A little more than two weeks before training camp opens at Latrobe. The last official Pittsburgh Steelers transaction was almost a month ago when T.J. Watt was signed; Rushel Shell released and Brandon Brown-Dukes aka “Mercyhurst” brought back on the roster for the umpteenth time. The biggest news at the moment appears to be Le’Veon Bell’s contract situation. Will he get a long-term deal or play with the franchise tag? We have until this Monday to find out.
I doubt that the current 90-man roster will have any huge changes before camp starts. The 53 players who will start the regular season are likely on the roster already – or do you think someone else will be picked up?
As an average fan; I’m ready to look at the position groups to see how the club is looking for the upcoming season. Of course, this preliminary evaluation goes out the window the day camp starts. Then we get to see who is in shape, who has been hiding lingering injuries and how quickly the new Steelers adapt to the NFL. The starters are of course most important; but if we have learned anything the 16-game regular season makes depth the key to a team’s success.
So, two grades will be assigned for each group; first the starters and how they should stack up against the opposition. The second grade is for the back-ups. There will of course be drop off but how well can the Steelers do if they must step in for a couple games.
Quarterbacks: Despite the greatness of some other players. There is only one indispensable player that is absolutely necessary for the Steelers to go all the way: Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers could get by without him for 3-4 regular season games at most; Landry Jones should be able to manage a few games with the offensive tools available. But a healthy Ben is a necessity for the bulk of the season and the playoffs. The season is not going well if Joshua Dobbs gets any playing time. Starter: A; Depth: C
Running Backs: Let’s not worry long-term for the moment. For the 2017 season the Steelers should have the best all-around running back in the league in Le’Veon Bell. Rushing, blocking, catching the ball out of the back field; splitting out wide. My opinion no one else comes close to his skill set. The question is can he avoid injury and be available and healthy for the playoffs. The depth consists of an untested rookie and two journeymen with less than 100 career rush attempts combined. Starter: A+; Depth: D
Wide Receivers: A cliché: an embarrassment of riches. Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. Add 2nd round draft pick JuJu Smith-Schuster and some combination of young players that gained experience last year and should be better this season – Eli Rogers, Demarcus Ayers, Sammie Coates, Cobi Hamilton. Is there room for veteran and special teams ace Darrius Heyward-Bey or Marcus Tucker or Justin Hunter? Camp will sort that out but regardless a strong group. Starters: A+; Depth B
Tight Ends/Fullback: Another cliché: too much of a good thing. Maybe a healthy Ladarius Green would have been too much of a good thing given the group of wide receivers available. Blocking and making the clutch 3rd down conversion will be the key to success of this group. A couple red zone touchdowns would be nice too. Jesse James needs to continue his improvement both catching the ball and sticking to his blocks. Consistency is also needed from Xavier Grimble. He showed flashes of bright talent but then it would disappear. David Johnson is the best blocker but also the old man. Not sure either rookie will break into the 53-man roster. I include fullback Roosevelt Nix in this group. This is not the strength of the Steelers offense but not a weakness if they accomplish their assignments. Starters: C; Depth: D
Offensive Line: Not too many seasons ago; the Steelers had to use 9-10 different line combinations in the same season. This group has been largely intact for the past three years. Can they do it for a fourth? All the starters are back from last season along with two key back-ups in Chris Hubbard and B.J. Finney. This group is arguably stronger with Jerald Hawkins back in the mix. This group is responsible for keeping the indispensable one on his feet. The health of this group will largely dictate the health of the Steelers chances this season. Starters: A; Depth: B+
I’ll stop here and opine on the defense & special teams next week. The Steelers have invested a lot of money in the offense and right now it looks formidable.
I was channeling Dave Bryan listening to Iron Maiden while pecking at the keyboard. Here is a sample: Trooper