What Offseason Moves Are Next for Pittsburgh Steelers with the Draft Complete?
A major piece of the NFL offseason is complete now that the 2014 NFL draft is over. With nine selections in hand, the Pittsburgh Steelers added plenty of size, speed and potential with its draft picks.
These players will be a primary focus heading into training camp, but the roster isn’t complete just yet.
The Steelers have room on the roster to add another veteran or two prior to the start of the season. Whether it is a starter or simply for depth, additional talent will help fuel competition as the team heads into training camp and the preseason.
Besides the personnel, the coaching staff must also finalize its plans for the offensive and defensive schemes as well as how it plans on using the new additions to the roster.
So while the primary wave of free agency and the draft are over, there are plenty of preparations that remain heading into the start of the 2014 season. Here are the remaining moves that the Steelers must make this offseason.
Veteran Depth at Defensive End
The Steelers were in dire need of adding talent at defensive end this offseason after losing Ziggy Hood and Al Woods in free agency and not re-signing Brett Keisel.
It appears as though they solved this concern with the selection of Stephon Tuitt in the second round of the draft. The 6’5” and 304-pound defensive end from Notre Dame has the perfect frame to play as a 5-technique in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense.
His size and strength will serve him well when defending the run and getting after the quarterback. However, like all young defensive ends in the Steelers’ system, Tuitt will have to be taught by John Mitchell the “Steelers way” of how to play defensive end.
That could mean a slow developmental track for Tuitt.
This wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, as Hood did not earn a start until his second season and Cam Heyward had to wait two full seasons before entering the starting lineup. But things are different with Tuitt as he does not have an established veteran ahead of him.
Bob Labriola of Steelers.com reported that Cam Thomas was signed for depth along the defensive line. Behind him, Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams have flashed potential, but are still unproven.
With so many prospects lacking experience, the addition of a veteran defensive end makes sense.
As early as last week, Mike Tomlin indicated that the Steelers had not ruled out bringing back Keisel, according to Scott Brown of ESPN.com. However, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Keisel ship has sailed with the addition of Tuitt.
Given that they actively use a three-man rotation at defensive end, the Steelers should consider giving Keisel one more chance. They need to put the best roster out on the field and not only could he help teach Tuitt, but he would also be a better option than Thomas as a stopgap starter.
Veteran Depth at Outside Linebacker
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a proud tradition at outside linebacker, but as it stands now, there are a lot of questions regarding the position.
Jason Worilds has only half of a season as a productive outside linebacker, and Jarvis Jones was ineffective as a pass-rusher in his rookie season with just one sack. Of course there is room to grow, but both players must step up their game.
While the lack of production from these positions is a concern, the depth is an even bigger issue.
Arthur Moats is in his first year in the system after being signed as a free agent from the Buffalo Bills. Chris Carter has yet to entrench himself as a competent backup and failed to make any impact in his limited opportunities to get on the field.
Scott Brown of ESPN.com recently called the 36-year old James Harrison a viable option.
Though he isn’t an ideal option, he knows the defense and has a top-notch work ethic. Jones could only benefit by watching Harrison train off the field as well as his technique rushing the quarterback on it.
The problem with signing Harrison would be that he would not play special teams, and he just may have nothing left in the tank.
Unless the Steelers feel comfortable with Moats and Carter, expect them to give some consideration to Harrison and other outside linebackers around the league to help rebuild their depth.
Determine How to Use Ryan Shazier
Ryan Shazier will play inside linebacker for the Steelers, but he can do so much more according to ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, via Scott Brown of ESPN.com.
"Ultimately, you're in sub packages so much that you really need to have guys that can match up, and that's what Shazier brings, and he brings pass-rushing ability," McShay said during a post-draft conference call. "I think they [the Steelers] get faster and more athletic with that pick alone."
Linebacker coach Keith Butler added that Shazier’s speed will fit with what the Steelers are trying to do on defense.
"What's happening today is there are multiple receiver personnel groupings, like 60 to 65 percent of the time," Butler said. "[Shazier] fits the part of the game that is starting to put faster people on the field."
