Steelers Stock Report: 2023 Season Preview
This Steelers Stock Report article is going to look a little different, primarily because we didn’t have an actual game to discuss this week. Thankfully, this scenario won’t happen again until the bye week rolls around.
Without actual performances to discuss, I am going to focus on the substantial evidence provided by the Steelers throughout training camp and the preseason. This Steelers squad appears to be loaded with potential, with an enviable blend of experience and youth. The talent is there. Now it’s time for the execution.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Offense
Much has changed since the end of last season. The loudest refrain emanating from the majority of Steelers fans immediately after the season was what would the Steelers do with OC Matt Canada. I should know, because I was one of them.
The much maligned offensive line had finally started to show sustainable improvement during the second half of last season. Their performance allowed the Steelers to become one of the best time of possession offenses in the NFL. Mike Tomlin finally adopted a two running back rotation, which excellent results. Rookie QB Kenny Pickett proved to be a conservative game manager, with clutch tendencies. George Pickens could make the spectacular seem pedestrian, but was basically a one trick pony. Pat Freiermuth was the most reliably consistent target for Pickett, but needed some help.
Basically, Canada’s scheme could possess the football, but struggled mightily to score the football.
Flash forward to the 2023 preseason slate of games for the Steelers. Kenny Pickett looks large and in charge of the Steelers offense, after an offseason of hard work developing chemistry with his talented stable of pass catchers. His leadership is unmistakable, evidenced by him being named the Steelers sole offensive captain. Pickett appears destined to take a gigantic step forward as a NFL signal caller in Year 2. Now it’s time to turn appearances into reality.
The Steelers offensive line holds the key to any offensive improvement for the Steelers. Prized free agent LG Isaac Seumalo is primed to take this line to the next level. LT Dan Moore Jr was supposed to surrender his starting spot to first round rookie Broderick Jones, but Moore had no intention of going down without a fight. To his credit, Moore took his game to another level, and remains the starter for the time being. Everybody wins in this scenario. The deepest offensive line depth chart in recent memory, if not ever.
The aforementioned George Pickens no longer looks like a one trick rookie. Now he looks like a complete receiver on the cusp of superstardom. Pat Freiermuth finally has some reliable help. Calvin Austin lll gives the Steelers the type of elite speed and big play potential they have lacked since Mike Wallace. Darnell Washington is full of untapped potential, after being criminally underutilized at Georgia. He has only scratched the surface of his immense capabilities. On top of all that, Connor Heyward is the Steelers most overlooked weapon, capable of impacting games in a multitude of ways.
Now it’s up to Matt Canada to devise effective game plans, and Pickett and company to execute them efficiently. The preseason looked promising, but means nothing in the big picture. However, the momentum was real, and so was the confidence gained. Hopefully it carries over.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Defense
The 2022 Steelers defense never quite lived up to expectations, mainly due to T.J. Watt’s lingering injury, and the most mediocre interior linebacker group I care to remember. The Steelers lost two starters in free agency; CB Cameron Sutton and SS Terrell Edmunds. The Steelers were smart to not overpay Sutton, and they showed no interest in retaining Edmunds.
Omar Khan signed multiple experienced defensive free agents to reestablish the physicality and ultra aggressive mindset in Pittsburgh. Patrick Peterson, Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts, Kwon Alexander, Armon Watts, and Keanu Neal perfectly fit that description. Each provides valuable leadership to go along with all that experience. The Steelers also drafted three outstanding rookies in Joey Porter Jr, Keannu Benton, and Nick Herbig. All three seem more than capable of contributing bigtime this season.
Truthfully, that’s alot of new faces in new places for one offseason, especially for a franchise renowned for their stability. But times, they be a changing. Khan and Weidl are relentlessly searching daily for another way to strengthen the roster. The Steelers worked out 4 free agents on Tuesday. Not because of an injury, or a particular need. The Steelers practice squad is already full. Khan considers roster building to be a 365 days a year occupation. I find that extremely refreshing.
There are bound to be occasional growing pains for the new look defense, especially early in the season, but the Steelers have the talent to be a Top 5 unit by season’s end. Their depth is much improved since last season.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Special teams
I almost labeled this section Steelers Stock Trending Water, but changed my mind after some soul searching.
I wholeheartedly expect Chris Boswell to have a bounce back season. The Steelers offense struggled mightily to score in the red-zone, making them overly reliant on Boswell’s powerful right leg. A lingering groin injury affected him throughout the season, negatively impacting his confidence and accuracy. Outside of a couple of shaky seasons, Boswell has been the model of consistency and clutch.
Pressley Harvin III easily won what I believe was a honest to goodness punter competition during training camp with Braden Mann. Mann is an experienced NFL caliber punter, and I fully expected him to challenge the consistently inconsistent Harvin. I consider the fact that Harvin won the competition to be a good omen for his future. Hopefully he has cleaned up his ball drops, which will lead to far fewer shanks, especially in bad weather conditions.
The main reason I went with Trending Up instead of Trending Water for this section is one man: Calvin Austin III. I am actually shocked that Austin isn’t the starting kick returner, yet. All will be revealed in good time. Austin has elite game changing speed and elusiveness. You want to get the ball in his hands in open space as much as possible. Austin is going to be an impact player for the Steelers, both on offense and special teams. You heard it here first, folks. I remember a Steelers punt returner getting run down from behind in a game recently. The Steelers would have probably won that particular game if the returner had enough speed to complete the task. I don’t see anybody running down Austin in that same scenario.
In conclusion, I believe all 3 aspects of this Steelers roster are trending up. Now it’s time for the Steelers to go out there and prove it for real against the San Francisco Forty Niners. Go Steelers!
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