It’s still difficult to match names and numbers, as the Pittsburgh Steelers are both new and young. Other than some depth pieces and shoring up special teams, the first official Pittsburgh Steelers depth chart is out, giving fans their first glimpse at the 2023 squad.
The Steelers offense is extremely young offensively with key veteran pieces, but in limited preseason action, they shined. Of course, the pre-season can be misleading. Think of all the guys that stand out through the years, yet you never hear about them again. After all, this team went 3-0 in the 2022 preseason as well, and everyone remembers the start of the year.
All signs would say, things feel much different this go around. It’s a young but now experienced offense, with a fresh mindset that is ready to establish itself as a premier unit in the league. Let’s take a deeper look.
2023 Pittsburgh Steelers offense
Up front, the Steelers are now officially solid and with depth, which is something the team could not say at all last year. The play of the line this offseason was near elite, albeit pre-season. There was no set starting unit throughout the games, but the offensive line played as one, for the better part of pre-season. The line has come together so well that the team moved on from last year’s starting guard, Kevin Dotson, in a trade. Dotson is a solid player although he has had some penalty issues and is still learning in the pass protection department. That makes room for a very young and ever-improving line which also adds draft picks that will be used to keep an influx of youth to coach up moving forward.
Moving Dan Moore to the right side in the last pre-season game speaks to Broderick Jones improving daily and the preparation for the line change down the road. It’s also allowed the team to inject some youth as it looks like youngsters like Spencer Anderson and Dylan Cook are also pieces to the puzzle. Make no mistake about this unit. It is going to be a pile mover that should also be able to create a pocket for the offense to move the ball through the air.
Isaac Seumalo dominated his reps this off-season. James Daniels should vie for a Pro-Bowl nod and Mason Cole will call the protections again but with an added year in the system as well as playing alongside a new leader on his left. As always injuries can derail but with the versatility and the showing by Anderson, Herbig, and Cook the unit should maintain the standard up front moving forward. On the right, this may be Chuks Okorafor’s swan song for the Steelers. A sizeable contract with youth breathing down his neck means the writing is on the wall. Not a bad thing as it should keep him as sharp as he can be. Overall, the right tackle position is in solid hands for now.
The tandem of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren has quickly become one of the better one-two punches in the league and should only bolster that status this season. Two young, solid, runners that each bring a little different skill set to the table while also beginning to make the routine, look routine, they will be talked about often.
Harris is not Warren. Harris is the bell cow. He is the guy that the team drafted, not to break big runs, but to beat up a defense one play at a time. The emergence of Warren was a Godsend, as his burst is one that is physical, but also, he can go the distance, as evidenced by his long touchdown run this pre-season.
Looking back to Warren’s draft profile, he has silenced all of the negatives. All of them. One was his pass protection, which is working toward elite. Another was a lack of vision, with no elite traits. He may not be elite in any one area, but he turns the corner regularly, has great hands and always falls forward.
Throw in the speed of Anthony McFarland, and this is a solid room from top to bottom. McFarland has the speed to take it the distance and the team was not shy about running him between the tackles this pre-season. He passed the test. I’m sure we’ll also see the youngest Heyward in the backfield on a few occasions as his play warrants usage all over the offense. Overall, the running game should improve from where it finished last year based solely on the improvement up front.
...Which has NFL defenses concerned!
Heyward is the “Swiss army knife” of this offense. He can run the ball. He can catch the ball. He can block. The opposing team will not know what his role is from play to play and that can be troubling to a defense. Heyward is listed as a TE and the TE room is officially full. The emergence of not only Heyward but of the “6th offensive lineman” in Darnell Washington has this unit ready to take the league by storm. Washington showed off his already elite blocking skills in camp. He’s a work in progress, but between laying the boom in pre-season, he also showed off that 6’7 frame in the red zone during camp. He will be a utilized weapon in both the pass and run game regularly.
Much of the time, Pickett will look to the next great tight end to emerge in Pittsburgh in Pat Freiermuth, affectionately known to fans as, “Muthhh,” paying homage to Steelers hero Heath Miller. Freiermuth is most likely going to establish himself as a top-five tight end in the league sooner rather than later. He knows how to get open, and fans should see even more of an elevation in his play with the growth of the offense.
Amazingly, we’ve discussed an offense that is ready for a scheme and haven’t even touched on the true playmakers of the unit. As it stands with the run game and tight ends, the Steelers should be able to scheme a plan that moves the ball between the 20s consistently. The offense will move the chains this year, but everyone knows that to win in this league, your red zone game needs to be better than average, and you need to make splash plays.
