It is only too true that we are way too early on in the process to be talking about the offseason already—we should be writing about the Pittsburgh Steelers’s preparations for one final game in two weeks’ time—I don’t think it would be fair at all, from an objective standpoint, to consider this season a loss.
We learned quite a bit about this team going forward, and one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle that we see coming together for the 2017 season is the fact that the Steelers saw major contributions from three young, rookie defensive starters who are only going to continue to get better over the course of time.
While Sean Davis was the one to win the team’s rookie of the year award, any three of the Steelers’ rookie defensive starters would have been deserving, and third-round nose tackle Javon Hargrave is certainly no exception. Not only did he begin the year as a starter at the nose tackle position, but he saw his role evolve in a major way by the end of the year.
The reason for that, of course, the fact that Cameron Heyward suffered a season-ending injury toward the midpoint of the season. While Hargrave was the starting nose tackle, however, he is actually a very mobile player that the Steelers were able to plug into their nickel defense with great success.
Though he had some growing pains, Hargrave’s play was instrumental in preventing the Steelers from seeing a major drop off after Heyward was placed on injured reserve. He even recorded sacks in back-to-back games soon after, and recovered a fumble for a touchdown.
While I haven’t had the opportunity to dissect the game just yet, he also appeared to be one of the few defenders for Pittsburgh last night who played well. Of course, his highlight of the game was a 10-yard sack of Tom Brady after he completely bullied an offensive lineman. That play got the Steelers off the field on third down on a key early part of the game.
He also finished the game with five tackles, all of which would be categorized as a successful play for the defense. He had a tackle for a loss on the first play of the drive in which he recorded the sack, forcing the high-powered New England offense to go three and out, which is a rare occurrence.
After seeing what he can do this season, the Steelers, at the very least, now know that they have three stud defensive linemen that can rush the passer, which should help Hargrave get into a regular rotation and see more playing time when all parties are healthy.
Considering the fact that he so successfully made the jump from small-school to the AFC North, there is certainly reason for optimism about his future, and for a second-year jump.