For the second year in a row, Pittsburgh Steelers fans were subjected to a longer offseason than expected.
That’s what happens when the Steelers don’t make the playoffs and the season ends in December.
Nearly seven of those eight excruciating months have passed, and the appetizer to the Steelers’ long-awaited 2014 season will be served beginning Friday, when the team reports to training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.
After two straight 8-8 seasons, the Steelers will try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011. That would shorten the 2015 offseason by at least a week.
For that to happen, however, the following questions must be answered in the affirmative.
1. Will There Be Enough Depth Behind Antonio Brown at Wide Receiver?
There’s Antonio Brown, who had 110 receptions for a franchise-record 1,499 yards last season. Then there are four players who could fall anywhere from a No. 2 receiver to a total flameout.
Markus Wheaton was hampered by a broken pinkie and caught just six passes in his rookie season. Lance Moore, signed as a free agent from New Orleans, had a down year with 37 catches last season. But he’s ranked in the top 10 in catch percentage when he’s targeted in three of the last four seasons, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The speedy Darrius Heyward-Bey, a former top-10 draft pick by the Oakland Raiders, is an enigma. The Steelers will be his third team in the last three seasons. The 6’4″ Martavis Bryant, a fourth-round draft pick in May, is the tall receiver Ben Roethlisberger has yearned for, but he has to prove that he has the work ethic to succeed in the NFL.
Derek Moye will have to fight off challenges from Justin Brown, Danny Coale, C.J. Goodwin, Lanear Sampson and Kashif Moore to keep his roster spot.
Lance Moore, who will be 31 at the end of August, could provide a steadying veteran presence as a 5’9″ possession receiver. Wheaton could make a big second-year leap. Bryant could use his length to become an effective red-zone weapon. Heyward-Bey, 27, could return to his 64-reception form of 2011 and use his 4.3 40-yard-dash speed to become a deep threat.
The Steelers need at least two of those scenarios to come to fruition. If not, Antonio Brown will see a lot of double coverage.