Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

7 Storylines Which Will Define and Determine Steelers' Season

An unfamiliar underdog status may help the Steelers get back to the playoffs and beyond.



Embed from Getty Images


OTAs are never definitive, but there’s likewise no disputing that the off-season sessions the Steelers commenced this week have been different.

“The team definitely feels a lot different,” offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva insisted. “This is going to be my sixth year, this is by far the most amount of change, positive change, that I’ve seen since I’ve been here, so everybody’s extremely excited.”​

Villanueva is embracing all the perceived change, but he refused to elaborate on the specifics of its nature.

“It’s a lot of things,” was as far as he’d go. “It’s really good to be a Steeler right now.”

Perhaps, in retrospect, that’s what Brown has done for them.

Still, the trade of Antonio Brown hasn’t answered all of the Steelers’ questions.​

OTAs and training camp won’t, either.

They may have cleansed the palate and cleared the air, but there’s still an uncomfortable uncertainty regarding how they’ll eventually get from here to there (“there” in this instance is back to the Super Bowl, not to New England for the opener in September).

The storylines worth monitoring along the way include:

  • Getting Their Kicks: The impact of Chris Boswell’s decline from the 13-3, 2017 season to last season’s 9-6-1 can’t be overstated. The Steelers love the Boswell from two seasons ago but aren’t convinced they’ll be getting that guy back. They’ll be pondering options at the position for the time being, maybe even beyond New England. When they settle on a kicker eventually it’ll be a leap of faith.
     
  • Next Man Up: No one’s going to miss Brown the malcontent. But when it’s fourth-and-15 potential distraction doesn’t matter; you have to throw it to a guy who can catch it. The 15 touchdowns Brown scored in 15 games last season will become easier to remember if they can’t find a player or players capable of scoring them with such relentless regularity this season.
     
  • Putting the Puzzle Together: The Steelers addressed cornerback and inside linebacker in veteran free agency and in the draft. They’ve given themselves options. The next step is sorting them all out, particularly at inside linebacker, where Vince Williams, Mark Barron and No. 1 pick Devin Bush are currently sharing two positions. The perpetual rebuild of the defense won’t end until they figure out who plays where in sub-packages.
     
  • Special Attention: Beyond kicker and punter, the coverage and return teams need to be better. This, too, was addressed in the draft. The team will be made in at least a couple of instances by those who can excel at and avoid penalties in the kicking game. Have they once and for all found those guys this time?
     
  • Be Like Mike: The NFL’s best offensive line coach, Mike Munchak, has left for Denver. He’s been replaced by Shaun Sarrett, who has the Steelers’ confidence but neither Munchak’s Hall-of-Fame credentials as a player or wealth of experience and expertise as an NFL coach. Munchak might have been the Steelers’ most significant off-season loss.
     
  • Tomlin’s Tenure: Will Mike Tomlin get the contract extension usually bestowed upon Steelers head coaches with two seasons remaining, or will such a commitment have to be earned via a bounce-back season? And whether or not he gets the former, will Tomlin have to change his ways, subtly or significantly, to achieve the latter?

And, last but not least:

  • An Underdog Story: The Steelers are perennially perceived as favorites, or so it seems.

Not this season.

Not after missing the playoffs last season and all the drama, tumult and turnover of the off-season.

“To hear people not talk as highly of us has kinda put a chip on people’s shoulders,” cornerback Joe Haden maintained. “This team, they’ve never really been underdogs ever since I’ve been playing.

“Just having that chip on our shoulder, having that people are doubting us, I think that’s something we can use to our advantage.”

They might have to given all there’s yet to resolve.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

New Smallman Galley Cocktail Menu Pays Homage to The Royal Tenenbaums

The Strip District food hall's late-summer drinks menu riffs on the Wes Anderson cult classic.

What's Your Favorite Happy Hour?

After Dark wants to know about your preferred spot for after-work drinks and deals.

The 400-Word Review: Good Boys

This raunchy comedy isn't just funny — it's surprisingly sweet.

#Shalieve in Love: An Exclusive Look at the Shaziers' Wedding

Ryan Shazier and wife Michelle Rodriguez never lost faith that they’d get their dream day. A year and a half after the Steelers linebacker suffered a severe spinal injury, he danced at his wedding.

11 Real Pittsburgh Weddings

Chosen from more than 70 submissions, these 11 couples celebrated with lots of personal touches at local venues. We share all of the details that got them to “I Do.”

Coach Mike Tomlin Confronts Sorrow from the Heart

The Steelers’ head coach dug deep while leading his team through its grief over the loss of beloved assistant coach Darryl Drake. The words were hard to find but Tomlin found them while revealing a side of himself the fans and media don’t always see.

Recommended Pittsburgh Eating: 4 Recent Dishes I Loved

PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein says fried chicken, sour cherry soup, longevity noodles and garden-fresh Italian cooking have his attention this month.

Sandcastle's New Water Slide Promises a Wild Ride

The Homestead water park's new slide will send riders free falling at 26-feet-per second.

Cookie Table Contest Winners and Runners Up: A Taste of Pittsburgh

Cookie tables are wonderful things in and of themselves, but more and more couples choose to go above and beyond.

Get a Sneak Peek at Homes About to Hit the Market

Launched by North Hills resident Wendy Gilch, Selling Later is a new online community that allows future home sellers and prospective home buyers to connect — before the house is listed.

History Made in a Big Pittsburgh Way

A local organization has established a world record for the largest wedding cookie table, and we've got the pictures to prove it.

Giant Holiday Light Display Coming to Pittsburgh

What makes this display different is that it's all indoors.

PM on KD: Golden Anniversaries

Pittsburgh Magazine editor Brian Hyslop appeared on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live to discuss our August issue feature story on six important dates from the year of our founding — 1969.

What Millennials Want to See on Screen

"Reclaimed Roles," a photo series by local photographer Joe Lowrey and creative director Cat Burton, imagines what iconic films could look like with more diverse leads.

Steelers Rookie Getting His Ducks in a Row

Off-the-radar, out-of-nowhere quarterback candidate Devlin Hodges is making a name for himself at Saint Vincent College. Can the NFL really be his true calling?