The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Will the left tackle position prove to be a liability for the Steelers offense in 2016?
For a team such as the Steelers that has as much talent on the offensive side on the offensive side of the ball as they do, they have a situation at left tackle that is curiously unresolved. While educated guesses can be made, the only thing that is entirely clear about the position is that it will not be manned by Kelvin Beachum after he departed in free agency.
Beachum manned the position for the majority of the past three seasons, but a torn ACL last year forced the inexperienced Alejandro Villanueva into the starting lineup, who, all things considered, did a commendable job.
In the offseason, the Steelers brought in veteran Ryan Harris to compete with Villanueva for the starting left tackle job, with Villanueva the incumbent, and thus likely the favorite to retain the position. For as much as he might have struggled at times last year, particularly in deep-drop passing situations, allowing better than a half-dozen sacks on the year, for the most part, the offense was able to function as it desired.
Overall, the position as a whole was a liability, at certain times more than others last season, but Villanueva should grow into the position over the course of the offseason and build on his experiences from last year, of which he had none previously. His trials and tribulations will serve as a valuable growing tool moving forward.
If Villanueva is to be considered the baseline, then, should Harris win the starting job, then that will likely only mean that the team is better off for it. Many, in fact, were just content to assume that the Steelers would stand pat and let him be handed the job this offseason. That they brought in competition at all is a good thing.
I am not as high on Villanueva’s performance as many others appear to be, and that likely includes some of my fellow writers here. But he did as well as could be expected given the situation he was thrown into last year. The mistakes that he made last year, for the most part, particularly later in the year, were manageable within the full scope of the offense. So even for a more pessimistic taker on this topic such as myself, there is still room for optimism.