For those of you who are hyperbole-challenged, I'll tell you right off that this is not actually the biggest offseason in Steelers franchise history. Sorry to disappoint. However, it is quite possibly the biggest offseason I can recall, because of turnover at an important coaching position and all over the field in terms of players. This offseason has already been full of fascinating stories and eager expectation, and it is certain to provide even more as training camp, preseason, the regular season, and post-season roll on.
Let me just say first, the transition from Cowher to Tomlin was certainly bigger in its potential ramifications, but it ended up being almost seamless in actual effects. Getting a new offensive coordinator doesn't have the potential for such comprehensive and dramatic changes as a new head coach, but this offensive coordinator change is expected to not be seamless. The Steelers hired Tomlin to keep the boat on course. The Steelers hired Todd Haley to rock the boat, to change and improve a position at offensive coordinator that many fans viewed as the biggest roadblock fro the Steelers' success under Bruce Arians. Todd Haley, WILL be a major transition for the organization, that's what he was hired to be.
To put it in a more personal perspective, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea that I might actually get to see a whole game without a single bubble screen. I really don't want to get into Arians bashing; he's gone now and it doesn't matter whether he was any good or not. The point is that for better or worse we all pretty much knew what was going to happen offensively for any given game. We knew we would see bubble screens, we knew we would see 5 wide on 3rd and short, we knew we would see plenty of deep routes, we knew we would see drives stall in the redzone, and we knew we wouldn't see any draws or screens to a RB regardless of how often the defense blitzed. Right now, we know nothing about the Steelers' offensive tendencies. Will we never see the same play twice or will we just see Haley's favorite plays rather than BA's? Will we see RB's heavily involved in the passing game? Will Heath Miller get the chance to be an elite receiving TE? Will we see the return of the fullback? Will we see Haley scream into Ben's face on the sidelines? When the preseason starts, every play will have the potential to be something we've never seen before that will be a staple of the Haley offense, and I can't wait to see it.
The last question may have more bearing on the Steelers' success than any of the previous. Haley's reputation for dysfunctional working relationships initially had me very sour on the idea bringing him into the Steelers fold. The guy went through offensive coordinators in KC like Casey Hampton goes through Twinkies. Haley isn't the only potential source of friction either. Some of Ben's recent comments about the new system sound to me like he still hasn't gotten over the "retirement" of his friend BA, and if he doesn't process that grief (if you'll excuse a bit of pop psychology) it could easily manifest itself as resentment against Arians' successor. Like the classic "opposites attract" couple that you know are going to either get married or kill each other (and possibly both), the relationship between Roethlisberger and Haley looks to me more volatile than stable. It'll be rings or restraining orders, probably not both, and definitely not enjoying each others company while finishing middle of the pack in offensive statistics each year. This relationship will be dramatic whatever it is, and I can't wait to see it.
Then, if you look at the players it all goes nuts. We're talking about starting two rookies on the offensive line, with enough combined potential to sink a battleship (gratuitous pop culture reference). I know you're all excited to see how DeCastro and Adams turn out; I've read at least 600 comments that prove it. Marcus Gilbert is a second year guy, Pouncey is entering his third year, and the "stable veteran presence," Willie Colon, hasn't played football in two years and is moving to a new position. We're talking about a reconstruction project on a par with Ben's face; this year is the beginning of what is hopefully the Steelers line of the future, and I can't wait to see it.
Of course, I should've specified that I was talking about offensive line, because the Steelers defensive line of the future is also rapidly taking shape. Hood, McLendon, and Heyward aren't rookies, but they're far from known commodities and of course Ta'amu is actually a rookie, who may like Adams and DeCastro get playing time with Hampton injured. At cornerback, we know what we've got in Ike Taylor, but Brown and Allen are entering their sophomore year (and their first full offseason), and Lewis is hardly an established veteran. We're talking about Redman, Dwyer, Batch, Clay, and Rainey at RB, a group that is just dripping with experience with Redman (162 career carries and one start in two years on the active roster) as the unquestioned dean of the group. Dwyer, with 25 career rushes is next. Even Mendenhall, when and if he returns could very well look like a different player with a solid OL in front of him. Who knows what these guys will bring on game day? I can't wait to find out!
Let's not forget the development of Stevenson Sylvester, Jason Worilds, and Chris Carter at LB, neither Wallace nor Brown has fully reached his potential yet, and we've hardly even seen Emmanuel Sanders. There are rookies and developing players all over the place on this roster, but that's not all. There's so much more attention on these young players, so much more hanging on them, because the established veterans who used to cover for the occasional young player in the past are gone. Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, the guys opponents and fans always focused on, are gone. This Steelers team is very much young, fast, and just beginning their pursuit of football glory, and I can't wait to see it!