Steelers’ Incoming Class Facing Easier Path To Playing Time

The 2014 season will be different for the Pittsburgh Steelers, suggested Bob Labriola, writing in an article on the team’s website.

It will be different because of the incoming rookie class; not because they are an overtly special group, but because, as Labriola writes in the article, “there just aren’t as many impediments to their paths to immediate playing time”.

Even though the Steelers started three rookies last season, there is certainly a different feel about this year’s potential of rookie starters, as though their playing time this year will be more meaningful, or perhaps purposeful.

After all, of the three rookie starters, only running back Le’Veon Bell was necessarily projected to be the starter at his position, and that was following the jettisoning of Rashard Mendenhall, who was the primary ball carrier since 2009.

Vince Williams certainly wasn’t in the plans to start as a rookie, and, as a matter of fact, he was the third player that the Steelers turned to in order to fill the buck linebacker position.

Larry Foote’s injury in the season opener threw the group into a tailspin, but it was Kion Wilson given the opportunity to start for the next two games.

Then there was Jarvis Jones, the team’s first-round pick from a year ago. He, in fact, did not start the season opener, but he was placed in the starting lineup by Week Two. His case was not quite the same, as he was benched after a few games.

Jason Worilds resumed starting at right outside linebacker, where he’d begun the season, and Jones only returned to the starting lineup once LaMarr Woodley began dealing with further calf injuries that ultimately ended his season.

This year is different. At this point in time, in May, we could perhaps reasonably say that the team’s first two draft picks are the front-runners to start at their respective positions.

First-rounder Ryan Shazier finds himself in competition for the same job that Williams fell backwards into a season ago as a rookie. Now as a second-year player who has a reputation of being a two-down linebacker, it would seem just a matter of time before Shazier comes in to fill the role on every down.

Meanwhile, second-round defensive end Stephon Tuitt finds himself opening a defensive line cupboard that has been stripped bare, having seen the departure of three of their top four defensive ends.

While Cam Thomas, or even Brian Arnfelt, may fill as a stop-gap, it would seem that Tuitt will be lining up at Aaron Smith’s old position, wearing Aaron Smith’s old jersey number, sooner rather than later.

In addition, their third-round pick, Dri Archer, is likely to be asked to field the vast bulk of special teams returns, both kickoffs and punts.

We can even extend this observation to the fourth round with receiver Martavis Bryant, for whom one can argue that there is an opportunity to secure a starting job. His primary competition will be last year’s third-round pick, Markus Wheaton, who caught six passes on 12 targets as a rookie.

Wheaton, meanwhile, had to bide his time behind Emmanuel Sanders and  Jerricho Cotchery, both of whom had departed in free agency. As with Shazier, Tuitt, and Archer, Bryant finds himself staring at an opportunity that Steelers rookies have rarely seen of late: a clear path to immediate playing time.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • srdan

    It’s hard to disagree with this article. The only issue I have with it is that it has an undertone that we drafted for needs, rather than BPA. And I don’t think that is true. I think Tuitt would have been chosen even if hood was still here. I thought Shazier was not a need as a position, but as a playmaker-yes. I’m not trying to put words in Matthews mouth.

    And you allude to the previous year class. I think that class has helped us believe that we can get contrbution from rookies. Up until last year we were use to the Troys of the world being gunners in their first year. So it’s easier envisioning the 14 class on the field this year. Heck we even quote Garvin when talking about UDFAs perhaps making contributions.

  • Jacque Strappe

    Heck, when you had as many holes as we had, it’s inevitable that BPA and needs intertwine.

  • dgh57

    I think the most likely to start is Shazier as he’s considered a 3 down player over V. Williams and only has learning the playbook standing in his way. At DE everyone is unproven except Heyward and so Training Camp will decide who starts there. Arnfelt at least has a year under his belt in the Steelers system playing on the PS last year and to me is the leading candidate to start. We’ll see as this is going to be a interesting TC this year to watch how things play out.

  • cencalsteeler

    The old days of grooming players for positions is becoming archaic. Sure, there will always be developmental players, but Big Ben’s window is closing. The staff realizes that and is doing everything to field a team for the “now”. It’s not very often you have the luxury of having a franchise qb, and waiting four years to develop someone would be wasting all of our time. Football has changed. It’s not very often a players ship sails with the same team for his entire career. There is a lot more shuffling of players so a team has to use them while the gettin in good. There is pressure there by Ben’s age, and the staff is acting accordingly.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    Agree with most of this but feel that the expected playing time, while mostly based on openings, is also based on exceptional talent in the first three picks.

  • AndyR34

    Well…I disagree. I think that it is a sign that we have a relatively poor team, lacking in talent, that is providing all of these rookies a starting opportunity. I will temper that somewhat by saying that the most recent CBA is providing some assistance to this. With the reduction in rookie salaries more money is available for certain “stars” and to some degree they are getting it. However, the Steelers have always resisted paying some other team’s “star” big money and I think they are staying true to that, otherwise, if they wanted to field a team for “now”, they would not be relying on drafted rookies. Few drafted rookies are better than high quality veterans

  • cencalsteeler

    I do think it may be a culmination of both of our statements. Yes, were filling the voids of holding onto our Super Bowl team too long. And yes, the parity of the NFL causes us to make further adjustments. But, I have to disagree with the Steelers paying some other team’s “star” big money. For them to go out on the first couple of days of FA and grab an up and coming Mike Mitchell from the Panthers is something unfamiliar to Steeler Nation. Now, I admit, it’s not a blockbuster deal or trade, but it’s something we are all used to not seeing. Then, the Lance Moore and Blount signing to me shows that the Steelers are needing to become more proactive to be legitimate contenders. Usually, free agency for Steeler fans, is about as interesting as watching paint dry.

  • LucasY59

    I thought I heard (in Butler’s press conference) that they were thinking of moving Timmons to Buck, and Shazier would be the Mack. So I guess Spence would probably be Shazier’s main competition (if healthy) the depth at ILB is pretty impressive (even last year the final cuts were to decide who they would keep at ILB, this year will be the same) adding Shazier and Zumwalt to Timmons, Williams, Spence, Garvin and Wilson plus FA addition Moats (even though he will most likely be used at OLB)

    The DE competition in camp should also be one of the best (and will make the person that does get the starting spot really have to EARN it) Tuitt has to be the front runner with the value of the pick they used on him, but I like the late round and UDFA talent also, Arnfelt should be a the main competitor, but Williams (if healthy) Mauro and even Hemer have potential. It will be hard to make the final 53 but one or two (if they make waivers) will probably be on the PS also.