Last season, upon my arrival here, I decided that I wanted to do a weekly postgame column called 'Flavell's Five Thoughts,' highlighting the biggest moments of each Pittsburgh Steelers games.
It was successful enough for me to want to bring it back this season. So for that, I thank you all greatly.
But enough about me. There is so much to talk about and so many points of interest heading into the season that there's no time to wait until the aftermath of the next meaningful game.
So without further ado, let's discuss some Steelers football, shall we?
The Excitement Level is High for Najee Harris
As first-round picks usually go, there is a portion of the fanbase who loved selecting running back Najee Harris with the first-round pick back in March. And, of course, a portion that felt there were bigger needs on the table.
I was a part of the excited crowd, and I stated my case for why they couldn't pass on him in an article before the draft.
Watching plenty of Alabama games over the past few seasons, it was clear to see why Harris can succeed in the NFL. He comes from a school with an extensive list of productive players at his position. He plays the exact type of style the Steelers covet in a running back. Most importantly, he provides an upgrade in what could be perceived as the Steelers' weakest area last season.
James Conner has since moved onto the Arizona Cardinals. Harris is the bell cow back now. He'll be flanked by returning youngsters Benny Snell Jr. and Anthony McFarland Jr. But the stage is all his.
The offensive line is raw. Sure, the Steelers could've used that pick on a lineman. But they found a new starting center with Kendrick Green in the third round. They've assembled other pieces through free agency to help fill some gaps. They'll make it work.
Harris provides a threat that the Steelers didn't have last season: a rough-and-tumble running game that teams must respect along with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's arm.
Give me all five years of this kid. Run the wheels off if you have to.
It's Time for a Drama-Free Season
In the midst of the Steelers running off 11 straight wins to open the season, JuJu Smith-Schuster seemed to be making more headlines for his Tik-Tok dances than his on-field play.
Personally, I had no issues with him having fun. Certainly, he's trying to continue to build his brand. Good for him. Every athlete deserves an opportunity to do that.
But don't put it above your team's success.
Smith-Schuster was a distraction. Whether he meant to be or not - and clearly he wasn't trying to upset his teammates - he was a distraction. Did his dancing on opposing teams' logos directly cause the Steelers to collapse late in the season? No, that's preposterous.
But it got enough media talking and fan displeasure that it seemed to gain more attention than the team's play on the field. That can't happen.
Smith-Schuster's free agent market wasn't quite as hot as he expected it to be. Alas, he's back in Pittsburgh on a one-year prove-it deal. Produce and stay quiet while doing it. That's really all he's got to do, and he'll get paid handsomely in free agency next offseason.
We've seen Devin Bush go on Twitter binges this offseason. He's gotten more attention than he probably needs from social media. That kind of stuff can't happen in-season.
Let the play do the talking. Don't give other teams bulletin board material every week. It's quite simple, actually. It's time to just go about your business and have a successful, drama-free season.
What Ben Roethlisberger Will We See?
It'll certainly be interesting to see what version of Roethlisberger comes to play this season.
He looks very healthy and ready to compete in his age-39 season. The arm talent was still there last season and very much should be again this season. He had more time to prepare for this season as opposed to a grinding and grueling rehab last offseason.
It was clear that late in the season, his arm seemed to fatigue and he was asked to do too much. Can he stave that off this season at this stage of his career? That much remains to be seen.
And whatever version of Roethlisberger does appear come week one all the way through to week 18 will be a determining factor in whether the Steelers participate in the postseason again in 2021.
Ingram vs. Highsmith Should be a Healthy Competition
After losing Bud Dupree to free agency, the Steelers were left thin at outside linebacker. TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith were primed to be the starters but a lot of inexperienced players loomed behind.
Pittsburgh did something about that and signed Melvin Ingram to a one-year deal.
Due to his injury history, the two-time pro bowler remained available this late into the offseason. The Steelers pounced on a chance to add legitimate talent to that unit for a cheap price.
Highsmith shined last year when given a chance. The Steelers spent a third-round draft choice on him last season, so it's likely he will be afforded a chance to start. But he can't play every snap. Watt doesn't even do that. This will allow guys to stay fresh and maybe keep Ingram healthier for a more productive version of himself.
Of course, keeping Highsmith on his toes and pushing to remain the starter opposite of Watt doesn't hurt. If Ingram is cool with a rotation of some sort, the Steelers have a lot more depth at outside linebacker than they did entering training camp. That's a big deal.
Are the Steelers a Legit Playoff Contender?
All of this begs the above question.
I've said before I won't be surprised if they finish 11-6, and I won't be shocked if they finish 6-11. There are just so many variables.
The makeup of a good team is there. They've got a franchise quarterback, a very good defense, and some solid weapons on offense to compliment Roethlisberger. They've got a top-five head coach in football leading the way and a general manager willing to do whatever to make the team better. What more can you ask for?
But between the offensive line, Roethlisberger's season-long health, new offensive coordinator, etc., nothing can officially be set in stone.
I'd like to think that because of the seventh playoff team being added to the postseason, the Steelers can make it. After all, many of their misses over the past decade came because they were the first team outside of the playoff field. But if the variables trend in the wrong direction, the Steelers could very much find themselves outside of a playoff spot and flirting with a top-10 pick in next year's NFL Draft.
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