Looking over each position of the offense and analyzing each situation. Discussing starters, immediate backups and even depth guys. My opinion flows from each end of the river and I attempt to cover all corners of the offense. The offense is the unit this team is counting on most right now, as the strongest of the three units. Staying healthy is the highest priority there.
If Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, this team always has a chance. Roethlisberger is lights out when healthy and well protected. He now has Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell available at the same time. Landry Jones and Joshua Dobbs won’t lead us to the Super Bowl. Also, it is silly to say Dobbs is better than Jones. We haven’t seen Dobbs take an NFL snap yet and Jones has starting NFL experience.
⋅ Running Back
Due to both suspension and injury, Le’Veon Bell has yet to put a full season together. If a long term deal is not agreed upon before the 2017 season starts, Bell will look to increase his value by putting together a full, stellar season. Behind Bell, there are some question marks. Knile Davis has two career starts, one in 2013 and one in 2014. Rookie and fan-favorite James Connor is behind Davis and will have to prove he can carry a workload and be productive before we should be comfortable and optimistic about the running back situation behind Bell. Fitzgerald Toussaint should see himself out now.
Roosevelt Nix needs to be used more in short yardage situations, as he is a great run blocker. He can also carry the football competently. Nix is great on special teams, too.
⋅ Wide Receiver
Outside – I have referred to and will continue to refer to the Pittsburgh Steelers as a wide receiver factory because of the glowing success Richard Mann has had. I have no concerns about Antonio Brown as he is the best receiver in the league. He could cool it with the off field drama, but it is more annoying than anything. As I’m on record of saying before, if he can keep his head on straight, Martavis Bryant has a higher ceiling than Antonio Brown. Bryant has to keep his head on straight, re-establish and rejuvenate chemistry with his teammates, and earn the fan’s trust. Sammie Coates is an interesting situation. Many have him on the outside looking in, but he made the Bryant wound of 2016 not burn so badly when he was lighting up the field before getting injured. JuJu Smith-Schuster is tricky. How does he see the field? I have many more questions than answers, but with Ladarius Green’s recent exit, the Steelers can go four-wide and get JuJu on the field. JuJu’s ability to block will be highly coveted and may earn him more playing time. Darrius Heyward-Bey offers special teams value but it ends there. Can he be replaced? Justin Hunter and Cobi Hamilton should both be trade bait right now.
Slot – Eli Rogers is a solid slot receiver that took great strides in 2016 by earning the starting spot. DeMarcus Ayers was surprisingly good in his limited time on the field in 2016 and I am a fan of his. With so many receivers, Ayers may be subject to the practice squad if he doesn’t have a dominant camp.
⋅ Offensive Line
Tackle – I am in the minority which thinks Alejandro Villanueva isn’t very good and needs replaced in the near future. He is the weakest link, but is also the cheapest. He still has not signed his ERFA tender yet, hoping to agree on a long term extension. The biggest question is Jerald Hawkins, whom the Steelers hope is Villanueva’s heir to the left tackle position. Training camp and pre-season will be huge for Hawkins and will shed some light on his progress. Marcus Gilbert is severely underrated and deserves more credit. Brian Mahalik and Matt Feiler were around last year post-camp and could be competing for a practice squad spot.
Interior – Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro are all solid. They’re biggest issue as a whole is staying healthy. DeCastro just needs to clean up some penalties. My concern with Foster is how long is he going to stick around? We are lucky to have BJ Finney as a backup, who has starting experience and is solid depth. The drop off in talent to him is not as steep as many would think. Undrafted free agent Ethan Cooper has potential and will hopefully take the same path as Finney did in being a successful UDFA, most likely practice squad bound.
⋅ Tight End
Ladarius Green is out of Pittsburgh. It really is a bummer that he didn’t work out. Jesse James is what he is, a tight end two. He is limited as a receiver, offering minimal yards after catch. In my opinion, James should be utilized in the red zone. At 6’7”with a 38” vertical, seems like an obvious mismatch that is being underutilized. As a blocker, James isn’t as good as we need him to be, but is improving little by little. Xavier Grimble is extremely average and I’m not overly excited about his presence on the roster. David Johnson is a fullback playing tight end, used only as a blocker. In my opinion, Gary Barnidge would be an excellent option and a smart sign at this point. Scott Orndoff and Phazahm Odom will look to earn a roster spot or squeeze onto the practice squad.
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