The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Question: Will the bye week yield any performance-based role or lineup changes?
While the Steelers are hoping to get a number of players back from injury as they work their way through their mid-season bye week, one can’t help but wonder if the coaching staff is going to utilize this opportunity to do any tinkering with the lineup, or with how they use certain players or personnel groups.
While the news of Zach Mettenberger taking some first-team reps, as I wrote about yesterday, is nothing but a false alarm for anybody hoping that he would ascend to the position of the team’s top backup quarterback, there are possibilities at other positions.
There has been some tumult at the wide receiver position, for example, although that is tied to injuries. Both Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates have been virtual non-factors in the team’s past two games. How will their snap distribution shake out a week from today, assuming both can return?
Will the Steelers make a greater use of the two-back sets than they have up to this point in the season—specifically two-back sets with a lead blocker at the fullback position? They have hardly utilized this at all this year, even with their starting fullback having returned two weeks ago.
I also wrote yesterday that there have been hints that Vince Williams may continue to rotate at at least one, if not both inside linebacker spots after he filled in as a starter for three games. He technically even started last week in spite of the fact that Ryan Shazier was back and logged the higher number of snaps.
The most likely area for a change could come in the secondary, specifically as the nickel and dime back positions. The Steelers promoted rookie first-rounder Artie Burns to the nickel role, but he has struggled.
Fellow rookie Sean Davis started the season in that role, but he got injured and lost his job. He played three snaps last week as a dime back. Justin Gilbert didn’t play at all, but he may end up in the mix for a bigger role as well.