So far in training camp, even though we’ve gotten to see very little of it, it has been evident that the defense has by and large dominated the scrimmages. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t shy about admitting this last week when he spoke to the media, quickly volunteering that the defense was getting the better of his unit.
While much of that is understandable given the assembled talent that the Steelers have put together on that side of the ball, including a trio of first-team All-Pro players representing all three levels of the unit, there is more to it than that, according to Mike Tomlin.
After yesterday’s practice, he was asked about the development of the wide receivers and their growing cohesion with Roethlisberger, after it being noted that the group had a better day of practice. “It’s a known fact that offensive cohesion probably takes a little longer than defensive cohesion”, he said.
“The timing, and the ability to get a sense of that timing to work collectively is much more important, and we’ve had a number of guys miss time due to natural things that this process presents. It’s good to see those guys coming together, and I’m not surprised that maybe sometimes defensive collective maturation happens a little faster”.
The reality is that, outside of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Roethlisberger hasn’t worked much with this group of wide receivers. Diontae Johnson was a rookie last year. Chase Claypool is a rookie this year. Deon Cain wasn’t added until after the quarterback was on injured reserve. Even James Washington didn’t see a ton of targets during his rookie year in 2018.
Throw in a newcomer at tight end in Eric Ebron and some young running backs and you have a lot of skill position players that don’t have a natural or learned rapport with the guy delivering the ball. Then remove the entire on-field Spring offseason process and the preseason and you’re really putting things in a pressure cooker.
Offensive timing and rhythm take time to develop, and that is the most precious commodity this offseason. Realistically, we shouldn’t expect the unit to be playing error-free ball when the regular season begins, either, all things considered.
But this is a talented group that is capable of making plays, of that there can be no mistake made. Even without the benefit of a full offseason, their natural abilities will produce this year—especially in comparison to last season, which was carried out largely without Roethlisberger.