The Pittsburgh Steelers have experienced an uncommon amount of roster turnover over the last few seasons, which just so happened to coincide with consecutive years without a postseason berth.
As a result, we’re finding an unusual amount of new faces in the starting lineup compared just to last season, when the season before already introduced several new starters.
The rapid turnover in successive seasons certainly has much to do with the organization’s personnel management over the previous years. Time, as always, came out the victor as they felt the ramifications of trying to hold together a championship roster that could no longer perform like one.
Considering how different the projected starting lineup for the start of the 2014 season is from just two seasons ago, I think it would be interesting to revisit the roster from the 2010 season—the last time the Steelers competed for a championship—to see how different this new team truly is.
We will continue with the offensive line, which has seen about as much change as any position over the past few years.
The last time the Steelers were in the Super Bowl, Hines Ward was still a starting wide receiver, although certainly on the decline in his storied, and perhaps someday Hall-of-Fame-worthy career.
There’s absolutely no question that Ward, in his time, was a legitimate piece of a championship roster. After all, he was a starting wide receiver in two of them, and was named MVP of the first championship game.
But by 2010, it was clear that he was losing hold of his place, which is partly why the Steelers drafted Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown that year—though the main reason was because they traded away Santonio Holmes.
Ward still found his ways to contribute, even while he began to lose playing time. He managed to score five touchdowns that year, and even finished the season with four 100-yard games, catching at least five passes six times.
But by 2011, Ward was only a nominal starter, with Antonio Brown emerging as the next man in line, as evidenced by his trip to the Pro Bowl that year.
Ward did still have one last role to play, however, as the Steelers were set on getting him his 1000th career catch. That took feeding him the ball as the season progressed despite the fact that his role had diminished. After the late bye week, he caught 19 passes, mostly on bubble screens, to get him to that mark.
It’s now Brown racking up the receptions, however, and he’s making them count. He caught 110 of them last season for a franchise record 1499 yards, reaching the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career, and being honored with an All-Pro nomination for the first time.
As Ward was for so many years until late in his career, Brown is now the clear, established leader and top wide receiver in the room. This is especially the case entering his fifth season, with no other receivers left on the roster who’ve caught more than six passes from Ben Roethlisberger.
Ward was once the clear number one receiver, and he was that top receiver on a contending team. Brown showed last year that he can be a clear number one receiver—but that was on an 8-8 team that missed the playoffs. The last time Brown was on a team that competed for a championship, he was a late-round rookie that hardly contributed. Can he show this season that he’s the top receiver on a contending team?