On every elite team there is serious competition every year in certain positions. Heading into the 2015-2016 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have some young talent that has a fair chance of going from backup to starter by Week One of the 2015 regular season.
One of the first names that comes to mind is wide reciever Martavis Bryant. Bryant clearly has the size, speed, and hands teams crave for a starting wide receiver. Bryant devloped at a steeady rate as the season wore on in 2014, to the point in which the Steelers began to open up the playbook for him in screens, end arounds and jump ball situations. Also Bryant begin to do a better job at catching the ball more with his hands and less with his body.
The player he must outperform is Markus Wheaton who had 54 catches and displayed above average quickness, good route running skills and steady hands. Wheaton, however, showed little to nothing as a deep threat nor has Wheaton shown the playmaking ability of Bryant – only scoring two touchdowns as a starter while Bryant scored eight in ten regular season games.
Both Wheaton and Bryant are expected to improve, but it’s intriguing to consider how productive Bryant can be with more playing time.
Nose tackle Daniel McCullers’ playing time increased as the regular season wore on due to his efficient play. For a man of his immense site, McCullers showed he could diagnose running plays at a decent rate and move downhill and laterally extremely well. Often times, while playing nose tackle, McCullers occupied two blocks, forcing runners to hesitate and be stopped for little to no gain. Because he was not a three-down player, he didn’t have much of an opportunity to show what he could do as a pass rusher.
With a year of expierence under his belt McCullers should be quicker at understanding offensive line tendencies and be even better at understanding running plays before they fully develop. If McCullers can emerge at least as a two- down run stopper it will make the Steelers pass rush better by default because the offensive play calling would be more predictable.
Starting nose tackle Steve McLendon has shown flashes of his skills but has been inconsistent. McLendon is a more advanced pass rusher then McCullers is, but often opposing teams ran the football directly at McLendon and had success repeatedly. History shows the Steelers defense is not elite without the nose tackle playing at a high level.
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