The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off of a very disappointing 2018 campaign in which they went 9-6-1 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013, largely due to locker room issues.
The Steelers’ locker room lost a couple of distractions this offseason, as Pittsburgh traded away Antonio Brown and saw Le’Veon Bell walk to the New York Jets in free agency.
But Ben Roethlisberger has also been an issue, and he is still present, so have all of the problems really been solved?
I guess we’ll find out soon, as Pittsburgh will kick off its preseason on Friday night when they take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
So, here are three storylines surrounding the Steelers heading into their first preseason contest.
3. What Type of Year Will Devin Bush Have?
The Steelers traded up just to take Devin Bush in the first round of the draft in April, which is something Pittsburgh does not do very often. Clearly, the Steelers see something special in the linebacker, and Bush will likely be starting for Pittsburgh come Week 1.
If Bush lives up to expectations right off the bat, the Steelers’ defense will have a chance to be downright nasty, as Bush will be joining a linebacking corps that already includes names like T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree.
While Pittsburgh still had a solid defense this past year, it was not the type of Steelers defense we are used to where they can consistently dominate games and make the offense’s job a heck of a lot easier.
If Bush can make an immediate impact, Pittsburgh will be that much closer to reliving its defensive glory days.
2. Do They Have Enough Receiving Depth?
Let’s not mince words here: the loss of Brown is a big one on the field, regardless of how much of a headache he was off of it. We are talking about one of the greatest receivers of all-time here, so losing him is going to hurt.
Now, the Steelers still have a stud in JuJu Smith-Schuster, but the problem is, they don’t have much after that. Donte Moncrief is decent, but he seems like more of a No. 3 than a No. 2. James Washington is talented, but he is very unproven. Ryan Switzer? Maybe he can develop into a nice slot receiver, but at the moment, he is a question mark.
Basically, Pittsburgh may end up having a difficult time finding consistent production out of its receiving corps, as no one other than Smith-Schuster (who will surely draw double teams) is going to strike any fear into opposing defenses.
1. Is the Locker Room Fixed?
We are now 16 years into Roethlisberger’s career. The man has won two Super Bowls. He has made six Pro Bowls. He will be in the Hall of Fame one day. And yet, Big Ben may be facing his best test yet in 2019.
With Brown and Bell both gone, some feel that two of the main problems in Pittsburgh’s locker room have been uprooted, which puts the spotlight directly on Roethlisberger. If issues still persist, then it will lend credence to the notion that he—not Brown and Bell—was the primary cause.
The 37-year-old seems to have been making an effort to become a better teammate this offseason, but when the lights go on and the pressure is on, you have to wonder if the old demons will return.
As volatile as Brown was, there is no doubt that Roethlisberger made plenty of mistakes over the last several years, and at this point, it might be too late for him to drastically change.
But this is Roethlisberger’s chance to show that he isn’t the jerk that his image has projected.