It was right around this time last year that I began a series of articles in which I recapped the 2017 season as it unfolded for the Pittsburgh Steelers. This year my intention is to boil things down to a handful of specific key moments and themes, rather than simply going event by event and game by game, so we’ll start with a recap of the 2018 offseason leading up to the regular season.
Significant changes were made around this time last year after the Steelers were ousted from the playoffs early despite posting a 13-3 regular season record. They chose to move on from Todd Haley as offensive coordinator, promoting Randy Fichtner from within. John Mitchell was taken off the field, replaced as defensive line coach by Karl Dunbar, while Carnell Lake and Richard Mann both resigned or retired, replaced by Tom Bradley and Darryl Drake, respectively.
Much of the story of the 2018 season took place off the field, however, with the failure to sign Le’Veon Bell to a long-term contract, which subsequently resulted in him not reporting to the team for the entire season. Antonio Brown‘s saga was a year-long process that began with his disappearance in OTAs and is continuing to this present day.
The Steelers released a number of veterans from the secondary, namely William Gay, Mike Mitchell, Robert Golden, and J.J. Wilcox. While they didn’t draft a cornerback to replace gay—they drafted two in 2017 and also signed Joe Haden—they ended up adding four new safeties in the offseason.
Morgan Burnett was their ‘big’ free agent, who was supposed to start at safety, and would have if he were healthy. without Ryan Shazier, they signed Jon Bostic as a fallback option, on which they fell back. Safety Nat Berhe was also signed for special teams.
In the draft, they used their first-round pick on yet another safety in Terrell Edmunds, who would go on to be basically a wall-to-wall starter, though that doesn’t necessarily indicate consistent, evenhanded play.
The Steelers had so much success with a second-round receiver the year before that they tried it again with James Washington, but he would not have much of an impact as a rookie despite late flashes with a couple of receptions on deep targets.
The third round saw them take a stab at their quarterback of the future, using a third-round pick they gained by trading Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders plus an extra seventh-round pick to trade up three spots and select Mason Rudolph. He would serve as third-stringer all season.
Chukwuma Okorafor was a surprise and upset pick as the other third-rounder as a raw tackle, but he played pretty well, especially relative to expectations, even being forced to start a game.
The rest of the class was rounded out by Marcus Allen, Jaylen Samuels, and Joshua Frazier. Of the three, Samuels proved to be the biggest contributor, starting three games late in the year due to injury. He scored three receiving touchdowns and was picking up playing time even before the injury.
As for Allen, he spent most of the season on the inactive list but had one game in which he was used as the dimebacker due to injury. He had mixed results. Frazier did not make the roster and the team kept Lavon Hooks on the practice squad over him.
Two undrafted free agents made the 53-man roster in Olasunkanmi Adeniyi and Matthew Thomas. The former, an outside linebacker, was on IR most of the year. The latter was moved to the practice squad midseason and not offered a futures deal after the season ended.