Tom’s Ten Takes – Offseason Roundup

All the major portions of roster building have taken place. The roster is chock full of new names and the offseason camps will be getting underway. I thought I would throw some ideas out into the universe and see what you think.

Offseason Roundup

1. Khan You Dig It? – I sure can. When there are changes at the top, be it head coach or general manager, you can’t be sure what will happen. Omar Khan cannonballed into the pool with the splash landing with a smack to our collective faces, like Wyatt Earp slapping Johnny Tyler. Free agent signings? Plenty. Trades? Absolutely. Holding his ground on veteran Steelers free agents? Yep. Willing to move up and down in the draft? Heck yeah! Mike Tomlin thinks Khan is aggressive and seemed to be very happy about that and I am too. I like the conviction to go get what you want. In order to win a lot of games you must take (calculated) chances.

2. Risk For Reward – Speaking of those chances, the Khan regime seemed to be more willing than its predecessors to test its luck with players coming off or having an injury history. The medical staff is a key contributor all season but, in the offseason, its opinions could be a major deciding factor in certain players. In 2022, Allen Robinson had a fractured foot and Cole Holcomb had season-ending surgery on his foot. Darnell Washington’s injury history includes questions about his knees and Cory Trice has ankle issues in his past. Now, you can’t predict injuries but taking chances on talent is a necessity. If these men stay healthy they will all have key roles this season.

3. Biggest Beneficiary – With all the changes and new additions I pose this question: Who is the biggest beneficiary? The second half of last season the offensive identity was formed. Andy Weidl has talked about “breaking the will” of opponents. A ground-control offense will obviously benefit Najee Harris. That could also be true for Kenny Pickett. My biggest beneficiary is the defense. There should be fewer three-and-out drives on offense, allowing the defense to be fresher later in the game. Adding two long corners, a run stopper with potential to the defensive line and improving the inside linebackers should give this defense another step up. And the Steelers are going to need to in an AFC loaded with talent.

4. Gimme Those Digits – With rule changes allowing more flexibility regarding which position groups can wear which group of numbers, players are able to show their personality a little. Except in Pittsburgh. I don’t see the fascination with the number zero, but I thought it would look great on Washington in black and gold. For an organization that already has a limited amount of number selections due to not handing out numbers of some of the former greats, you think it would be more open to it. Unfortunately, not. For the record, and I may be in the minority on this one, give out all the numbers. We all know the great players and someone else wearing 12 or 47 or 58 will not tarnish their history. In fact, it may bring them more attention when every announcer will say, “You know, Jack Lambert used to wear #58.”

5. Standing Pat – Tight end was not a huge need going into the draft but adding Washington may have turned Pat Freiermuth into a more mobile piece of the offense. Freiermuth will likely be asked to play less as an inline tight end, allowing him to focus more on being a receiver. We’ll likely see him on his feet more in the slot and outside as well as being in motion before the snap, which only happened a couple times last year. In the goal-line offense with two inline tight ends and two players on each wing that the team likes to run they will now likely put Freiermuth on the wing. This allows for an easier release into routes, for shovel passes, jet sweeps and even possibly throwing the ball. All the stuff that Chase Claypool and Derek Watt were doing last year. His touchdowns are going to go up.

6. One Play Away – It’s difficult to put together a roster that has quality depth at every position. The linebacker position, both inside and outside, is one play away from trouble. Inside the Steelers rebuilt the entire room, inserting Holcomb and Elandon Roberts as the probable starters. One injury away is Mark Robinson and Tanner Muse. If either must start for an extended period, there could be problems. The same goes for the outside if T.J. Watt or Alex Highsmith go down. Would you be confident with DeMarvin Leal, Quincy Roche or Nick Herbig starting for a five-game stretch? Definitely an area to look to improve.

7. Slot Machine Coming Up Lemons – Losing Cameron Sutton to his nice pay day leaves the biggest hole. Arthur Maulet is good against the run but opposing teams targeted him with passes. Chandon Sullivan had some solid years in Green Bay and hopefully can regain that form but that’s no guarantee. The Steelers could continue to look outside the organization but how about a dark horse on the roster? James Pierre had 14 snaps at the nickel corner last year. He can play physically at the line of scrimmage and that looks like it will be the M.O. of the defensive backs. Maybe he will get a look there this summer.

8. Strengthen the QB Room – The Steelers usually take four quarterbacks into training camp and, as of the typing of this there, are only three on the roster. Could they bring in a pocket passer they have some familiarity with? No, not Mason Rudolph. How about Carson Strong? They brought him in for a visit prior to the 2022 draft. Currently playing sparingly at quarterback with the Michigan Panthers of the USFL he has put up passable (pun intended) numbers. In three games, he is 18-of-26 for 172 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He had knee issues coming out of college but as stated above this regime may be okay with that. For a fourth arm in camp, you could do much worse.

9. Return Descender – How high is kick/punt returner on your list of needs? With Steven Sims going to the Texans the Steelers have an opening at both. Current candidates include Gunner Olszewski, who has the most experience. Calvin Austin could be a punt-return option with no kick returns in college. Anthony McFarland is still hanging around and had three solid kick returns in 2021. The dark horse is UDFA Jordan Byrd, who has solid speed but is very small at 170 lbs. Not an exciting group. I’m just looking for someone who will protect the ball and make good decisions. Is that too much to ask?

10. Help Or Hinder? – Kenny Pickett navigated his rookie season to an adequate level. He was far from spectacular, save for a few moments. After two early three-interception games he only had two total interceptions over his last nine games. He also had only five touchdown passes during that time. The focus was clearly on running the ball the second half of the year and based on completion percentage Pickett had his two worst games to end the season. With the commitment to continue to run the ball, will that help or hinder his progress? It doesn’t seem like he will be asked to do more. More likely it will be the “just don’t make mistakes” mantra. People claimed changing offensive coordinators after year one would stunt his growth but wouldn’t the lack of expansion to what they ask him to do also put a ceiling on his growth? The Steelers didn’t add explosive playmakers on the offense. They added move-the-chains players. Time will tell but it looks like it will be more of the same for the young QB.

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