The Pittsburgh Steelers have been an offensive-minded team for the better part of the past decade. There is a sense that the roles reversed last year, with the defense seemingly becoming one of the best in the league overnight, while the offense was almost uniformly awful. But they’re not about to give in to that label.
They know the story of last season. Ben Roethlisberger went down really early on. That completely changed everything instantly. But it wasn’t just the quarterback, it was James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster too, with other issues here and there creeping up. It seemed every time they showed hints of getting something going, something would set them back.
Now their star players are more motivated than ever. You’ve seen Roethlisberger’s progress. You’ve seen Conner’s back. He says he’s seeing the same type of determination from Smith-Schuster as well, and even from newcomer Eric Ebron, looking to silence his critics.
“He’s been hitting that rehab hard, and I know he’s been training out there every day”, Conner told Pat McAfee yesterday on his show about Ebron, his fellow former Colt. “He wants to make plays, and we know he’s capable of it, so we’ll see how it plays out”.
Ebron is entering his seventh season in the NFL, two years removed from a Pro Bowl season. He was plagued by injury last year, and took a lot of criticism after electing to have surgery before the season was up. Even McAfee seemed to have some beef during the interview, at least about how dedicated he appears to be this offseason in comparison to his two years in Indianapolis.
Ebron, of course, is the new face, and he’s not going to be the cornerstone of the offense. He’s not even the only prominent tight end, with Vance McDonald still here, who had a strong season two years ago as well. It will be on the receivers, Smith-Schuster in particular, who help drive this engine. And Conner sees how hard his draft classmate has worked this offseason, too.
“He was out in LA training, and the way he built his body up, he’s gonna be that beast for us that we need him to be”, he said, though he didn’t leave out the rest of that group. “But also our young receivers coming up too, like Diontae Johnson, James Washington, even the rookie Chase Claypool, they’re looking good”.
The running back and wide receiver rooms are young on this team, perhaps the two positions that you would most like to have youth on offense, where they would most likely be at our near their peak at an early age.
And they’re not simply young, they’re hungry, and driven. And they’ve supplemented what they had already with new pieces, like Ebron, like Claypool, while they retool the offensive line. This is a group that’s ready to show that there’s still a lot more to the Steelers than the T.J. Watts and Cameron Heywards.