For the past two seasons, our offensive identity has been little more than "go down twenty points in the first half then let Ben pick apart their prevent defense" and while it has worked with varying degrees of success, I think it's safe to say that those of us who don't want heart attacks every Sunday would prefer a little bit more of an offensive identity. Maybe even one predicated on scoring points, as crazy as that sounds to any Steeler fan who's been paying attention for the past few years. Well, believe it or not, it looks like we may actually have all of the necessary pieces to do that... on paper. We have a lot of young talented skill players, some who can serve full time superstar roles in this offense and others who are more suited to serve gadget positions, but nonetheless the skill positions are suddenly saturated with, well, skill. While I'm no GM or anything, if I had to break down the skill positions currently on the roster into their possible roles, it would look something like this;
WR: Diontae Johnson, George Pickens
SLWR: Chase Claypool
RB: Najee Harris, Benny Snell Jr, take your pick for the third guy, it's pretty wide open
TE: Pat Friermuth, Zach Gentry
Gadget players: Connor Heyward as some type of fullback/H back, Calvin Austin III coming in for a modified slot role focusing on sweeps, screens, and other quick things to get him into space to use his elite speed
If you ask me, just from looking at these names on paper this looks like the makings of a solid group of skill players. In the wide receiver room we have Johnson who put up top ten numbers this past season (although it's up for debate if he yielded top ten production, I say no but you could certainly make a case), George Pickens who would likely have been a top 15 if not top 10 pick in this draft were it not for the injury, and Chase Claypool who put all of his physical gifts on display his rookie season and certainly has the potential to put them all together this coming season. In running back you have an absolute star in Najee Harris who has the potential to solidify himself as one of the top backs in the entire national football league, and while he may not have any superstars behind him he will be getting most of the touches at the position (which is both a good thing and a bad thing depending on your perspective). At tight end we have Friermuth who was a surehanded bright spot on the offense in 2021 and has the potential to bring the steeler's offense back into attacking the middle of the field, and next to him is Zach Gentry who made excellent strides in both the blocking and the receiving game. Sure he won't fool anyone into thinking he's Travis Kelce, but he doesn't need to do that, he just needs to catch the ball and go and he did that plenty well last season. Finally we have a couple of guys who could fulfill gadget roles that we picked up in the later rounds of the draft in Calvin Austin III and Conner Heyward. Yes, they were late round picks for a reason, but anybody who watches their tape can't deny how impressively athletic they were in college, especially Calvin Austin III.
Along with skill positions, we're looking at an offensive line that, while still nowhere near the top lines in the league, has at least taken steps in the right direction this offseason in the signing of James Daniels and Mason Cole. While Mason Cole has never been a superstar on the line, he was given a higher PFF grade than any day one starter for the Steelers this past season (I know next to nobody on this site including me cares much what PFF has to say, but even so it's worth mentioning), and James Daniels has the tools to be both a leader and a fixture on this line for years to come. On top of that, we have Dan Moore Jr who has the potential to take at least some kind of step forward this coming season, and of course Kevin Dotson who also has all the pieces to really show something if he can put it all together.
Even at quarterback, our position of greatest turmoil, we have two guys who genuinely have a great chance at a starting job and, who knows, maybe even being good at it. Starting with Kenny Pickett, the guy seems to have all the tools coming out of college that we need in a successful starting quarterback. He's accurate, he takes care of the football, he may not be Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson, but he has the tools to make all the throws and to punish defenses who don't account for the scramble. But of all of his tools that excite me the most, it's his brain. Throughout the history of the NFL, the biggest difference between players who succeed and players who don't at the quarterback position has been whether or not that player can read defenses and make the correct throw based on what the defense gives him. Kenny Pickett undoubtedly showed that ability in college, and with any luck it's a trait that will transfer to the NFL. We also have Mitch Trubisky who, say what you will, has shown plenty of signs that he is more than what the Bears made of him. He's hungry, he's learned, and he will be fighting for what I'm sure feels like his last chance to be a consistent starter in the NFL. Most players don't find a home four teams into their career. Trubisky knows that, and I'm confident that he'll do whatever it takes to win that starting job when September rolls around. Look forward to a fierce quarterback competition because you're gonna get one.
With all that being said and all those pieces into place, that just leaves the responsibility of making this offense work up to one man: Matt Canada. Canada is in an interesting situation on this team where, despite having no real NFL credentials coming into this team and despite a season that did not show much to look forward to in his system, he has this franchise completely buying into what he wants to do with this offense. They've spent millions upon millions of dollars and several draft picks on the Matt Canada offense, and now it's all up to Canada to turn the key and make the car go. If he succeeds and this offense runs, then the sky is the limit in terms of "ceiling" for this talented group of young men. If he fails, however, expect to see Matt Canada on the first train out of town and another few years of searching for that offensive identity that the Steelers so desperately need. Either way, it's up to Matt Canada to put his players in the best position to make plays that he can.
You've got all the paint you could want, Matt. Paint the barn any color you'd like, just make it a good one.