Enter the game breakers.
Dionte Johnson and George Pickens are already being touted as one of the better tandems in the league as they should be. Johnson has already proven himself, and Pickens? Well, he’s proven that he’s about to take over the league as the top receiver — not just in lip service.
Pickens is still working on his route running skills, but he has shown time and time again he is a playmaker. With that, he has earned Pickett’s trust as they have also worked on their timing, something they could not say last offseason.
The addition of Allen Robinson may be the most overlooked signing of the Steelers offseason. He’s a force in the middle with great hands who will contribute when healthy. More important, however, is his veteran presence for Pickens and Johnson in the locker room.
Diontae Johnson is elite at getting open — top five in the league. He’s an amazing route runner, who looks to silence critics about his lack of touchdowns last year, as well as garnering yards after the catch. That has been a team focus this offseason and the team guarantees we will see the results.
Second-year receiver Calvin Austin III is the true home run hitter of this group. Looking 100% after missing his first season, he hasn’t lost a step. Very simply, it’s up to coaching at this point to put the guys in a position to succeed. Doing the routine, routinely is who the Steelers are trying to become, and the players need the coach’s help to allow the routine to evolve into elite playmaking plays which is a focus prior to opening weekend.
At the center of it all: QB Kenny Pickett.
If you didn’t catch the last Steelers pre-season game, you may have missed the reality that 2023 Kenny Pickett is not 2022 Kenny Pickett. The game has slowed down tremendously for the Steelers starting quarterback. The games must be played but on both of his long passes in that game, he looked like a seasoned vet.
The first throw to the left was a dime to Dionte Johnson who had gotten open between two defenders along the sideline.
It wasn’t the throw that stood out. It was everything prior to the release.
Dropping back, head and eyes firmly directed to center field, in perfect timing, Kenny pops left, plants, and delivers the throw. Later, on the right side, Kenny drops back, once again guiding the secondary with his head and eyes, this time pops right, sets, and fires a shot to a well-covered George Pickens. Pickens does what Pickens is looking to do, which is to catch everything within reach, regardless of who’s draped over him. It wasn’t a fluke; this is how they practice it.
There has been a ton of frustration offensively for the Steelers and its fans going back to Ben Roethlisberger’s last couple of years. Now, it looks as though the team, with Pickett firmly entrenched as the future, has finally solved its offensive personnel issues. With the right guys in place, it’s now up to the coaches to take the chess game from the board room to the field and for Pickett to continue his “check-mate” calls as he did to close out last season.
The Steelers have made it a point to ignite special teams. At the bottom of the roster are a few of the more solid special teams players in the league. They are young, active, and love to hit. They understand their roles as special teams players. They understand that they may not see the field regularly as their roster position dictates, but they are Pittsburgh Steelers nonetheless and an integral part of this year’s potential for success.
Pressley Harvin made the cut. So did Braden Mann, initially. This has Kahn written all over it. This man never stops thinking about the future and this may be another Kahn Job! Unfortunately, it appears,
The Pittsburgh Steelers are possibly the last loyal team — loyal to a fault in the past. Both Mann and Harvin ranked very closely in their abilities, but Harvin’s biggest edge stood as being one of the Steelers' own draft picks.
Harvin has elevated his play each year in the league. His biggest contribution this year is to do the routine, extremely well. Change field position. In the tough games against division foes, most notably the Ravens, special teams, can be the difference between making the playoffs or sitting at home come January. Those typically tight contests come down to a few plays as well as a few inches and if you can consistently switch up field position it gives your team an edge. Harvin should be in for a breakout season, at least as far as punters are concerned.
Chris Boswell should remain Mr. Consistent. “The Wizard of Boz” doesn’t miss and knows the swirling winds of the home field.
The coverage units should be among the league’s best this year. The attention paid at the bottom of the roster with guys like Miles Killebrew and Miles Boykin is less about their listed position and more about the elite level of play they bring to special teams.
The return game is a little of an unknown at this point but does show promise after the preseason. Whether it be Calvin Austin or even Gunner Olszewski, Pittsburgh should expect a solid showing from the return team. Gunner could be in a prime position for a bounce back given an opportunity but at this time it looks like returns are Austin’s responsibility to lose.
As much talk as there has been about the Steelers offense this year reality suggests when you think Steelers: It’s the Defense that comes to mind, and it should be once again in 2023.
Stay tuned for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive preview ahead of the 2023 season.