You can’t finish a season the way the Pittsburgh Steelers did a year ago and not expect there to be changes. There have been a lot, in fact, this offseason, though it remains to be seen who many of them will actually be for the better.
While the offensive line looks at lot different from last year, the biggest shakeup was on the coaching staff. They parted with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett, promoting Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm, respectively, to take their places. They also had to bring in new quarterback and tight end coaches, and a new assistant line coach.
Canada has the potential to be the biggest catalyst for change this year in terms of how he runs the offense, not just in terms of what plays he calls and how he sets them up, but also the manner in which he puts players in position.
Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is hopeful that Canada can improve his usage and get him back to playing at a Pro Bowl level with Pro Bowl numbers, including playing outside more. “That’s something that we talked about”, he told reporters after practice on Friday. “That’s something that’s being involved. You can see it in the plays, moving me around, moving everybody around. The offense is coming around really well”.
Fichtner spent a decade as the Steelers’ quarterbacks coach, and was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2018. The offense worked well under him during his first season, at a time when they had the best offensive line in the league, along with the best wide receiver, and before Ben Roethlisberger’s arm snapped in half.
Since then, it’s been a different story, and Fichtner wasn’t able to compensate without having some of the elite attributes in his possession. The Steelers expect Canada to be more creative, and the players expect it to be obvious. “I think there’s gonna be a difference, based on what I’ve been taught the past four years versus this year”, Smith-Schuster said of the offense.
“The motions, and all that added stuff, moving around, different formations, different spots you’re at. Being able to read a defense. Pre-snap, you’ve got to be very attention-to-detail”, he said. As far as where he’s playing, he added, “inside, outside. I love it all the way around”.
At the end of the day, of course, it’s about making plays. If Canada can put him in position to make plays out of the slot, I’m sure Smith-Schuster wouldn’t have a problem with it. But it’s been overdue for this offense to actually make use of the purported versatility of its wide receivers, and that falls on the plate of their new offensive coordinator.