Hope is a necessity of life. If you take away someone's hope, you take away everything from that individual. If you have no hope, then why even try? That makes hope a precious commodity. Thankfully for the Pittsburgh Steelers, hope is on the way.
When Ben Roethlisberger was injured in the first half of the second game of the season against the Seattle Seahawks; I was obviously concerned, but I still had hope. Hope that the injury wouldn't be too severe. It was obvious to everyone watching that it was an elbow injury, but maybe it wouldn't be season ending. I was still holding out hope, against all odds.
Once we learned the tragic news, any hope of adding a seventh Lombardi Trophy to the trophy case was lost. I quickly adjusted my mindset and my expectations. I was consigned that the Steelers were going to have a losing season, but I was more concerned with the overall effort of the players and their consistent growth as a team. That way I could still have hope, even if winning games wasn't one of them.
A funny thing happened on the way as the Steelers played out the rest of the season. Thanks to a ridiculously favorable midseason schedule, after a tough opening quarter of a season, the Steelers went on a surprise winning streak. They were doing just enough on offense to eke out each victory, thanks to a rapidly improving defense that was bordering on dominant. But in what seemed like the blink of an eye, the clock struck midnight and the Steelers playoff hopes turned back into a pumpkin.
So why, after all the disappointment associated with last season, am I so filled with hope heading into the start of the off season? I see alot to be hopeful about in the Steelers near future.
Hopefully the upcoming 2020 NFL Scouting Combine will revel plenty of talented young prospects at various areas of need for the Steelers, especially on the offensive side of the ball. There are always surprises during each stage of the process: whether it's a prospect failing to meet expectations during the physicals, or not quite cutting the mustard in the individual drills. Fortunes will rise and fall over tenths of a second and fractions of an inch in many cases. The teams that can best identify the hidden gems from this plethora of information oftentimes find themselves competing on Super Sunday. The Steelers had a strong draft class last year, which gives me hope they can do it again.
Decisions made concerning Bud Dupree and the transactions that would be required to retain his services will determine the Steelers activity level in free agency. They will either need to look for mid level talent on team friendly deals at areas of need after being forced to make necessary roster cuts, or they can focus some newly found cap space toward strengthening the offense if unable to tag or resign Dupree. The three main free agent additions last year yielded varying results. Steven Nelson was a tremendous addition: Mark Barron's underwhelming production didn't measure up to his salary: Donte Moncrief was a complete disaster. Hopefully the Steelers can find more Nelsons, and less Moncriefs this off season.
Easily the biggest reason for my unbridled optimism toward next season for the Pittsburgh Steelers has to be the expected healthy return of Ben Roethlisberger. Many athletes, especially those blessed with elite arm talent, have returned from various elbow surgeries to resume highly productive careers. Ben has always possessed a superior throwing arm, complimenting a warriors mentality.
Standing tall in the pocket, eyes focused downfield while a three hundred pound defensive lineman hangs on his back, trying in vain to prevent a completion downfield. Say what you want, but Ben Roethlisberger in no way resembles the over protected QBs that the great Jack Lambert once famously stated should all be wearing dresses. Even in a league presently blessed with extremely mobile QBs, or maybe because of that mobility, it is extremely rare to see a QB with the intestinal fortitude to stand tall in the pocket till the last split second to complete a huge throw downfield, all while staring down the barrel at a rapidly approaching pass rusher with bad intentions.
Ben Roethlisberger is not just a future Hall of Fame QB: he is a football player. Ben lead the Steelers to the 2008 Super Bowl title behind one of the worst offensive lines ever for a Super Bowl champion. His level of toughness makes him a throwback to a bygone era. Just ask the Baltimore Ravens, players like Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. They respected the way Ben plays the game as much as they hated competing against him.
That is the biggest reason I am so encouraged about the Steelers chances of returning to a position of prominence and the playoffs in 2020. Ben Roethlisberger will be back at the helm for his Pittsburgh Steelers, health permitting.
Steelers Nation can only hope to be so lucky.