3 Steelers who are showing signs of life under Arthur Smith

Arthur Smith's arrival has been a polarizing move for the Steelers, but these players seem to be taking to his offense very well so far.
New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers
New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers / Justin K. Aller/GettyImages

The Steelers offense has been dreadful for the last few seasons, and calling it dreadful may not even do it justice. They haven't finished inside the top 20 in yards or points since 2020, and they have been one of if not the worst passing teams over the past two seasons.

The midseason firing of offensive coordinator Matt Canada was the first step towards fixing the offense, but many fans were not impressed with who was hired to fill his shoes.

Arthur Smith now runs the offense after a failed stint as the Atlanta Falcons head coach. Smith's offenses in Atlanta were not significantly better than what Pittsburgh's were over that same three-year span, but his time as the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator was much more successful.

There are a few players who are already showing out this offseason in his offense who had lackluster seasons in 2023, and perhaps under Smith, they can show signs of life in 2024.

Russell Wilson's career is in the hands of Arthur Smith

Russell Wilson's NFL career has taken a sharp downturn since leaving Seattle back in 2022. His two years with the Denver Broncos were easily the worst of his career, so much so that the Broncos cut him despite there being over 200 million left on his contract.

His inability to attack the middle of the field and handle pressure has been exposed now that he has gotten older. He used to be able to escape pressure and move out of the pocket to make plays when he was more athletic, but now that he isn't quite as quick he needs to adjust to stay productive.

Arthur Smith had already helped a veteran QB find himself after a failed stint elsewhere when he turned Ryan Tannehill into an above-average starter in Tennessee. Tannehill's skillset was a better fit for Smith's offense, but so far this summer Wilson has impressed in practice and seems to be comfortable with the offense.

Smith does require his QBs to be able to attack the middle of the field, something Wilson has never done. If Wilson wants to prolong his career, he will have to make it work this year in Pittsburgh.

Calvin Austin lll was the star of the summer

With the departure of Diontae Johnson and Allen Robinson, the Steelers have 136 targets to replace in the receiving corps. One player that the team is hoping to finally show the ability to handle a full workload is Calvin Austin lll.

Austin's first two seasons in the NFL have been marred by injury and ineffectiveness, with just 28 total touches for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Matt Canada's lack of creativity is partially to blame, but Austin's small stature (5'8", 162lbs) and lack of a defined role didn't do him any favors.

During minicamp this summer, however, Austin has received nothing but praise from the Steelers coaching staff. Something I think that gets forgotten with Austin is how dominant he was in college playing on the outside for Memphis.

He had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons while playing over 80% of his snaps out wide, despite his lack of size, and I believe he could survive there in the NFL if he is kept off the ball where corners can't press him at the line. Maybe Arthur Smith is the guy to unlock him.

Darnell Washington could have a real role in the passing game

Name something Arthur Smith likes more than the second-best tight end on his roster. That's right, you can't. All jokes aside, Smith has consistently used 12 personnel in his offense to try and take advantage of smaller, faster NFL defenses.

That could mean an uptick for starting tight end Pat Freiermuth, but the real winner is his big, hulking running mate Darnell Washington.

Washington was used primarily as a blocker in his rookie season last year, which should be no surprise given his impressive 6'7" frame. He was billed as a potential mismatch in the red zone with his size and length, but he was targeted just 10 times in nearly 200 passing snaps. Matt Canada clearly wasn't interested in using Washington as a receiving threat, but Smith has been great at utilizing different skill sets at the tight end position.

Washington will never be a high-volume receiver, but he can be a valuable weapon in the right situation.