The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
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 offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Which position group on the roster is poised to see the most growth from 2016 to 2017?
This is a question that I have been pondering as we started our pre-training camp roster review series, breaking down every position group on the team in the last few weeks before training camp.
Every area on the roster has its strengths and weaknesses, of course, and there will always be room for improvement. For some groups, there is more room than others. So which group filled up the most room from last season, projecting their 2017 performance?
For as much criticism as the wide receiver group might have received last year—and there were times when they were a liability—they ultimately held their own and kept things together. Antonio Brown is, of course, Antonio Brown. Eli Rogers did his part, and we saw successful spot contributions from around the wide receiver room.
Yes, they are getting Martavis Bryant back, and JuJu Smith-Schuster was brought in as well, though it’s uncertain what his contributions will be as a rookie. But there are compelling arguments to be made about several other positions.
The cornerback position, for example. The Steelers had a rookie starter and a first-time starter there. Both Ross Cockrell and Artie Burns are still young players who are continuing to grow. And they now have better depth and a number of options in the slot.
The defensive line is another compelling area of growth. A healthy Cameron Heyward, anybody? Another year along for Javon Hargrave? How about some honest to goodness, real-life depth? Oh, and, you know, that Stephon Tuitt is pretty good too. And still growing. The man is 24 entering his fourth season.
And how about the outside linebackers? We had Jarvis Jones starting most of last season, and Bud Dupree missing most of last season. Now Dupree is fully healthy and working like a phenom on his pass-rush set. James Harrison is James Harrison, and may be even more James Harrison than he was last year. And T.J. Watt looks like he’s not only going to play, but be a player.