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.
James Farrior was one of the great Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers of the modern era, with little room for debate. Though he wasn’t always recognized for his play (two All-Pro nominations during his decade in Pittsburgh), his consistently strong performances had quite a lot to do with the Steelers’ ability to reach the Super Bowl three times during his tenure.
Farrior recorded 30 sacks, 12 fumbles, and eight interceptions with the Steelers—not to mention over 1000 tackles. His 2004 season was particularly great, during which the team reached the AFC Championship game on the strength of a 15-1 regular season.
His 94 tackles, three sacks, four interceptions, and three forced fumbles in 2004 is one of the great seasons for a Steelers inside linebacker during the 3-4 era of the team.
Farrior played through his age 36 season in 2011, still as a starter, though the Steelers began rotating in Larry Foote, who was the starter at buck linebacker in 2012, and would have been in 2013 if not for his injury.
But the Steelers are now hoping that they’ve found their next great, All-Pro inside linebacker in the 2014 NFL Draft: their 15th overall pick, Ryan Shazier.
Even though Farrior may have played at an atypically lighter weight for a buck linebacker in the twilight seasons of his career, Shazier will be a different type of player than Farrior was.
He will be a different type of player than most for the position due to his unique speed, which bests many of the defensive backs around the league.
And he will be a different type of player than most in Pittsburgh as well, as he projects to be the first defensive player to start a season opener in over a decade after being installed into the starting lineup from day one, such is their confidence in his abilities.
Yet can we say that Shazier is a championship-quality player now, in the middle of June in his rookie season? Of course not. The young man has a long road ahead of him before he even takes his first snap in a game. But, in fairness, he could hardly be off to a much better start based on reports from OTAs.