Speed kills, especially on the football field. Coaches both covet and fear it. The possibility of the big play from any place on the field is intoxicating for coaching staffs. Many obsessively design game plans each week determined to utilize this advantage to it's fullest, similar to a mad scientist formulating another devious plan in their laboratory. The only thing worse than not having elite team speed is having it but not knowing how to use it properly.
Offenses across the NFL are enjoying great success this season by capitalizing on their speed advantages, and destroying any defense unable to match up. The Baltimore Ravens have built their offense around the speed of uber athletic MVP candidate QB Lamar Jackson to dominate the opposition. The Kansas City Chiefs have a track team at wide receiver that they use to their full potential, lead by Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. The Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook specializes in using his impressive jets to make a living running outside the tackles. The list of speed merchants enjoying success across the league goes on and on. This article will focus on game changing speed on offense, and the Steelers current lack of it.
This Steelers team finds itself with a speed deficiency across the board at the skill positions. They have neither elite long speed or short area quickness. They lost both in spades with the trades of wide receivers Bryant and Brown over the past couple of off seasons, and are still in the process of replacing their explosive tendencies. The Steelers have attempted to address this predicament recently by signing two players off other team's practice squads to their active roster.
The Steelers signed RB Kerrith Whyte off the Chicago Bears practice squad and Deon Cain from the Indianapolis Colts practice squad. The Steelers were undoubtedly attracted to both players due to their superior speed. Though the sample size has been small, the initial results have been impressive.
At first glance it was assumed that the Steelers picked up Whyte to bring some much needed juice to their underwhelming kick return unit, but they obviously had even grander plans in mind. Whyte excelled as a big play performer at running back and kick returner in college for Florida Atlantic, primarily as a backup. He backed up starting RB Devin Singletary, who just so happens to play for the Buffalo Bills, the Steelers primetime opponent in two weeks. Whyte ran a sizzling forty yard dash time of 4.36 at Florida Atlantic's pro day, which would have been the second fastest time at the NFL Scouting Combine. He ended up being a seventh round selection by the Chicago Bears, flashing enough potential to end up being signed to their practice squad.
Whyte's speed and quickness could couple with the Steelers athletic offensive line, especially Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro, to open up the rushing attack outside the numbers. JuJu Smith Schuster and James Washington are superior blockers at the wide receiver position, and the tight ends are efficient as well. This bodes well for the Steelers to be able to capitalize on Whyte's big play abilities.
The Steelers also had a need at wide receiver after a rash of injuries struck the position, but surprised many in how they filled that need. Instead of signing a veteran free agent, like Terrelle Pryor, the Steelers reached out for Deon Cain. They may have dodged a bullet on that one. Either way, the Steelers have to be pleased with their decision.
It has been reported that the Indianapolis Colts were not pleased when the Steelers signed Cain off their practice squad. Cain is raw and definitely needs to hone his craft, but his talent is undeniable. Cain hails from WR U. Clemson, and is most often compared to former Tiger and Steeler WR Martavis Bryant. Cain happens to be a tad shorter and maybe not blessed with quite the freakish athleticism of the 'Alien', but he is not far off.
One of Cain's attributes has stood out already in his short time with the Black and Gold. Cain tracks and attacks the ball in the air far better than the aforementioned Bryant, who struggled mightily in that regard. Hopefully that is where the comparisons with Bryant comes to an end. After a failed drug test and suspension at the conclusion of his freshman year, Cain appears to have matured and cleaned up his act, on and off the field.
Thus far he seems to be a good fit with his teammates and coaches. He made an immediate impression after his first practice with the Steelers, with fellow receiver James Washington commenting on his impressive speed.
The Steelers have a need for speed on offense, and these two gentlemen are putting their hands in the pile hoping to fill that need. Only time will tell if they can carve out a niche in the offense and with the Steelers franchise, but it is the holiday season. What better time is there to dream, and to dream big? Dream on, gentlemen!