During an offseason of uncommon change for an organization as conservative in its movements as the Pittsburgh Steelers, there has been a significant amount of focus in recent months on these amendments, as well as discussion about which move will prove to be the most significant offseason acquisition.
The go-to answer tends to be new offensive line coach Mike Munchak. Many rightly believe that he can be the man that turns the talented but young and underachieving offensive line into the team strength first envisioned in 2010.
An early case was also made for new free safety Mike Mitchell, the most significant free agent signing for the Steelers in over a decade. He broke the team out of a long first-day slumber when it comes to the opening of free agency when they signed him to a five-year, $25 million contract to start immediately.
The impact of rookie first-round selection Ryan Shazier has also been felt immediately, as the coaches inserted him into the starting lineup from his very first practice. The unique speed that he brings to the inside linebacker position will help transform the Steelers defense immediately in comparison to what the team had there last season.
Perhaps none of these, however, can match the significance of a more ephemeral addition to the 2014 roster: health.
Key injuries have been a hallmark of the Steelers roster for the better part of the last decade, and it hasn’t exactly been improving with time.
While injuries are of course a natural part of football—one that every team must cope with on an annual basis—the string of injuries stretching the span of several years now has been somewhat unusual.
Last year, the Steelers never quite had the full services of Pro Bowl tight end Heath Miller as he continued to recover from a torn ACL suffered the season before, which he played through with mixed results.
Counting on Cortez Allen to step into the starting lineup, a knee problem kept him out of most of training camp and hindered him in the early portions of the season, which was only exacerbated by an ankle injury.
Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell missed the first three games of his career with an injury of his own, which no doubt had repercussions for most of the season.
Both tight ends David Johnson and Matt Spaeth were forced to miss the majority of the season with injuries. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress landed on injured reserve in training camp, gashing a shallow wide receiver depth chart.
And then just eight snaps into the season, center Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the year.
Given Pouncey’s example, which demonstrates just how fleeting a healthy roster can be in an instant, being injury free is only a temporary designation. We haven’t even reached training camp yet; there are plenty of opportunities remaining for somebody to get injured.
But then again, we can’t say anything of certainty about the other offseason additions, either. Mitchell and Shazier have yet to accomplish anything. The offensive line has turned no corners just yet. And none of them individually could accomplish as much as a complete roster can achieve collectively. If all else fails, as the saying goes, at least they have their health—for now.