Shazier’s athleticism should leave Dick LeBeau salivating over what he can do with him.
Not only can Shazier offer a significant upgrade to the pass defense, but his speed should also help when blitzing up the middle as well as from the edge. This means that LeBeau can move Shazier around the field and use him in a variety of ways.
LeBeau and the rest of the coaching staff needs to maximize Shazier’s athleticism and versatility without overextending him during his rookie year. That may mean that they design some special packages for him to showcase his abilities without thinking too much.
The more space they can free up for Shazier to run and make plays, the better the defense will be.
Find Ways to Get Dri Archer Touches
Speed was one of the themes of the draft for the Steelers, and there was no faster player than Dri Archer.
He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.26 seconds and has potential to be one of the most electric playmakers in this year’s draft class. Then again, he could develop into another Chris Rainey.
In one season with the Steelers, the 5’9” and 180-pound Rainey touched the ball 40 times on offense for 162 yards and two touchdowns. That is only 4.05 yards per touch, plus he had three fumbles.
Rainey contributed on special teams as well as he had 39 kick returns for 26.53 yards per return. He only had three punt returns for 16 yards. In all, he only averaged 5.13 total touches and 75.81 yards per game.
Archer must surpass that type of production to support his third-round draft status. However, at just 5’8” and 173 pounds, he may not have the bulk to hold up in the NFL.
During his rookie season, Archer will be the top kick returner on the roster. He was productive at Kent State with an average of 27.61 yards per return and four touchdowns in his career. Though he only had nine punt returns.
Archer proved to be a capable runner and receiver, as he ran for 2,342 yards (7.21 yards per carry) and had 1,194 receiving yards (12.06 yards per reception) over his four-year career. Todd Haley will want to help him match that potential.
That means that Haley will have to be creative in his play design—as well as take the ball out of his other playmaker’s hands.
Haley will use Archer in the backfield, and it may be beneficial to use him in multiple-back sets to confuse the defense. He would provide Ben Roethlisberger with a run or pass option. They could also motion him and use him in the slot.
But with a lack of size, Archer will have a difficult time creating space for himself. That means Haley’s play designs will need to put him in free space where he can not only use his speed, but his quickness as well.
Archer will never be a feature back, but he doesn’t need to be. The Steelers just need him to be a player who is closer to a Darren Sproles-type than to Rainey.
Develop Offensive and Defensive Philosophies
A team can assemble the best roster in the entire league, but if it does not have a strong foundation in regard to its philosophy, it is not going to win games.
The Steelers will implement an outside zone-blocking scheme with Mike Munchak. As one of the premiere offensive line coaches in the entire league, maybe this will be the time that the Steelers have some success with it. What they should not do is abandon it.
They also must decide whether or not they want to continue to use the no-huddle offense as they did over the latter half of last season. Roethlisberger and the Steelers were very successful out of it, averaging nearly 28 points over the final eight games.
Rather than flounder out of the gate, Tomlin and Haley should unleash Roethlisberger with the no-huddle offense from the start of the season. It's necessary to establish what they want to do in camp and practice it during the preseason. They cannot afford to have a turnover-filled start to season as they did in 2013.
Tomlin and LeBeau have some decisions to make as well, as the defense figures to have a new starter at defensive end (Thomas or Tuitt), inside linebacker (Shazier) and free safety (Mike Mitchell). With a number of new backups in place as well, his defense may not be able to be as complex as usual.
Inexperienced players sit on the bench for a reason, and the Steelers can’t afford to have their most talented players on the bench because they don’t know the defense. They need to prepare them and get them on the field as soon as possible.
Once they are there, LeBeau will have to evaluate whether or not his defense can attack or if it will have to sit back. No longer can the Steelers dictate the tempo by shutting down the run and forcing opponents into 3rd-and-long situations. Instead, they will need to use their massive defensive front to free up space for the speedy linebackers to fly around and make plays.
There are going to be some struggles, but the players have to trust the system and stick to it. As they get acclimated and comfortable in it, the results will show.