Winners and Losers of the Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason so Far
By NFL standards, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had a pretty quiet offseason. However, by Steelers standards, things have been quite busy. After two straight seasons of 8-8, it is obvious the Steelers’ coaches and front office personnel have decided a more aggressive approach is the way to win.
Pittsburgh has done a commendable job adding youth and athleticism to both sides of the football. The starting lineup for 2014 looks to be younger, faster and more explosive at multiple positions.
Nevertheless, it cannot all be perfect. While there are clearly some players who have won big so far this offseason, there are others who’ve fallen back, and their futures are uncertain. Let’s break down some winners and losers so far this offseason.
Winner: Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback
If you are quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, you have to be excited about the upcoming season. The Steelers’ staff has stocked the cabinets with lots of talent for him to work with.
Perhaps most importantly, the Steelers have really loaded up at running back, adding Dri Archer and LeGarrette Blount behind Le'Veon Bell. The burden of this offense isn’t going to fall onto his shoulders so squarely.
However, when this team does call on Big Ben to win it with his arm, he’s going to have a surplus of weapons at his disposal. We could see a 11-personnel grouping of Bell at running back, Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant at wide receiver and Heath Miller at tight end. You mix in a way to get the explosive Archer on the field, and things are going to get interesting in a hurry.
Loser: Jason Worilds, Linebacker
Pittsburgh linebacker Jason Worilds is in a tough spot. Training camp is approaching, he is battling some injuries and is playing on a one-year transition tag contract. Now, reports have come out that the Steelers offered him a long-term deal, which he promptly turned down, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Worilds is backing himself into a no-win situation. Even though Worilds played well in 2013, he is far from an elite player. The risk he is taking is that he is going to play so well in 2014 that teams are going to shower him with gold as a free agent.
And when I say teams, I don’t mean the Steelers. Worilds knows this, too. This means he’s essentially auditioning for his next employer. That alone makes him a loser, but all these distractions are only going to make this worse.
Winner: Le'Veon Bell, Running Back
There was a time last season when the Steelers only had Bell as a viable rushing option, and it started to look like Bell was going to rack up the mileage early on. Bell averaged 22.2 touches per game his rookie season, according to ESPN, after averaging 31.8 touches per game his final season at Michigan State, as per Sports-Reference.
However, this season, help has arrived, and Bell is going to really benefit. The addition of Blount and Archer means fresh legs for Bell and a better distribution of the touches. Every player wants to put up gaudy numbers, but Bell understands the importance of a long, productive career.
Sharing the wealth with Blount and Archer is going to bump his yards per carry up, keep him healthy and most importantly bolster the efficiency of the Steelers' rushing game. Have no fear, Bell fans, he’s going to get his yards. The difference is he’s going to get them with fewer touches.
Loser: Shamarko Thomas, Safety
When the Steelers made the trade to get Shamarko Thomas, the supposition was he was going to be the heir apparent to either Troy Polamalu or Ryan Clark. After all, the Steelers dealt a 2014 third-round pick to draft Thomas in the fourth round in 2013.
Unfortunately, things have not gone according to plan. Thomas played some nickel and dime cornerback in 2013, but he struggled in coverage. Nevertheless, it gave Thomas invaluable experience on the field, and it prepared him for a more expanded role this year.
Not so much. As the offseason has progressed, Thomas has failed to make much of a dent in the depth chart at all. Pittsburgh signed Mike Mitchell after losing Clark, and it filled a need that Thomas was supposed to be there for.
If Polamalu is on his farewell tour, there could be a spot for him in 2015. Nevertheless, with a spot wide open for this year, Thomas is losing by not seizing this opportunity now.
Winner: Lawrence Timmons, Linebacker
During his tenure with the Steelers, linebacker Lawrence Timmons has been the team’s most consistent and productive player. The reward for that the past two seasons has been partnering on the inside with Larry Foote and Vince Williams.
Neither players are awful, but how great could Timmons be if he had a player next to him of comparable skill? Well, wonder no more. Timmons is going to have his choice of linebackers.
The Steelers used their first-round pick in 2014 on Ohio State product Ryan Shazier, and they are getting back linebacker Sean Spence. The starting spot next to Timmons is Shazier’s at this point, with Spence as depth, but the flexibility these athletes offer is exciting.
One area of Timmons’ game that has never been fleshed out fully is his ability to rush the passer. With Shazier and Spence in the mix, Timmons’ sack numbers have a real chance of going way up.
Loser: Vince Williams, Linebacker
Thanks for playing Vince; here are some lovely parting gifts. No one expected linebacker Vince Williams to be pressed into starting duties in 2013. Nevertheless, Williams stepped in for Foote and racked up 53 tackles in 11 starts, as per Pro-Football-Reference.
Williams’ play wasn’t good enough for the staff, which promptly spent a first-round pick on his replacement. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for his future. You add in the return of Spence and Williams is in a fight just to hold onto a backup inside linebacker spot.
At this point, Williams looks to be relegated to special teams unless an injury pushes him back into a starting spot again.
Winner: Sean Spence, Linebacker
Yes, the aforementioned Spence gets his own spotlight here as well. Just the fact that Spence is back on the field, running full speed is enough to get excited. Coming out of college, Spence was one of the most explosive players in the country.
It might be getting greedy to think about Spence as a starting linebacker in 2014. The good news is with the depth the Steelers have, he won’t be called on to do so, short of an injury. That doesn’t matter though.
Spence’s recovery has been remarkable, and whether you are a Steelers fan or not, it is hard not to root for this young man to get back on the field.
Loser: Derek Moye, Wide Receiver
Wide receiver Derek Moye’s career highlight to this point has been a one-yard touchdown catch against the Cincinnati Bengals early in the 2013 season. Not a lot to build a resume around, but hope was still high that Moye could be the big target Roethlisberger has been lacking.
Unfortunately, the Steelers chose to bolster their wide receiver depth chart elsewhere. Adding Lance Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Bryant has made pickings slim for Moye. You add in that Justin Brown is in a similar situation, and the odds of Moye finding his way to the final roster is slim.
Moye’s best bet might be if Pittsburgh opts to keep six wide receivers. If not, Moye might be looking for work elsewhere.