Don't blink! That phrase is usually reserved as a cautionary tale directed toward the blessed, but exhausted, parents of young children. It means enjoy the moment, no matter the difficulty, because one day they will be grown and gone, seemingly in the blink of an eye.
Time is precious and fleeting, and it seems to move faster as we get older. I fully realize that the NFL shortened the preseason by a game recently, but this training camp and preseason seemed even faster than that to me. It probably had a lot to do with the health issues within my family, but I honestly have no idea where our summer ran off to.
Suddenly, the start of the 2022 regular season is two weeks away. My two biggest concerns entering training camp for the Steelers was the offensive line and the run defense, especially the inside linebackers. After a 3-0 preseason, those concerns still remain for me.
Stock Up: Quarterbacks
I probably should clarify that statement is only true for two of the quarterbacks actually. Honestly, all three of the Steelers quarterbacks performed admirably through camp and the preseason, which was definitely an unexpected and positive development. That being said, the truth of the matter proved to be what the majority of Steelers fans already knew going in — Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett are better fits for Matt Canada's offense than Mason Rudolph, primarily due to their superior athleticism and mobility. Anybody still shocked by how it all played out wasn't listening to Mike Tomlin's not-so-subtle desire for mobility at the position last year. Even more important when you consider the inexperienced and sub-par offensive line.
Mitch Trubisky spent a good portion of his preseason action running for his life, behind the aforementioned ineffective offensive line. It did allow him to showcase his strength and mobility on multiple occasions, if we feel determined to turn a negative into a positive. Trubisky looks like a seasoned veteran in complete control of the offense, especially when he gets the bare minimum of pass protection. Although he has yet to show elite level anticipation and accuracy in his NFL career, he has solid ball security and has shown the most consistent splash play ability on the Steelers QB depth chart. Although Mike Tomlin refused to name a starting quarterback immediately after the game, which should have come as a shock to absolutely no one, odds favor Trubisky being named the starter.
Kenny Pickett looks nothing like a rookie signal caller. You never know what you have in a young passer until they get the opportunity to prove themselves in the biggest moments. There have been plenty of quarterbacks capable of putting up huge numbers in the right system, only to fail repeatedly when the pressure is on. The clutch factor is the great unknown for any talented young passer. Pickett has given the occasional glimpse of elite level anticipation, accuracy, and pocket presence. These qualities seem to suggest that Pickett may possess the ever elusive "it" factor, but nobody really knows until he gets the chance to prove it. The Steelers still have work to do before that scenario can happen, especially along the offensive line.
In my best attempt to sum up both quarterbacks status heading into the regular season: Mitch Trubisky is the present, but Kenny Pickett is the future. One word of advice for Trubisky: Don't blink, or the future could be now.
Stock Down: Offensive line
What a colossal disappointment. The Steelers invested in some talented young linemen in Mason Cole and James Daniels to strengthen their biggest weakness going on four years now. The talent is there, but the cohesion needed for consistent execution is still missing in action. Cole and Chukwuma Okorafor have been the most consistent contributors out of the group, but the other starters have been hit or miss. The line showed immediate improvement on Sunday against the Lions simply by removing Kendrick Green from the starting lineup. I still believe this offensive line has the necessary talent to develop into a middle of the pack unit, which would be a huge improvement on recent years, but it's going to take some time. Maybe they can be taught to shout "Heads up!" every time they whiff on a block. To be totally honest, there were some ever so slight improvements by the Steelers offensive line against the Lions. We can only hope that trend continues into the regular season. Beggars can't be choosers in this situation. In the immortal words of the great Bill Murray in the hilarious What about Bob movie, it's all about those "Baby steps".
Stock Up: Skill position players
This group was one of the biggest reasons why I was hoping that the Steelers new-look offensive line would show drastic improvement during the preseason. Last year the Steelers didn't have enough skill position talent, now they have too much. Steven Sims made noteworthy plays in all three preseason games, as did Tyler Vaughns. Both had productive training camps. They are at least as capable of matching the contributions of Ray-Ray McCloud and James Washington from last season's receiver group. That being said, there is a strong possibility that neither Sims or Vaughns makes this year's 53-man roster. The tight end depth chart is impressive, and the running back group behind Najee Harris appears capable of giving him a short respite when needed. However, all of the Steelers talented additions at the skill positions will be severely limited without substantial improvement from the offensive line.
Stock Up: Hope
Yes, I said hope. Hope for a successful season for the good guys wearing black and gold. Hope that the franchise gets back to trending in the right direction, the only acceptable direction for the most successful franchise in NFL history. The destination is the mountain top, and the ultimate goal is a seventh Lombardi Trophy sitting in the trophy case.