Phase One of the offseason program has been in motion for a few days now, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have had one theme tying the early portion of the in-facility work: high attendance rates. That shouldn’t be a great surprise, however, given the circumstances, as this is a roster that feels it has a lot to prove both on and off the field after missing the postseason and then being made a laughingstock in the offseason.
The most prominent player in attendance is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who also doesn’t seem at all phased by the fact that contract negotiations for a new deal as he heads into the final season of his current agreement don’t appear to be moving along.
“It’s fun to be here first and foremost”, he told the team’s website about being in attendance on the first day of voluntary activity. “It’s fun to be out there throwing with the guys. I haven’t thrown a football since the last game of the year, so to be able to get out and get some work with new guys, and guys who have been here, it’s fun first”.
And to be clear, when he says throwing, he means very informally. There is no former on-field work being done right now during the first phase of the offseason program, during which coaches have very limited access in that regard to the players.
“I expect nothing else”, he said of the team’s high turnout for the voluntary activities currently taking place at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “We want to show we are here, dedicated to this team, dedicated to having a great season. We are all about each other”.
The Steelers finished last season 9-6-1 after dropping four of their final six games, missing a postseason berth—and the division title—in the final two weeks. That prompted former Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown to have recently accused JuJu Smith-Schuster of fumbling the playoffs away. So you know Smith-Schuster is here and ready to get started.
“It’s important right now. The more time we spend together, the more we can build that trust we have with each other and team building”, he said. “Seeing the young guys here, the older guys here, it’s great. We are just following their path”.
Smith-Schuster is heading into his third NFL season but has already compiled more than 150 receptions and over 2000 receiving yards and 14 offensive touchdowns in his first two years. He made the Pro Bowl in 2018 after recording 111 receptions for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns. He will take over the number one receiver spot from Brown.
The team will depend upon the continued emergence of young players such as himself, James Conner, T.J. Watt, Terrell Edmunds, James Washington, Javon Hargrave, Sean Davis, and others in order to return to the postseason and make strides toward bringing another Lombardi back to Pittsburgh.