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The 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers will test all assumptions

It’s an exciting time to ponder the potential of a substantially changed Steelers team.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

As we anxiously await the opening kickoff to the Steelers regular season, it’s important to appreciate that we’ll be watching a new and fundamentally different edition of the Black and Gold this year. Whether fans like it or not, the upcoming season will demand substantial reserves of patience.

Given the absence of a franchise quarterback who defined the offense for nearly two decades, and considering the conspicuous fact that the Steelers embark on their new season with some significant uncertainty at the quarterback position, it’s difficult to maintain expectations at quite the same level that typified the Roethlisberger Era. But fans’ optimism got a big boost in the wake of Kenny Pickett’s preseason debut against the Seahawks in Pittsburgh on Saturday night. Yet particularly with regard to question marks concerning the Steelers’ run defense and offensive line, it’s far too early to judge whether all of these pieces are going to fall into place this season.

Win or lose, the methodical process of developing a serious Super Bowl contender remains the most intriguing aspect of pro football. Championships come and go, but the building process is eternal. Winning obviously is the primary goal, but there’s also plenty of excitement along the road to the winner’s circle. Precisely because nobody has any basis yet for knowing how it will unfold, the 2022 campaign offers Steelers Nation a far more intriguing story than many previous seasons.

Steelers fans will have ample opportunity this season to be captivated by the performances of new faces added during the past couple of years who show promise to become tomorrow’s stars. Fans also will get a different perspective for evaluating the capabilities of the Steelers coaching staff, especially in terms of how well they adapt to these personnel changes. In particular, the 2022 season looks very much like it might be the foremost challenge of Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s career. That’s because, unlike the teams of past seasons, the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers will be a fairly new group only beginning to define its identity.

While it’s important to approach this season realistically, surprises like the early performances of Pickett, George Pickens and other newcomers will generate much of the excitement, discussion and debate. Assuming that Pickett continues his early progress and emerges as heir apparent to Ben Roethlisberger, this story alone would make a thrilling spectacle for Steelers Nation, particularly in view of Pickett’s college career in Pittsburgh and the team’s uber-talented receiver corps. Likewise, if offseason additions to the OL and defense pan out as anticipated, the Black and Gold promise to be an exciting team to watch regardless of how the season unfolds.

Enough uncertainty exists regarding the character of this Steelers team that the 2022 season shapes up as the proverbial box of chocolates. Forecasting the outcome will be difficult, if not impossible. Consequently, jumping to any conclusions based on the Steelers’ early sample of work during September likely will be off target. The “Super Bowl or bust” mantra has been a constant theme in Pittsburgh for many years, but suspending judgment seems a more appropriate attitude for 2022.

As we watch this revamped Steelers team grow and develop during the year, we should keep in mind that there’s a silver lining regardless of the uncertainties and inevitable setbacks. When expectations are realistic — not overblown as they’ve often been in past seasons — every positive step the Steelers take can be viewed as a milestone and an occasion for more optimism about the team’s future. That’s the intriguing aspect of what looks like a pivotal season for the franchise and definitely something every Steelers fan should look forward to.