The Steelers are less talented on offense, but they left workouts as a closer team.
Clearly, an offense that lost one of the NFL’s best running backs in Le’Veon Bell and a 100-catch wide receiver in Antonio Brown runs the risk of taking a step back. But Pittsburgh players seem to think the offense will be just fine after Bell departed for the New York Jets in free agency and Brown was dealt to the Oakland Raiders following his trade demand.
Guard David DeCastro said the Steelers are more team oriented, while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he thinks the offense still can score between 27 and 30 points per game. JuJu Smith-Schuster is a star wide receiver in his own right, and the Steelers have been one of the best teams in football at drafting and developing young wideouts. At running back, James Conner went to the Pro Bowl after taking over when Bell sat out last season.
Roethlisberger added that it was nice to get back to some normalcy after a few crazy years. If the Steelers are looking for a model of what a refreshed locker room can do for a team, the 2018 Seattle Seahawks provide an example. After dismantling the Legion of Boom secondary — including cornerback Richard Sherman, who had lost faith in quarterback Russell Wilson — the team made the playoffs with a less talented roster.
It was a good offseason for several quarterbacks.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was held out of workouts as he recovers from a torn ACL, but he was brought in for the final play of minicamp and threw a touchdown pass — and he’s expected to be ready for training camp. Signs are similarly good for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who is trying to remake his game after undergoing another shoulder surgery. He has changed his throwing motion to take some pressure off the shoulder, while coaches continue to encourage him to alter his physical style of running by not risking his body against linebackers.
Seattle’s Wilson and the Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott also have looked good this offseason. Wilson worked on making his throwing motion more compact, and during workouts he had more velocity on his short throws and made some exceptional deep passes. Prescott is also working on improving his motion with coaches Kellen Moore and Jon Kitna, but what might help him most is the addition of veteran slot receiver Randall Cobb as a secondary option to top target Amari Cooper.
The 49ers, Panthers and Browns have really improved their defensive lines.
All three of those teams ranked in the bottom 14of yards allowed last season and were among the teams tied for the eighth fewest sacks produced.
But each team’s defensive front looks very different now. Rookie Nick Bosa and trade pickup Dee Ford completed San Francisco’s rebuild of a line that now starts four first-round picks. The Panthers signed Gerald McCoy to an $8 million contract after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released him, and he gives them a formidable trio with Kawann Short and Dontari Poe in their new base 3-4 defensive front. The Browns added defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and edge rusher Olivier Vernon to pair with 2017 No. 1 pick Myles Garrett, giving Cleveland a talented group of rushers.
Nick Foles’s arrival might not be enough to fix the Jaguars.
The signing of Foles has a chance to get the Jaguars back in the playoff mix, but Jacksonville was still plagued by distractions this spring. Linebacker Telvin Smith said he’s sitting out the season. Pro Bowl players Tashaun Gipson and Malik Jackson were released because of salary cap concerns. Cam Robinson (torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee) and Marqise Lee (torn ACL in his left knee) won’t be ready to play at the start of training camp. The team needs running back Leonard Fournette to have a big season, but he missed some time at OTAs, and you have to wonder what kind of season he will have after a disappointing 2018.
Jalen Ramsey might be the Jaguars’ best player, but he isn’t in a good state of mind. The Pro Bowl cornerback missed OTAs, then made it to minicamp only to find out the team is not going to negotiate with him on a contract extension this season.
The Jaguars already are over the cap for next year and may have to shed some players after the season. If they don’t make the playoffs, they could undergo major changes next year.
Kliff Kingsbury is bringing the Air Raid to Arizona. That could be good news for David Johnson.
The Cardinals are going through a lot of changes as their new coach installs his pass-heavy offense, and Johnson might be the most affected. The offense will feature plenty of plays with five wide receivers, meaning the running back could be split out wide on several occasions. And nearly all of his running snaps will come out of the shotgun.
Johnson struggled last season after missing all but one game the previous year because of injury, but in 2016 he rushed for 1,239 yards while catching 80 passes and recording 20 total touchdowns. He will have a chance to produce a bounce-back campaign, and given the nature of Kingsbury’s offense, it’s possible he will get more yards through the air than on the ground.
Coaches in the AFC have been getting their way.
Typically, general managers pick the players, and the coaches coach them. But in the AFC, at least, coaches seem to be getting more power.
The New York Jets stunned many by firing general manager Mike Maccagnan and letting first-year coach Adam Gase get the general manager of his choice, Joe Douglas. Bill O’Brien apparently didn’t like what he saw of general manager Brian Gaine, and Gaine was fired after 1 1/2 years with the team. This is the same conference in which Andy Reid, Bill Belichick and Jon Gruden have significant control over their teams.
O’Brien reportedly wasn’t happy that Gaine didn’t add an offensive tackle such as Nate Solder or Trent Brown in free agency over the past two years, instead going with a pair of small-school tackle prospects in this year’s draft to address a porous offensive line that has made life difficult for franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson. Gase might have had similar concerns, given the state of the Jets’ front wall protecting second-year passer Sam Darnold.