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Starkey: Steelers offseason rates an 'A' so far

| Saturday, March 15, 2014, 10:54 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds sacks Lions quarterback Matthew Staford in the third quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013 at Heinz Field.

Admit it: The Steelers have surprised you this offseason.

I know they've surprised me.

I'd rate their work an “A” so far.

That hardly means their problems are solved. As we've stated previously in this space, the offense will have to carry the load next season because you're going to see a patchwork defense. Might be worse than that if Jarvis Jones doesn't fill out or if Jason Worilds morphs back into a chronically injured underachiever rather than the Worilds beater we saw for part of last season.

It'll take longer than one offseason to make up for the poor drafting (so long Ziggy Hood), injuries (bye-bye LaMarr Woodley) shaky personnel evaluations (Keenan Lewis) and natural erosion (see you on SportsCenter, Ryan Clark) that ravaged a once-great defense.

But if you don't like what the Steelers have done over the past 10 days, you're plain stubborn.

Look at this way: If I'd told you going into March that the Steelers would find a way to retain Worilds, extend Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller with little risk, get Ike Taylor to take a massive pay cut and make a $25 million dive into free agency, would you have been satisfied?

Yes, I know, it wasn't like they committed $25 million to free safety Mike Mitchell on the spot. That was just the total number. He might never see it. Everybody's a cap expert these days. A bunch probably tried to convince you there was no way the Steelers would keep Worilds — and certainly not at the expense of LaMarr Woodley.

Well, the Steelers found a way. That is not to be underestimated. They shocked everyone by dusting off the old transition-tag play. They'd made a mistake with Lewis and weren't going to repeat it without a fight.

In essence, they were acknowledging the obvious: You simply cannot allow young talent to leave when you're trying to rebuild a dying defense.

It's amazing, in a way, that the Steelers apparently are going to commit tens of millions of dollars to a player (Worilds) who has had two good months in four years. It's also entirely possible that Woodley, like Joey Porter when he went to Miami, has one great year left in him.

Still, the Steelers made the right move. They had to get younger. Worilds showed enough to make you believe he could be a pass-rushing force from the left side.

If few had the Steelers keeping Worilds, fewer had them making a splash play on day one of free agency. The photo going around Twitter — before the Mitchell signing — depicted eight people sleeping at a conference table under the headline, “Steelers Free Agent War Room.”

Apparently, they woke up.

Mitchell, by all indications, is a younger version of Clark, complete with a naked contempt for Roger Goodell. He crushes receivers. He adds speed and playmaking ability. We'll find out how much of his success was a product of the talent around him in Carolina.

As for Ike, he might not be able to shadow top receivers anymore, but he can still play. And he'll do so at the drastically reduced rate of $2.75 million in base salary. Another win for the Steelers.

Meanwhile, there was much consternation over losing Al Woods, whom a lot of fans seemingly believe is about to become the James Harrison of linemen — an oft-cut journeyman who suddenly becomes a star.

Well guess what: They wrote a book about James Harrison because those stories don't happen very often. You can find another Al Woods in a lot of places — free agency (Cam Thomas helps), waiver wire and this thing called the NFL Draft. Sure, the Steelers are short on ends at the moment, but I'm pretty sure whey won't line up in a 1-5-5 for the season opener.

I'm guessing they will patch together a decent defense by then. They're trying. Give 'em an “E” for effort so far.

And more importantly, an “A” for execution.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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