The Pittsburgh Steelers were the talk of the NFL just a couple of years ago, with the ‘Killer Bs’ on offense trying to take the league by storm. There was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had been there for over a decade already, but wide receiver Antonio Brown was becoming a perennial wunderkind, and running back Le’Veon Bell emerged as the top workhorse across all 32 teams.
The thinking was, this offense is simply too talented for anything short of at least one Super Bowl to be acceptable during their tenure together. That time spent working in unison was cut short, with Bell not reporting last season, signing away in free agency this year, and then Brown forcing his way out of town via trade. But that hasn’t done anything to dampen the champion aspirations of the organization from within.
That’s because they have transitioned straight from Bell and Brown to James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster, a pair of young offensive skill players who both made the Pro Bowl in their second season a year ago. Conner was playing for Bell at running back, while Smith-Schuster worked alongside Brown. Conner talked about that seamless nature of that championship window on the NFL Network earlier today with Michael Irvin following practice.
“Got to win now. Why wait? Why wait? What’s the point of doing that? We’re just wasting time”, he said. “The standard’s been set by running backs and receivers before us, so we’ve just got to live up to the hype, live up to the standard, grow together, trust in one another, play for each other, and the Pittsburgh Steelers will be back on top”.
That has been the attitude on the 90-man roster across the board since the Spring, that sense of camaraderie and playing for one another. So many players, both novice and veteran, have talked about experiencing a difference in the closeness of the locker room, the increased relationship between offensive and defensive players, this offseason compared to years prior.
Part of that is because they know they still have that window open with the talent that remains, but also because they have to prove that to the outside, while they focus on the extraneous matters. But Conner and Smith-Schuster, leading the charge, are showing the way forward through example.
Through “the way we go about our business every day”, he said. “Me and JuJu in the dorm room doing pushups. We try to do the little things, we try to be leaders and talk out here amongst the guys, being on time. It’s the small details that can’t be forgotten about”.
The Steelers have Roethlisberger under contract for three more years. Conner and Smith-Schuster figure to be in-house for at least the next two before they can hit unrestricted free agency in 2021, assuming they are not re-signed to extensions before then. Can they make good on their potential and win the championship the Killer B attack couldn’t provide? The answer to that question will commence about a month from now.