Steelers ‘X’ Factors for 2016: Offense
by Ivan Cole
Now that the group of players who will be auditioning for roles in the 2016 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers is largely set I thought I might amuse myself by making some educated guesses as to which ones may make the difference in a championship run.
But I wanted to move beyond the ‘Yeah, duh,’ kind of selections like Ben Roethlisberger or Antonio Brown. Too easy, too obvious and maybe not entirely accurate. Instead I wanted to take a shot at those players who may currently be flying under the radar. So my rules here are as follows:
- The players I select could be in the conversation as key factors in the team’s success, but are probably not at this time.
- They can be anyone from established superstars to non-drafted newcomers (admittedly a tougher call, but a good part of the fun).
This exercise is undertaken with the understanding that injuries and unanticipated personnel moves could radically alter the assumptions and landscape of the discussion, and that the conversation will evolve as the season progresses and more information is forthcoming.
Of course, all are invited to chime in with your ideas as well.
Maurkice Pouncey. Ranking right up there with the notion of converting Ryan Shazier to a safety is the idea among some in Steelers Nation that Pouncey is a marginal, if not insignificant, contributor to the Steelers’ offense. While Cody Wallace did a wonderful job being the next man up, having one who is in the conversation as perhaps the best in the business will make a difference.
Has anyone considered the possibility that his injury in the 2010 AFCCG may have been a contributing factor to the team’s loss in the Super Bowl? The offensive line has established itself as one of the best in the league even without Pouncey. Most will concern themselves with the situation at left tackle. Villanueva is still raw and could potentially make some significant leaps. Ryan Harris is starter from a Super Bowl champion who could supplant him. And Jerald Hawkins is a rookie with a blank slate that we would love to fill with our optimistic fantasies.
But, make no mistake, Pouncey is the best of an excellent group of linemen—the unquestioned leader of that group, as well as one of the top overall team leaders. His reinsertion with, now, likely Pro Bowlers David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert on the right side will almost certainly make this the best offensive line in football and a significant upgrade from last year’s unit.
Ladarius Green. Let’s think a little out of the box with the replacement of Heath Miller and the state of the tight end position. We have moved from Miller, Spaeth and Will Johnson as a tight end/fullback hybrid. Now we have Spaeth, Jessie James and Green as a tight end/wide receiver hybrid. With his height and speed, we may be looking in the wrong room for the player best suited to fill the role vacated by Martavis Bryant. What Ben and Todd Haley might be able to do with that package along with AB, Le’Veon Bell, Markus Wheaton and whatever can be kicked in by DeAngelo Williams, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, etc, etc, etc…
We can dream can’t we?
Bruce Gradkowski. Consider the possible difference of substituting Gradkowski for Landry Jones, and even in a couple of cases, Michael Vick last season. Maybe a division championship, a higher playoff seed, a Super Bowl appearance. No one replaces Ben, but he is a better spare part if and when he might be needed.
Cameron Stingily. If they remain reasonably healthy then the running back situation is in as good a shape as it has been since 2005 (Willie Parker, Jerome Bettis, Duce Staley) at least. Nothing need be said about Bell and Williams. And let’s remember what Fitz Toussaint brought to the table in the playoffs before the fumble. Somebody sees something in Stingily. He may be the piece that rounds this group out without any new additions.
Canaan Severin. Almost every year there is a super X Factor out there—someone who comes from left field and make a big contribution. I will stick my neck out for now and pick the big UDFA receiver from Virginia. Just a feeling.
Chris Boswell and Jordan Berry. Shaun Suisham and Brad Wing did a pretty good job of bring some stability to the kicking game that has rarely been the case with Pittsburgh. Boswell and Berry have the potential to top that. Boswell has a stronger leg and does not sacrifice accuracy. Berry has similar attributes of strength and precision. Steadiness in the kicking game can so often make the difference between winning and losing.
The defense will be covered in Part II.