The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.
Question: Will Martavis Bryant be given every opportunity to regain his starting position from JuJu Smith-Schuster?
When his rookie season began, JuJu Smith-Schuster was not even the primary target from the slot. The second-round draft pick was not targeted a single time during the opener, in which he rotated with Eli Rogers as the third wide receiver. That changed a week later, of course, and eventually he entered the starting lineup on a full-time basis, kicking Martavis Bryant into the role of third receiver.
This is not, I think, what the Steelers were expecting when they made the move to draft Smith-Schuster. Even General Manager Kevin Colbert recently acknowledged that the rookie exceeded expectations. But Bryant also failed to live up to the expectations that were in place for him.
There are a number of mitigating factors that work to explain why Bryant did not have the season he and the Steelers hoped for him and we’ve gone through them a number of times. Suffice it to say that there is reason to be optimistic about his ability to be a better player in 2018 than he was a year ago, now with a full unobstructed offseason ahead of him.
The veteran actually does have the better last impression between the two. He had two long catches in the playoffs, one for a meaningful touchdown, while Smith-Schuster was limited to just one catch for a meaningless touchdown with no time left in the loss.
The question is whether or not there will be an open competition between the two wide receivers to receive the lion’s share of snaps when the Steelers use two wide receivers on the field. It goes without saying that both will see a lot of playing time either way.
Going against him is the fact that Smith-Schuster has already become a trusted player as a blocker, which makes him more useful in more run-heavy sets, but Bryant is capable of being a blocker if he sets his mind to it as well. I know there are more than a few who are still believers in him as a top talent, as well as skeptics about the 21-year-old’s ability to sustain his rookie success, so I’m hoping this question doesn’t get glossed over as an obvious answer.