Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Strategy: Lock In and Reload
Almost two weeks have passed since the Steelers were on the wrong side of a three-turnover, 31-25 Super Bowl loss to the Green Bay Packers. Players have been busy on their social media outlets thanking fans and planning vacations.
Meanwhile, Kevin Colbert has already said second isn't good enough. Direct, possibly cynical, but the fact of the matter is that in Pittsburgh winning is expected and turnover-filled Super Bowls were supposedly reserved for Neil O'Donnell only. That's why this offseason, the Steelers are faced at a crossroads: reload for one last run or begin the minor rebuilding for the future?
Based on Colbert's comments, it seems the decision has been made to follow the former rather than the latter. The Steelers actually have most of the pieces already, they just need to inject youth through the draft and develop young players.
For the reloading aspect, the first key will be to keep the offensive line healthy. Losing Willie Colon in training camp was foreshadowing the later events to occur throughout e season, all the way until Super Bowl Sunday. If healthy, the Steelers offensive line should consist of Colon, Darnell Stapleton, Maurkice Pouncey, Max Starks and Trae Essex—a fairly solid group.
With all of the shuffling that happened throughout the season, the depth is actually not an issue on the line, pending injuries. Still, expect the Steelers to use their first and possibly second round picks in the draft to add talented players to this unit.
The rest of the offense is actually very well constructed. There is quarterback depth as long as either Batch or Leftwich is retained (my money is on Batch) and the running backs and wide receivers are on balance young and explosive. If Mike Tomlin and Colbert do have a wish list, however, on this side of the ball, the Steelers could benefit from finding a young possession receiver to be groomed by Hines Ward, presumably in his last year.
Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown are all threats to stretch the field, and Wallace is proving that he is an all-around threat (personally, I can see Wallace developing into the next John Stallworth, with the right attitude).
Also, the Steelers have not had a true speed back since the Willie Parker's prime and finding a foil to Rashard Mendenhall could benefit the balance of the running game.
Defensively, the Steelers are a unit of questions. The average age is over 31, cornerbacks are more of a liability with age, the defensive line needs youth—yet this was the case made against Dick LeBeau's boys last year and they performed just fine.
Working from the front, the defensive line needs youth outside of Ziggy Hood, preferably at the nose tackle position so that Casey Hampton can begin to rest as age creeps upon him. The draft presents some viable options in the second to third rounds.
Assuming all players stay healthy, the linebacking corps needs two players need to begin to show potential for filling the shoes James Harrison and James Farrior, two of the most consistent players on the team. Kieran Fox and Sylvester look like excellent candidates. Depth can easily be added in later rounds of the draft.
The secondary is the biggest concern. Green Bay exposed both the lack of depth and adequate talent necessary for the Steelers to compete with New England, New Orleans and other spread teams.
The Steelers need to break traditional policy and re-sign Ike Taylor to make him a Steeler. Taylor's abilities aside, William Gay and Bryant McFadden do not posses the skills necessary to be No. 2 cornerbacks, let alone the No. 1s. If the Steelers let Ike walk, they will need to make a run at another shutdown corner available, but the only one that is in the market as of now is Nnamdi Asomugha, who is far more expensive than Mr. Taylor.
The direction of the Steelers offseason, as with all 31 other teams, will rely heavily on the outcome of the collective bargaining negotiations. I can almost guarantee there will be no lockout, but free agency and the draft will be chaotic at best. The Steelers have the the poster child of stability through chaos and it is time to improve the team with this successful philosophy for one more run at the Lombardi trophy.
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