By Jeremy Hritz
There’s a different feel to the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason, despite the popular perception that the team is undergoing a transition and consequently, will not improve on their 8-8 performance from a season ago.
While fingers are quick to point at a aged defense, an average receiving corps, and an inexperienced offensive line and running back stable, there isn’t much acknowledgement of the new additions and fresh starters as reasons for optimism outside of the Steelers locker room. And now with Ben Roethlisberger recovering from a knee clean-up, the demise of the Steelers is even more anticipated in 2013.
On Saturday, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Brett Keisel talked about the influx of first-year starters and new faces on the team. He said, “It’s a good thing, you know? We have a lot of young guys who are expected to come in and play great ball. That’s the way the business goes, each year you have a different team, each year you have a new guys who have to step up and make plays. We expect these guys who are given opportunities to step up and make plays.” Keisel is primarily referencing the defense of which nearly 30% will be comprised of new starters, those being Steve McLendon, Jason Worilds, and Cortez Allen.
The impact of these new players on the defense has yet to be seen, but it is a reason for optimism.
Over the past several seasons, the line-up on defense has mostly been static, outside of Keenan Lewis and Ziggy Hood, or changes due to injuries. While that line-up had undoubtedly been successful, its productivity and ability to influence the outcome of games had waned. With the addition of McLendon, Worilds, and Allen, the hope is that these players can rejuvenate the defense’s ability to smother offenses and to create turnovers.
There is similar optimism on offense as well, with a young and talented offensive line. With four of the five projected starters drafted no later than the second round, the potential is there, at least on paper, for them to be a great unit. The biggest obstacle in their way to success? Staying healthy.
Additionally, the uneven performance at the running back position during Rashard Mendenhall’s term could now be just a memory, as rookie Le’Veon Bell is expected to be the bruiser that Mendenhall could not. While there is concern that the expectations are too high for Bell, again, his potential for production is also a cause for much optimism.
Whatever it is, this Steelers of 2013 seem to have a different feel and a new found focus. Whether it is Larry Foote saying the team is “pissed off” about not making the playoffs, or McLendon aspiring to be great, or Plaxico Burress saying that Antonio Brown is going to be one of the most feared receivers in the league, the central topic of the Steelers this offseason has been one of improvement.
Just what type of outcome will the untested starters produce in the upcoming season? The answer is still cloudy. Yet, if it is in alignment with the optimism and focus that the Steelers are exuding this offseason, a return to their winning ways may be in order.