The Case for the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers: Addendum

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys

USA Today Sports

by Ivan Cole

The ‘final’ 53

I took a risk when I put this particular series together, writing much of it before the roster had been reduced to 75, and all of it before it settled at 53. Don’t think I came away looking too foolish as a result, and I don’t think anything that has occurred has significantly altered the thrust of the issues presented. So the following represents some fine tuning as we now have a more complete picture of the team that begins the journey to secure the organization’s seventh Lombardi Trophy on September 12th.

Quarterback

All the drama surrounding the backup quarterback is, at the end of day, just drama. If the goal is a championship, then it has to be accepted that the Steelers are on a high wire without a net. If Ben Roethlisberger goes down in any significant way, the season almost certainly goes down with him. Jones (Landry), Mettenberger, whomever, beyond that of short term relief, it just doesn’t matter, unless, as I have stated before, you are into the lovable underdog thing. This is not an impossible path to glory, but frankly, I’d rather not go there.

Offensive Line

There a couple of interesting storylines here. This piece by Rob Rossi points out what ought to be obvious; the return (and, prayerfully, the continued health) of Maurkice Pouncey puts the Steelers’ offensive line in the conversation as being the best in the game. That’s an upgrade for a unit that was doing quite well for itself without him last year.

Alejandro Villanueva securing the starting left tackle position not only stands as a wonderful feel good story, it more importantly speaks to the ability of head coach Mike Tomlin find talent that others either don’t appreciate, or can’t utilize and not only find a place for them on the roster, but have them be significant contributors. Villanueva in the important left tackle position, Ross Cockrell as the team’s highest rated cornerback.

The other feel good story would be that of B.J. Finney. Let’s not forget how many of the players on this team have backstories (LeVeon Bell, Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave and Jesse James would be a short list) where they or their families have affinities to the team that predate their association. It remains to be seen, however, whether the numbers for this position group remain at nine. The health of Cody Wallace or the needs at other positions could change the priorities.

The retention of both Fitz Toussaint and Darryl Richardson makes sense because of Bell’s early unavailability. Beyond that, we’ll see.

Wide Receiver

No surprises here.

Tight End

The expectation would be that Xavier Grimble is just keeping Ladarius Green’s seat warm until (if?) he is up to speed, unless something happens in terms of performance or injury that changes the equation.

Defensive Line

There is supposed to be a total solar eclipse observable in the Eastern United States in 2017. That’s almost as common as a rookie getting a starting job on the Steelers defensive line. Javon Hargrave is the biggest highlight of a group that is the deepest and potentially the most exciting in quite some time.

Linebackers

The challenge here is whether you see the Bud Dupree situation as a glass half full or half empty development. Here is the half full argument.

In Super Bowl 43, right after Larry Fitzgerald scored the go ahead touchdown for the Arizona Cardinals, Tomlin told his team that they had to give up a score, that this was the best way to do it, quick. I think if you are going to have an injury, this is the way you want it to play out.

Though the sports hernia is obviously more severe, it is fixable through surgery rather than something of the more nagging variety that could linger and effect his performance negatively throughout the season and perhaps beyond, like what could be characterized as what has impacted Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier. As Dale Lolley points out, the loss of reps in the preseason could retard the speed of his development, but other factors soften the blow as well.

The presence of James Harrison at a higher level than could be hoped for in combination with strong summers from Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones. The development of Anthony Chickillo, the opportunity to get reps that will continue and accelerate that development. Space for Travis Feeney to develop on the practice squad. I had mentioned in semi-jest that the best hope for resolving the problem of how you might be able to retain Tyler Matakevich, L.T. Fort and Steven Johnson would be through a fortuitous injury. And, indeed, it would seem the greatest beneficiary of Dupree’s misfortune would be Johnson.

In short, if Dupree had to go down, this was the best way for it to happen.

Secondary

A couple of interesting stories here. I see more opportunity than desperation in the Justin Gilbert acquisition. This could be something more in line with Cockrell and Villanueva storylines, with a player that the Steelers had liked becoming available. The key question being whether he can thrive in the Pittsburgh culture as opposed to struggling in the more dysfunctional Cleveland culture.

Was the decision on Senquez Golson just a matter of prioritizing the return of Dupree, or also a vote of confidence in his potential to contribute significantly in the short term as well? This along with the promise shown by the brief glimpse we received of Artie Burns, as well as that of Sean Davis and his unhelpful effort at the end all helps to explain how Doran Grant found himself out in the cold once again. Of these four (Burns, Davis, Gilbert and Golson), if only two pan out positively along with the relatively sure bets of team captains William Gay and Robert Golden, along with Mike Mitchell and Cockrell, then the secondary is in much better shape than some would fear, particularly when you take into consideration that the front seven, good last season, will probably be better. And if its three or four out of four then look out.

Special teams

There is also the possibility that Gilbert’s greater contribution may be as an upgrade in the return game such that Antonio Brown could be relieved from his spectacular but ulcer provoking work in that area. Anyone who truly believed that the team’s situation with specialists (Jordan Berry, Chris Boswell and Greg Warren) was anything but solid should really do something about that drug habit.

What continues to impress is the aggressive posture of team leadership in making moves to improve the team. I put ‘final’ in quotes because there doesn’t seem to be anything final about the vigilance that is being exercised to place the Steelers in the most competitive position possible.

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