Are the Steelers the team that started the 2013 season 2-6 and took 291 defensive plays before registering their first takeaway? Or are they the one that finished 6-2, just an Antonio Bryant shoelace out of bounds or a Ryan Succup missed field goal away from the postseason?
We’re about to find out. What is not debatable is that the Steelers are an organization that has gone 8-8 the past two seasons and hasn’t won a playoff game since January 2011.
Those last two developments do not sit well with the organization, the coaching staff or the players. That much is evident. When the Steelers report to St. Vincent College for the start of training camp Friday, it should be with a singular purpose: A return to the playoffs.
Though the roster has been nearly completely retooled the last two off-seasons the Steelers are just another .500 season away from reaching historic depths.
It’s been 14 years since the Steelers missed the playoffs three straight seasons. It’s been another 43 years since they posted three straight non-winning seasons, which were the first three years under the late Chuck Noll.
This year, speed seems to be the buzzword surrounding the Steelers. They will be younger and faster on defense, most notably with Ryan Shazier. The first-round pick brings talent and a no non-sense attitude.
“I still have a lot to do and a lot of improvements to make, but things feel like they’re finally starting to slow down a little bit,” Shazier said.
On the other side of the ball, the Steelers will continue to tweak a no-huddle offense which worked with great success at the end of last season. It’s made the Steelers’ offense less predictable and provided a new identity.
“I’d like to say a fast, high-scoring offense, because I think we have a lot of speed,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “That’s running the ball, that’s throwing the ball, whatever it is. But I want us to be fast, and I want us to put a lot of points on the board.”
Speed can be a valuable weapon, but, as Troy Polamalu noted during spring practice, Usain Bolt doesn’t play football.
Despite a lack of depth at several positions, most notably in the secondary, the talent, the right blend of youth and experience and a favorable schedule would seem to be in place for the Steelers to make a return to postseason play. Whether that happens will depend largely on good health and a dose of good luck.