’s one of the most critical skills in special teams play…and something the Steelers haven’t enjoyed for many years.
More Than Special
With all of the talk about his only virtue being special teams play it was nice to see Darrius Heyward-Bey show off some of his abilities at the wide receiver position early in the game. No one expects him to bump off Antonio Brown as the number one receiver on the team…ever. But with a little improvement in his consistency this season, Heyward-Bey’s combination of speed and size and blocking ability could make him a strong number three or four receiver option.
Home Run Drought
On the issue of speed, there’s none faster on the team than “Dry Archer”. He lifted up his blocking game some this week and again made a clutch third down. But his calling card is as a player who threatens to take it “all the way” with every touch. Now that he’s getting the touches it’s time for him to start putting a few over the fence. It will silence his critics and get him inked into the playbook.
One of the humorous moments of the game came when rookie safety Gerod Holliman was flagged for fifteen yards after being accused of making a violent hit. Uhhh…obviously the referees neglected to study Holliman’s college tape or they would have known that wasn’t possible.
Spicing Up Spence
One of the camp surprises has been the play of Sean Spence who not only has put his past injury behind him but is performing with new-found power and aggression. Many have slated Vince Williams as the heir apparent to Lawrence Timmons but perhaps it’s Spence who is destined to play alongside Ryan Shazier in the future?
Shaziering the Secondary
On the subject of Shazier, it’s been a joy to watch his range on the field. This may be his breakout season after all. Part of this is because the team is giving him heavy reps during the preseason with him playing late into the game. Shouldn’t the team be doing the same with the secondary? Why not keep players like Cortez Allen, Antwon Blake, Brandon Boykin and Shamarko Thomas on the field as long as it takes for them to build confidence and consistency in playing with each other? The team’s greatest vulnerability needs the most game time practice.
Bud Needs To Bud
No need to panic…yet…but the second preseason game of the season has passed without a real flash from first round draft pick Bud Dupree. Remember Shazier’s debut in 2014? And that was with just playing the first quarter. Dupree has been playing heavily in the games…even late into the fourth quarter against opponents well below his pay grade with not much to show for it. Let’s hope Dupree can step it up next game as Arthur Moats hasn’t exactly been tearing it up either.
Out To Pasture?
There is one 3-4 edge linebacker that flashed against the Jaguars with his patented slash and strip sack. James Harrison is the best rusher and finest edge sealer we have on the roster and is under a two-year contract. He’s also had an entire offseason to prepare. Can we stop articulating his starting role as the failure of Jarvis Jones and instead celebrate the next two years as Harrison’s ascendancy as one of the all-time Steelers greats?
Letting Their Guard Down
It’s disappointing the Steelers didn’t draft a talented rookie guard to develop this year with the purpose of replacing Ramon Foster at the end of this season when his contract expires. The front office would be wise to keep an eye on the waiver wire or even look to make a talent swap with a team rich on guards and thin on linebackers.
Will tackle Mike Adams have a spot on the team’s 53 when he gets off of the PUP? Probably. But it’s unlikely he’ll be resigned at the end of the season with the rise of Alejandro Villanueva. So why not see if Adams can play some guard? Nuts, right? Maybe not. His foot speed is too slow to reliably protect the blind side but his run blocking has always been a strength. If Adams is able to flex to the guard position it might be the secret to lengthening his career.
Mount McCullers Fan Club
It’s been dark times for the charter members of the Daniel McCullers fan club. Preseason just isn’t the same without getting to see Big Dan march opposing guards ten yards into the backfield. Let’s hope that hamstring gets healthy soon.