After two straight seasons of equivalent wins and losses, it’s certainly no surprise that the front office of the Pittsburgh Steelers has been busier and more active than usual in their efforts to reshape a middling roster into a true competitor.
The past few months could be fairly described as a season of change amid the shifting fates of a franchise that had just been to the Super Bowl three times in the very recent past. It may well be that past success that has helped drag them down of late.
Of course, selecting late in the draft annually doesn’t help, nor do the big contracts going out to the players that helped you reach that success. But the true death knell has been an unwillingness to recognize when to let go.
The Steelers had hoped to hold together that championship core for a while longer, but the last two seasons have been the wake-up call necessary to introduce the wave of change that we’ve seen this offseason, designed to steer the organization back in the right direction.
When Mike Tomlin took over the head coaching job, he inherited one of the better rushing attacks in the league behind Willie Parker, who helped the Steelers win their first Super Bowl in decades with his record-setting 75-yard run in the big game.
The plan was for that to continue for years to come, when Tomlin used his first-round pick in 2008 on Rashard Mendenhall. Though he put in a few good seasons, particularly 2009, however, he certainly will forever live in the shadows of the great backs of Steelers past.
Of course, the offensive line also quickly began to erode after Bill Cowher’s retirement, and it took the Steelers too long to finally address the position in the draft or free agency. We’re still waiting for all the pieces to come together.
With new offensive line coach Mike Munchak on board, the hope is 2014 will be the year that the unit starts looking like those of the past that regularly blocked for 1000-yard rushers. And the Steelers also believe they have the right backfield for it now too.
Le’Veon Bell is entering his second season, and although he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a rookie, there’s no shortage of optimism about his future, either from within the organization and around the league.
The Steelers also dipped into free agency to bring Bell a true complement, which he didn’t quite have last year, signing veteran LeGarrette Blount to a two-year deal.
The duo figures to be the most intriguing one-two punch the team has had since Parker helped Jerome Bettis to the finish line in the mid-00s.
That’s what Parker and Mendenhall were supposed to be, but Mendenhall got injured his rookie year, and Parker fell about in 2009, when Mendenhall began to show his talents.
Pretty much everybody in the organization has been saying all the right things about getting the running game going again, from the head coach, to the offensive coordinator, to the offensive linemen, to the running backs, and even the quarterback.
With the linemen, running backs, and position coach all finally in place, will we finally see the change in the running game that’s been promised every so often over the past several years?