The Case for the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers: Part 6
by Ivan Cole
The previous post on the linebackers ended this way:
When you think of what’s going on with this group in combination with the D Line, you are talking about front seven play, which was very good last season, being crazy good going forward. That leaves us with..
How you view this aspect of the team depends upon whether you skew toward being patient and optimistic or impatient and pessimistic. I am the former so I am excited about the possibilities.
The player I am most excited about is Ross Cockrell. He is the very definition of one person’s treasure being another’s trash. Picked up off the street a year ago, he ended up being rated the team’s best cornerback. Part of his upside being that he had spent not one second in Pittsburgh’s camp or culture before he began working. You have to believe the potential is tremendous.
If so, and if Gay doesn’t experience any significant decline, and Doran Grant’s performance hasn’t been just a preseason mirage, then the developmental and injury issues surrounding Golson, Artie Burns and Sean Davis can play themselves out without threatening Pittsburgh’s competitive stance in the near term. Corresponding excitement is directed at Robert Golden, who is already established as a major team leader and now stands poised to add high level front line defensive play to his high level special teams play.
I believe the challenges with Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas, real and perceived, are similar to that of Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree . I am less certain about Thomas’ future. This is a crucial time for him, but not because of any lack of potential.
With health always being the underlying assumption, even writing off much more than token contribution from the newcomers as they get acclimated to the profession, this group is only less than the others in a relative sense. I think they will prove good enough in the long term.
As I write this (prior to the last preseason game), all the moving parts have yet to be determined, but the fundamental elements of the kicking game are in place.
The most intriguing camp battle never took place, and to be honest, I’m sort of glad. Shaun Suisham left football before having to engage in what would have been certainly entertaining, but ultimately gut wrenching throw down with Chris Boswell.
Both players were competent and popular with both fans and teammates. Suisham brought a better leadership footprint (team captain, unusual for a kicker.) Boswell brought a younger body, a stronger leg and a better price tag. Frankly, the hope for Suisham would have to be that the steady consistency that Boswell had shown was just a lucky streak that would be exposed in camp. No way under current circumstances that the team could consider keeping two, so the most likely solution would be that of what happened with Brad Wing and Jordan Berry last summer—one gets traded and everybody wins in the end.
Boswell, like Berry before him is the one left standing, with no cracks in his façade. Both bring strong, accurate and consistent legs to the table. Much depends upon the supporting cast, but in particular, if they can finally find returners with the explosive potential of an AB (without actually having to resort to AB) or a Randle El, then, quietly, the third leg of the stool could be as sturdy and powerful in its possibilities as the other two, which if you think of it is quite remarkable.
The words come hard because it goes against the normal Center/Pessimistic perspective that serious critics of the Steelers have to project at this time of the year. God forbid you come off as a crazy homer. So let’s get it out of our system and talk about all the bad things that could happen.
The number one, and perhaps only, problem of significance is they don’t stay healthy. Most of the other issues are pretty much contingent on this one. Surviving Bell’s three game suspension. Concerns at backup quarterback. Surviving Martavis Bryant’s season long suspension. Getting adequate production from the tight end position and the defensive secondary. Depth at defensive line. And that’s pretty much it.
So, assuming they stay reasonably healthy and with no additional wild cards, you have to say that considering Pittsburgh to be a playoff team is not rainbow and unicorn talk, a division winner and high seed, not a stretch, and a Super Bowl contender, not at all unreasonable.
They are rock solid and rising in all three phases. They have by my estimate at least a dozen players who will end up being pro bowl selections, with about half of those being in the conversation of being the best at their positions in the league. Their coaching and concepts are extremely challenging for opponents and will almost certainly prove highly entertaining for fans. This could be one of the really great years to be following Steelers Football.
Of course, truth be told, all we want to do is fast forward to see how it all ends. If we could really do that, and if they stay healthy, we may like what we see.