The Pittsburgh Steelers last reached the postseason in 2017. They last one a game in the postseason in 2016. That’s pretty unacceptable for the organization’s standards. And it’s unacceptable in the locker room, as team captain Cameron Heyward made pretty clear during a Zoom conference yesterday, when he was asked about Mike Tomlin’s feelings about having missed out on the playoffs the last two years.
“It’s eating at all of us”, he said. “We’ve dropped the ball. It’s unacceptable not to make the playoffs. We don’t rest on saying that injuries were the reason we didn’t make the playoffs. We’ve got to improve. I think we have a good squad that can get the job done, and hope and win a Super Bowl”.
Pittsburgh seemed to have a great team in 2017, going 13-3 during the regular season, though Ryan Shazier’s late-season injury really changed the complexion of their defense. And the Jacksonville Jaguars blew their doors off offensively. Heyward won’t make the excuses, but all of their defensive linemen were nursing injuries entering that game. That doesn’t make it feel any better.
“I think one thing we’re banking on with everything going on is we have great leadership”, Heyward said about preparing for a rebound amid a pandemic. “We have good camaraderie. We have guys who have been through our system. so we’re able to relate that to all of our younger guys, But I look at our rookies and our free agents we signed and we think they can help us win a Super Bowl this year”.
During free agency, the Steelers signed tight end Eric Ebron, fullback Derek Watt, and lineman Stefen Wisniewski. Ebron is the only one who is guaranteed to have a prominent role on offense or defense, but Wisniewski could potentially be a starter and play over 1000 snaps. Watt is likely to see around 150 offensive snaps, and twice that on special teams.
In addition to free agent signings, they also added Chris Wormley to add to the defensive line rotation via trade. While they had no first-round pick, they drafted wide receiver Chase Claypool in the second round, outside linebacker Alex Highsmith in the third, running back Anthony McFarland and lineman Kevin Dotson in the fourth, wrapped up by late-round selections of safety Antoine Brooks and defensive lineman Carlos Davis.
How much of a role will any of those guys play this season? It’s hard to say without even getting the opportunity to see them on the field, quite frankly. And while the coaches are in virtual meetings with them, they face the same problem with evaluation. There’s only so much you can glean about somebody’s ability to perform a physical task through the classroom.
The good news is that the Steelers’ roster is built in such a way that it doesn’t need many contributions from new faces who haven’t already been here. As long as they can stay healthy, there’s no reason they can’t compete with the Baltimore Ravens.