The 2022 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers feels like a new beginning in many ways. Plenty of new faces in new places. This statement holds true on both sides of the ball, but particularly on offense. Or should I say new-look offense?
Change is the name of the game on offense for the Steelers, something that was desperately needed after the struggles of 2021. The Steelers will have a new quarterback at the helm for the first time in almost two decades. That is both an exciting, and slightly worrisome, proposition.
Truthfully, the Steelers defense looks primed for a huge bounce back season, particularly the run defense. If the new arrivals on defense live up to the hype, then the Steelers should be able to limit the damage on the scoreboard, keeping the Steelers competitive in the majority of games.
For that to happen, the Steelers offense has to do their part. A good place to start would be running the football successfully, extending drives consistently, and protecting the football. The key to the Steelers success in 2022, as always, begins and ends with the big boys up front. The Steelers acquired talented free agents, plus a new offensive line coach, to address that longtime issue.
The Steelers offense is now filled with young talented players with proven NFL experience, even if they lack experience playing together. The level of success that the Steelers will be able to achieve in 2022 on offense will depend on how well and how rapidly their newly acquired talent can gain chemistry together.
The Steelers focused heavily on the offense with their 2022 NFL Draft class. Although the Steelers selected two quarterbacks in the class, there is a reasonable scenario where neither young signal caller impacts the Steelers on the football field this season. First round darling Kenny Pickett is currently third on the obviously still fluid depth chart. He makes numerous off schedule, out of the pocket plays, but also makes plenty of the expected rookie mistakes.
With ball security being such an important aspect of the Steelers success on offense this season, it's easy to see why the Steelers maybe hesitant to declare Pickett the starting quarterback in Week 1, even if he continues to ball out this preseason. It's far more likely that the Steelers will trust that responsibility to Mitchell Trubisky or Mason Rudolph, both of whom have actual NFL experience.
The Steelers may be satisfied with a game manager as the starter, one capable of protecting the football while leaning on the aforementioned stout defense and special teams. Basically telling the starter, "You don't have to win the game, just don't lose the game for us." Focus on getting Najee Harris running well behind an improved offensive line, and executing the plays in the passing game that the scheme creates.
Regardless of which quarterback is named the starter, the Steelers appear to have added 3 explosive and versatile weapons to their arsenal in George Pickens, Calvin Austin III, and Connor Heyward. All three have made explosive big plays during training camp, heightening the anticipation for the preseason games.
George Pickens has the "it" factor. I usually reserve that reference for the quarterback position, but I will utilize it here for lack of a better word. I already referred to his dawg persona immediately after his second round selection in my Grading the Pick article. As I wrote in my last article, there is the athleticism aspect of any prospect, and then there are the intangibles. Both are off the charts for Pickens.
Pickens is tall, fast, and explosive. He combines extraordinary leaping ability, elite level body control, and strong hands. He simply makes the spectacular seem routine with shocking regularity. He definitely looks the part, but so did former Steelers receiver Justin Hunter. Hunter was a training camp superstar, who disappeared once the regular season rolled around. I used to say that he looked like Tarzan, but played like Jane.
Pickens appears to be all Tarzan. He is an intense competitor; whether he is blocking, fighting off the line of scrimmage, or competing for a contested catch. He talks the talk, but he walks the walk also. His teammates don't even try to hide their excitement about his potential.
Calvin Austin III
Calvin Austin III is as advertised. He is a pure speed merchant, regularly turning on the afterburners to easily pull away from a defender for a huge gain at camp. He has also displayed the toughness and intestinal fortitude necessary to make a living being a diminutive player in a big man's world. He has taken multiple hard shots in live action, and popped right back up. He even had a few choice words for Steelers superstar T.J. Watt immediately after one training camp altercation.
Austin has much more going for him than just elite straight line speed. He is incredibly elusive, with instant acceleration. Combine that with the type of hands seldom seen in a track star entering the NFL, and it's easy to see why Matt Canada has to be dreaming about all the possibilities Austin brings to this offense.
The hope is the fan base will get to see Austin live, for the first time, this Saturday after missing the Week 1 preseason game with a foot injury.
Connor Heyward is the secret weapon that the opposition will never see coming. Some of the Steelers youngsters look like they live in the gym. Connor Heyward looks like he spent his offseason bagging groceries. While he isn't an Adonis, he is a well-rounded football player. He isn't particularly tall, fast, or strong; but he just knows how to play the game. He has been getting open and making splash plays regularly at camp and in the Week 1 preseason game, thanks in part to his hard-nosed physicality and sneaky speed. Don't be surprised if his efficient play bleeds into the regular season.
If the Steelers offense proves capable of holding up their end of the bargain this season, don't be surprised if the 3 rookies mentioned in this article play a huge role in that success.