Everybody in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ projected starting lineup on offense who has more than two years of starting experience is either a free agent signing or Diontae Johnson. Chukwuma Okorafor and Mason Rudolph are the longest-tenured players on that side of the ball, the latter entering his third season as a starter at right tackle, the former competing for his first starting job at quarterback.
Neither of them could be described as conventional leaders, with Rudolph’s lack of starting opportunities hindering his ability to lead others. And with so many key players gone from recent years—Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, Vance McDonald, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner—the team is in search mode for individuals to step up and stake a claim to the group.
“I’ll never ask anybody to be anything other than themselves, but no question, we’re in the process of developing leaders on the offensive side of the ball”, head coach Mike Tomlin told former Steelers defensive back Bryant McFadden yesterday in a discussion aired on CBS Sports.
“The great thing is we’ve got a good group of candidates”, he added, “but again, it’s important that they don’t try too hard, that they focus on what’s important, and that’s playmaking, and if leadership is a natural component of who they are, then let that show”.
The primary candidate who has drawn the most attention this offseason is second-year running back Najee Harris, who has made it no secret that he wants to take on that leadership role and believes that he has the capacity to do it.
Some of the team’s signings in free agency, particularly quarterback Mitch Trubisky and guard James Daniels, have also been cited as leaders by their respective position groups, if not beyond that sphere. And Chase Claypool, the third-year wide receiver, is another veteran being looked upon to take greater charge of his peers.
I think Tomlin’s words are wisely chosen, however, because imposed leadership doesn’t typically work out. It’s generally part of the natural development of a group, where eventually one or more individuals begin to be viewed as authoritative in their respective departments.
Still, to move on from such a huge personality as Ben Roethlisberger is no small adjustment. He had been in that locker room for 18 years, even if not always in a leadership capacity, but certain he was very much that for the back half of his career.
This is a young offense that should naturally produce its own leaders over time, with players like Harris, tight end Pat Freiermuth, and perhaps somebody like Dan Moore Jr. or Kevin Dotson presenting the character traits that may be suited to the role when the time is right for them to assume it.