The year 2020 has been rough through the first eight months of the year. The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a wrinkle into even the most minor of plans, but has also put a vice grip on the sports landscape.
However, for Steelers fans they should look back at 2019 as the year to forget, and even look forward to the upcoming 2020 season.
Clearly, this is talking about the Steelers on the field, and in no way decreasing the COVID-19 issues still lingering across the globe, but with that said it is safe to say fans should be excited for the upcoming season.
Last year the Steelers’ offense averaged just 18.8 points per game.
Read that again.
18.8 points per game.
It was dreadful, and certainly seemed doomed from the beginning after Ben Roethlisberger was lost for the season in the first half of the Week 2 game vs. the Seahawks, but the thought of an offense which never once hit the 30 points mark is still astonishing.
Anyone else remember under Todd Haley when the offensive goal was to average 30 points per game?
I sure do.
So, entering 2020 things are going to be different, from the inside out. First, the additions of two offensive assistants certainly will bring some fresh ideas to the table for Randy Fichtner to mull around. The additions of Ike Hilliard, wide receivers coach, and Matt Canada, quarterbacks coach, are already making an impact.
Ben Roethlisberger spoke about Hilliard’s experience, and how it can help a really young wide receiver corps this upcoming season.
“You know, he does have a young room, but the great thing about Coach Ike [Hilliard] is that he has experience, both coaching and playing.” Roethlisberger told a group of reporters last week. “The best way for me to get to know him and to kind of get on the same page as him to just to communicate. We try to spend time talking, both on the field yesterday a little bit as well as in the meeting rooms and walking between meetings, things like that. Sometimes it’s just little things.
“I joked with him and asked him what his rookie year was like in ’97. What did I say? ’89 or something? Just little things like that to try to have fun with him and each other and joking and him asking me if I care about the rotation of the receivers. I asked him what his thought was on the rotation, literally just communicating and talking. I trust him that he’s going to get those guys as ready to go as anybody could because he wants them to be great as much as anybody.”
In 2019 the Steelers entered the year with no quarterbacks coach. That job was absorbed by offensive coordinator Fichtner, but the acquisition of Canada is not just a fresh set of eyes in terms of offensive philosophy, but also gives young quarterbacks in Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges and Paxton Lynch someone who can focus on them and their development.
Roethlisberger realizes the benefits of being a young quarterback and having a quarterbacks coach. He also sees Canada as someone who can help the offense become more prolific.
“We brought Coach Canada in to help with some of that stuff. I think Coach Ike [Hilliard] is going to help in a lot of areas. He’s been really kind of giving Coach Randy [Fichtner] a lot of ideas and thoughts and help. I’m just excited about where this offense could go. I mean it, I truly mean it when I say we have to do whatever we have to do to win football games. Obviously as a quarterback you know, you want to throw the ball. It’s just natural, but at this point in my career, especially with the group we have, it really can’t be about anything other than winning football games and doing that however we have to.”
As for Canada, the opportunity he has in front of him is one he relishes. Working with a veteran like Roethlisberger and a young stable of quarterbacks, all with starting experience.
“Obviously, Ben has 17 camps coming in, so he obviously has a lot of experience coming in. I am going to do whatever I can do to assist him, whatever he might need me to do.” Canada said. “Obviously, the younger guys are different. They don’t have as much helmet time and playing experience. I am working with everybody but there is certainly a difference. I respect and see what your question is saying, and there is a difference there. He has history with Randy [Fichtner], been with Randy a long time. I am just kind of coming in to facilitate what I can in any way with him and then also with the younger guys.”
Even Hilliard, who has quite the resume as both a player and coach, sees this situation, as it pertains to working with a veteran like Roethlisberger, as something which can pay huge dividends in the near future.
“There is never going to be enough time for me to spend with the quarterback and trying to pick his brain in regard to what he likes and what he wants.” Hilliard added. “If nothing else, just making sure the young men are where they are supposed to be when he is ready to throw the football. I am looking forward to diving in and spending a bunch of time with the quarterback and hopefully we can all get an accelerated in where it needs to be so we can be the best offense the League.”
Will these changes make a difference? Some will be skeptical, and rightfully so, but with Roethlisberger back and the new additions of offensive minds can certainly make an impact. Think about the defense when they brought in Teryl Austin to work with the secondary. It might not have been a night-and-day difference, but it helped. The same can be said about the offense in 2020 with Hilliard and Canada on board, and fans should be excited to see what difference they make this upcoming season.