While it is true that there is only one Steelers Nation, the individuals who comprise that fanbase can be found far and wide from around the globe, possessing three main types of fanaticism. You have the eternally optimistic, which I have been accused of being on more than one occasion. Then you have the grounded realists, who are committed to remaining even keel in their opinions and outlook for the team. Honestly, my fandom falls somewhere between these two descriptions, even if I lean slightly to the former. What can I say, I always look for the positives in every situation.
Finally, we have the rather pessimistic among us. Those with lower expectations that would rather be happily proven wrong than to be disappointed by their own optimism. Three very contrasting points of view, all trying to live harmoniously in Steelers Nation. All welcomed and equally important to the community as a collective group. It's all in the way each individual chooses to view each situation.
I said all that to say this. At this point of the NFL off season, less than two weeks from the start of training camp, I wanted to share some of my expectations of plausible scenarios for the Steelers offense and defense this camp and preseason. This article will focus on the offensive side of the ball.
Ben Roethlisberger's usage; both in camp and the preseason, will be closely monitored, even more than usual. At his age, and only a year removed from elbow surgery, his pitch count will be limited. While many will call for him to see increased minutes during the preseason in a concerted effort to get him comfortable and up to speed with Matt Canada's new offensive system, that may not be the best approach in the early stages of the preseason. A lot will depend on how quickly that the Steelers revamped offensive line is able to gel as a unit. Run blocking is an easier transition than pass protection. I fully expect the Steelers coaches to err on the side of caution with their future Hall of Fame signal caller.
Najee Harris will utilize this period of time to the best of his ability. Harris his shown admirable maturity in the early stages of his Steelers tenure, and for good reason. He is a 23 year old rookie with the life experiences of a grown man. Having already experienced more than his share of hardships, plus the pressure of playing for one of the elite collegiate programs in the country, he is more than ready to seize control of the starting running back position for the Pittsburgh Steelers and make the most of every opportunity. Suffice it to say, Harris is far from your typical rookie. He is class and character all the way.
The Steelers wide receivers will benefit greatly from the team's renewed commitment to improving their running game. Although the number of total targets will probably be reduced overall, the opportunities for mismatches and impact splash plays should increase substantially. JuJu Smith-Schuster should see his yards per reception improve with increased snaps on the outside. Chase Claypool should see coverage rolled his way far less frequently with an improved running game, a requisite precursor in his ascension to elite status. Diontae Johnson has the ability to be perpetually open and effective, as long as he holds onto the ball. I fully expect all three to rave about how much they look forward to being moved around the formations playing in Canada's offense.
Eric Ebron and Pat Freiermuth could be the best tight end combination in Steelers history. Although they are polar opposites as players and individuals, they compliment each other well. Ebron can focus his energies on exploiting mismatches in coverage down the field, while Freiermuth can work on developing into the Steelers next well rounded tight end. He combines Heath Miller level fundamentals with the intensity and physicality of a George Kittle. I expect him to quickly become a fan favorite not long after the start of camp and the early preseason games. I admittedly wasn't thrilled with his selection, but he is starting to grow on me. If he can make yours truly a believer, just imagine the possibilities.
That brings us to the Steelers biggest question mark on offense; the revamped offensive line. At first glance, the Steelers roster appears to have the talent, power, and athleticism to make substantial improvements this season. That's great news, because the Steelers line is in need of drastic improvements. I expect newly promoted OL Coach Adrian Klemm to not only focus his efforts on paying attention to the details as a collective unit, but to challenge their manhood so to speak by demanding an increase in intensity and consistent energy all the way through the whistle each play. I believe he has inherited a strong group more than capable of doing just that.
Although it seems like Chukwuma Okorafor has been around forever, he is still only 23 years old and will finally be playing at his natural position at left tackle. I fully expect for the Steelers to show real improvement at left tackle this season, especially if Okorafor improves his intensity. I feel the same way about multiple positions along the line this season.
Kevin Dotson is an instant upgrade at LG over former starter Matt Feiler. Dotson has Pro Bowl potential and I expect him to regularly destroy defenders this season to prove just how out of shape he isn't.
Kendrick Green will be the starting center at some point this season, hopefully sooner rather than later. His combination of athleticism and mobility give him elite potential, while his intensity and confidence belies his rookie status.
Trai Turner is highly motivated to regain his perennial Pro Bowl status, and prove that last season's disastrous performance was an aberration, the byproduct of difficulties created by COVID protocols and nagging injuries. If he is fully recovered, both mentally and physically, I for one wouldn't bet against him.
Finally, Zach Banner appears bound and determined to regain the RT position he won last season. If he can completely recover from his ACL injury, his immense size and power should be a real asset to the Steelers running game, particularly in short yardage situations. His pass blocking remains the great unknown and a work in progress.
I am truly excited about the Steelers roster this season and their chances for success. While some will see plenty of question marks and unproven players, I see opportunities and the potential for some great memories. As a individual who appreciates stability, even I realize that changes are sometimes required and can be a good thing.