The Pittsburgh Steelers were the most widely discussed team in the NFL while the playoffs were going on, and for all the wrong reasons, of course, considering that they didn’t even qualify to compete in the championship tournament.
That all doesn’t need to be rehashed at this point of the offseason, but suffice it to say that the tone in the building has changed dramatically now that everybody is here and working, and working together toward a common goal.
So many players have already commented in some form or fashion about experiencing a positive re-orientation toward a collective spirit this offseason. The offensive linemen may have been particularly vocal about it so far, with all four returning starters from last season making prominent remarks on the subject.
It’s being felt in other rooms as well, including, not surprisingly, the wide receiver room, which no longer houses Antonio Brown now that he is the property of the Oakland Raiders and, soon enough, the star—whether hero of villain—of Hard Knocks.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is the proverbial head of the household at the position now, even as he takes cues from free agent veteran addition Donte Moncrief. But short of Eli Rogers, nobody has been here longer in that room to mark the changes now from previous seasons.
So it’s no surprise that he is begin approached by members of the media seeking his take. And he offered one yesterday, alluding to a healthier collective unity.
“We just believe in each other”, he said. “I think this year our chemistry in the locker room, everyone’s all-in together just to win the world championship. It’s a difference when there’s no individuals, and there’s just ‘team’. I think that’s what we have here that’s special this year, that chemistry that we have”.
So much is riding on Smith-Schuster ascending into a superstar role, as well as having a new supporting case line up behind him. Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer are earmarked for slot work deep in the depth chart, but James Washington contributed sparsely last year while Moncrief and Diontae Johnson, the latter a rookie, are new faces in the past few months.
Perhaps it is the relative newness of this group—outside of Rogers, nobody is entering later than their third offseason with the team—that plays a role in this sense of camaraderie that the wide receiver room is experiencing right now. The bonding process itself can have that effect. The question is whether it will be sustained.