Steelers opt for youth, speed while revamping roster
Meet your new Pittsburgh Steelers. With the emphasis on “new.”
The Steelers, who reshaped their veterans-heavy roster only grudgingly for years, are undergoing one of their most intense roster shakeups in decades. Twenty-two of the 53 players weren't on their final cutdown roster a year ago, a 42 percent change.
Who said the Steelers couldn't create a turnover?
But are they new and improved? They'll begin to find out a week from Sunday against Cleveland, when they try to end a three-year losing streak in season openers. They've never lost four in a row in franchise history.
A position-by-position look following a second successive losing-record preseason (1-3) and a training camp that emphasized speed, the no-huddle offense, stopping the run and elevating the pass rush:
Wide receivers — It's Antonio Brown, one of the lesser-appreciated elite NFL players, and a lot of question marks. Can Markus Wheaton, who has only six career catches, provide enough of a threat to prevent two-man coverage on Brown? Can Lance Moore effectively replace slot receiver Jerricho Cotchery and his 10 touchdown catches? Can Darrius Heyward-Bey translate all that downhill speed into some downfield catches? Can rookie Martavis Bryant's red-zone success in practice translate into games? Don't think Ben Roethlisberger isn't wondering all of the above.
Offensive line — New line coach Mike Munchak wanted nine linemen and got them. The five-man starting line returns intact (Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Pouncey, David DeCastro, newly re-signed Marcus Gilbert).
“I think we're just really together. We're on one accord and really fighting for each other, fighting for our quarterback, playing hard for each other,” left tackle Beachum said. “I think that's all over the team.”
Cody Wallace is the first plug-in at center or guard, and rookie Wesley Johnson plays multiple positions. Chris Hubbard, a practice squad player last season, was kept instead of veteran Guy Whimper, who lost out to Mike Adams for the swing tackle's job.
Pouncey already is a Pro Bowl player. The Steelers believe DeCastro is next.
Tight ends — Unlike last year, Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth are healthy at the start of the season, so the Steelers kept one fewer tight end. They believe this substantially helps their passing game (Miller caught the ball well in camp) and running game (Tomlin loves Spaeth as a blocker). Michael Palmer helps on special teams.
Quarterbacks — The only unit to return intact. Roethlisberger, at 32, shows no decline in his game and, for the first time, starts a season with the no-huddle as key component of the offense. Now, he needs to blend his new toys (Dri Archer's speed, LeGarrette Blount's point-of-attack running) with his old ones (Brown's remarkable ability to consistently get open, Miller's reliable receiving skills, Le'Veon Bell's versatility). Landry Jones kept his job backing up veteran Bruce Gradkowski.
Running backs — The Steelers went through backup after backup behind Bell last season, but no one succeeded. They were certain they had a keeper in Blount — only eight months ago, he ran for 166 yards and scored four TDs against the Colts in a playoff game — but he's off to a rough start because of marijuana charges filed against him and Bell. They also wanted a more mature and improved Bell, but this was a major off-field setback for him, too. Fullback Will Johnson serves as an occasional blocker and an even more occasional receiver.
Defensive ends — Cam Heyward, emerging as a defensive leader, starts a season in the lineup for the first time. Ultra-promising rookie Stephon Tuitt splits playing time with Cam Thomas, who also spells nose tackle Steve McLendon. Brett Keisel provides the depth and experience that clearly were lacking in this group throughout training camp.
Linebackers — Welcome to the NFL, Ryan Shazier. Now, the Steelers hope he's the all-over-the-field linebacker he was against the Bills and not the out-of-position, sometimes confused rookie he was against the Eagles. Jason Worilds finally starts, and in a contract year. Was his big second half of 2013 the sign of things to come or a brief flash?
Jarvis Jones (one sack in '13) could be the key player on either side of the ball. The Steelers absolutely must get sacks and pressure from him, or much around him fails. Arthur Moats is a reliable backup outside or inside, and Sean Spence — injured and out for two years —finally makes the roster.
Defensive backs — The top three cornerbacks (Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay) return. Allen also is in a contract year and must prove he can play effectively over a full season. Cornerback might be the biggest question-mark position on the team, given the struggles of Taylor and Allen at times last year in man coverage.
Troy Polamalu, coming off a Pro Bowl season, and Mike Mitchell, a takeaway machine in Carolina, must show only that they can work together. Shamarko Thomas won't start but will find his way onto the field — a lot. Backup cornerback Brice McCain tries to rebound from a bad season in Houston in which he lost his starting job.
Shaun Suisham has a new contract. Now, the Steelers will find out if a kicker who didn't attempt a single 50-yard field goal last season has long-distance skills. Rookie punter Brad Wing is hoping he's a keeper. The Steelers signed a veteran punter the week of the opener last year. Long snapper Greg Warren (knee) hopes to be ready by Sunday.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Tomlin says practice will determine LB Harrison’s role
- Steelers notebook: Archer shooting for return vs. Buccaneers
- Steelers’ Taylor recovering from forearm surgery
- Steelers defense must replace 3 injured starters after victory
- Steelers film session: Old-fashioned power football produces victory
- Steelers to bring LB Harrison out of retirement
- Steelers Lookahead: Struggling 0-3 Bucs come to town
- Steelers notebook: Running game kept Panthers guessing
- Game changers: Turnover leads to elusive TD for Steelers
- Value of nickel rising in NFL
- Steelers notebook: Rooney says owners support Goodell