With the recent hiring of Offensive Coordinator Arthur Smith, the Pittsburgh Steelers are gearing up for a season of notable changes. Smith brings a fresh offensive scheme and philosophy, diverging from the team's recent approaches. His strong emphasis on the run game, coupled with a balanced marriage of run and pass, reflects his strategy of building success around an effective running game.
Smith's playbook incorporates elements like play action, pre-snap motion, and heavy personnel – components that have been lacking for the Steelers in recent years. One significant change is the transition from the previously successful gap scheme to a wide zone running scheme.
Yet, not all players are guaranteed a secure spot in this new era under Arthur Smith. Some may need to adapt or face potential departure for the offense to thrive in Pittsburgh. The shift demands a collective effort and a willingness to embrace the changes brought by Smith's new approach.
Diontae Johnson and George Pickens must be willingly to block
The first two players who won't be departing but must fully commit are George Pickens and Diontae Johnson. Arthur Smith doesn't tolerate any nonsense and won't support selfish play. The success of this offense hinges on a cohesive unit, and these wide receivers must set aside their egos, particularly in the run game. In a zone-blocking team, everyone needs to be a willing blocker for the run game to flourish, and Pickens and Johnson must step up in this aspect.
Arthur Smith is intolerant of players who don't contribute crucially to the scheme, and with a heavy emphasis on the run game, the play-action will be heavily utilized. For Pickens and Johnson to receive a fair share of targets, similar to AJ Brown and Corey Davis in Tennessee, they need to excel in the finer details.
Smith, known for his innovative concepts, encourages adaptation and evolution. While Pickens and Johnson will undoubtedly get their opportunities, improvement in these essential areas is crucial for the success of this offense.
Mason Cole's future is up in the air
Another player on shaky ground is Mason Cole. With the Senior Bowl taking place this week, there's considerable attention on the centers in this draft class. It's almost a certainty that Mason Cole will be let go, considering his cap hit and performance. If he manages to avoid being cut, he's unlikely to secure the starting position in 2024.
In the context of the run game, especially in a Zone scheme, linemen need specific traits and characteristics that align with Arthur Smith's preferences. Attributes such as athleticism, explosiveness, and a combination of physicality and intelligence are crucial. The emphasis on moving effectively in space and being a formidable run blocker is highly valued in Smith's offensive scheme.
The Steelers' most pressing need on the offensive line is the Center position, and unfortunately, Mason Cole falls short in terms of the high-end athleticism and physicality sought for this scheme. His performance has been subpar, making him the glaring weakness on the offensive line. Anticipating this, I expect the Steelers to target a center early in the draft to fill the void left since the retirement of Maurkice Pouncey.
Uncertainty with Dan Moore Jr.
Another player facing uncertainty is Dan Moore. While I anticipate his return for the upcoming season since he's in the last year of his rookie deal, there's uncertainty regarding whether the team will draft a tackle early on to potentially replace him. Moore hasn't quite met the required standards, and it's unclear how well he will fit into Arthur Smith's offensive scheme.
With Broderick Jones drafted as a left tackle, a smart move would be to shift Jones back to his natural position and allow him to continue his development in that role instead of playing as a right tackle. While Moore is a serviceable starting tackle, the team should actively explore ways to replace him, considering he has been a liability on the offensive line.
If the Steelers can secure another athletic and physically dominant player like Broderick Jones, the offensive line holds great potential to make this new offense flourish.