Now I know Ben Roethlisberger is in his prime and doesn't look to slow down anytime soon, but it is never too soon to plan for the future. The Steelers front office has done a tremendous job getting ready for Ben's successor.
If you look at the recent teams to have smooth quarterback transitions to the young studs you will notice a few things that are common in all cases.
- Offensive Line
This one is obvious. A good offensive line gives young QBs more time. More time leads to less pressure and less mistakes. Young QBs are notorious for making rash decisions that can pay off, but more often than not, lead to turnovers or missed opportunities. I know our O-line hasn't exactly panned out or lived up to its potential yet, but there is a reason that Mike Munchak chose the Steelers as his destination for coaching. He was excited about the potential. DeCastro is developing into a world class talent at guard. Ramon Foster is the solid "veteran" of the group. Pouncey is one of the best/most athletic in the league at his position, which opens up so many opportunities for an offense. Between Marcus Gilbert, Kelvin Beachum, and Mike Adams there is loads of potential. I think Munchak will straighten out the kinks and get them to play up to their ability.
With so many high draft picks spent on the offensive line, I think it is finally time to see the unit come into its own. They will be one of the strengths of this team if they can stay healthy. They also set the tone for the next key to a smooth transition.
2. Running Game
If you look at the likes of Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, or Robert Griffin III, they were able to lean on the running game early in their career. When you look at their running backs you see three top notch talents in Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore, and Alfred Morris. When a team has a solid running game there is far less pressure on the QB. It fatigues the defense, elongates drives, and makes sure the defense doesn't cheat out to coverage. Run is the first responsibility in every defense and so if you have a good run game it forces the defense to stack the box, which then opens up the passing game.
Steelers are fortunate to have one of the most complete and diverse skill sets within their young RB corps. We have LeVeon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, and Dri Archer. That is a workhorse with tremendous athleticism and receiving ability, a bruiser with deceiving speed that can pound the ball in short yardage situations, and a lightening fast scat back that doubles as a WR. We may have finally found our identity on offense again. Steelers have always been about running the ball and playing a physical brand of football and we may just return to that in the near future.
As mentioned earlier, young QBs have a knack for turning the ball over on unnecessary risks. A good defense can help ease the pain of turnovers by getting the ball back to the offense and limiting the points the opposing offense gets.
While our defense has been steadily falling off as of late I think we are making a solid foundation for a bounce back. We have a potentially great front seven that is starting to form. I am a firm believer that football is won in the trenches and the Steelers might have one of the better D-Lines in all of football in the near future. Cam Heyward is playing at a high level and only looks to improve. Steve McLendon takes a lot of the blame for the decline in run defense, but looks to prove why he was the successor to Casey Hampton. Stephon Tuitt is only a rookie, but that didn't stop DL coach John Mitchell from comparing him to Steelers great, Aaron Smith. Another intriguing prospect we have on the D-line is 6'7" 350 lb. behemoth of a man in Daniel McCullers. He is surprisingly athletic for his size and could be someone who could develop into something great. Aside from the DL our safety group looks as solid as ever and our ILBs could end of as a top 5 unit in the league with Lawrence Timmons and 2014, 1st round pick, Ryan Shazier.
Our defense is very young and could blossom into another great Steelers defense.
I know that not all the same guys will be around when we have the "changing of the guard" at QB, but it is a solid foundation to start with and I think that we will achieve a very smooth transition with whoever we choose to be the face of our franchise next.