The Steelers are enduring a rebuilding season, but not all aspects of the rebuild are being discussed equally. Here are a couple of seldom-discussed observations.
Every individual has strengths and weaknesses. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is no different, as a fallible human being, even if he can do nothing right, or wrong, in the eyes of so many. It really depends on which side of the aisle you currently reside.
Tomlin is undoubtedly steady, but stubborn. He is loyal to a fault, even when it potentially could be detrimental to his efforts and legacy. He is an exceptional leader of men, but struggles at times as a disciplinarian when his troops fail to behave like one. Tomlin is a far more accomplished motivational speaker than strategist.
All of these statements are true, even if Tomlin's supporters will vehemently deny any perceived negativity, or his detractors will utilize hyperbole to elaborate.
As a mere mortal, Tomlin deserves every opportunity to learn from new experiences, and be fairly judged by the results. This is Tomlin's first rebuild, his first experience as a head coach without a franchise quarterback, and potentially his first losing season.
Has he handled every situation perfectly, without reproach? Definitely not, unless you are one of those people who thinks he walks on water. But truthfully, there are no perfect people, much less coaches. Tomlin may not be perfect, that's true, but it could be far worse.
Not sure what I mean? Look no further than some of the bottom dwelling teams, particularly the Denver Broncos. The Broncos mortgaged the franchise's future to trade for perceived savior Russell Wilson, and acquired an offensive mastermind in Nathaniel Hackett to be head coach. Many prognosticators predicted instant success, forgetting the most basic need for franchise success: Chemistry.
The Broncos, no matter how hard they searched, couldn't find any chemistry this season. They looked like a bunch of strangers who had never played together before, because they were. They desperately needed leadership, from both Wilson and Hackett, and both failed miserably.
It all culminated with the Christmas Day massacre at the hands of the equally inept Los Angeles Rams on a special Nickelodeon broadcast. Innocent children were potentially subjected to the slaughter. To make matters worse, an altercation broke out between a couple of participants after the game, as the victorious Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield was conducting a post-game televised interview.
The Broncos were completely discombobulated. Hackett was fired the next day. One could say that the team quit on their head coach, but truthfully, Hackett never appeared to have the respect of the team to begin with and there was no winning culture from which to draw inspiration.
Tomlin has plenty of faults and has made mistakes along the way, specifically by hiring coordinators and coaches based on previous history and established relationships. Who wouldn't want to work with like-minded individuals, rather than contrarians? The problem is, sometimes you need another opinion to verify or balance your own. In the end, getting it right is all that really matters.
Thankfully, Tomlin has never come close to losing a roster, even if some have under-achieved on occasion. He has the Steelers culture, plus the most stable ownership that NFL has ever seen, to support him and have his back. Although the Steelers playoff hopes are slim, you can rest assure that the Steelers will fight until the bitter end. Black and Gold, baby! These colors don't run!
Regardless of how the final two games of the 2022 regular season turn out, the Steelers future looks promising.
The Steelers are loaded with young offensive talent, and have numerous veteran defensive talents to build around. The Steelers will have a significant amount of cap space to utilize in free agency, at least by their standards. It appears that the Steelers will have some valuable draft capital during the first couple of days of the 2023 NFL Draft at their disposal. A successful offseason could accelerate the rebuilding process exponentially.
One often overlooked positive possibility of the rebuilding efforts for the 2023 NFL season is the potential impact of 2022 fourth-round selection Calvin Austin lll. The diminutive speedster never played a snap for the Steelers this season, due to an unfortunate foot injury. Let's call it the NFL version of a red-shirt season.
If he utilizes the down time properly, Austin could potentially return to the team bigger, faster, and stronger than ever. That's important, because his speed and elusiveness is elite. If his body can take the punishment, Austin's all-around game should transfer effectively to the NFL. He could have a Tyreek Hill or Darren Sproles type impact, or his size limitations could limit him to gimmick play and special teams status.
As we know, speed is a cherished commodity in today's NFL. Speed increases the frequency of splash plays, shortening the field, and puts points on the scoreboard. The Steelers offense has shown undeniable improvement since their bye week, and they have substantially increased their time of possession in the process. That's the good news.
The bad news is the Steelers offense is still struggling to finish drives and score touchdowns instead of field goals. The Steelers have impressive skill position talent, and they possess every attribute other than speed, and the quick strike capabilities that comes with it.
Only time will tell, but Austin's own personal work ethic and commitment to his craft could very well be the deciding factor in determining if he can be the final missing piece to the puzzle. The Steelers have a need— the need for speed.