The Steelers caused a little bit of an internet stir earlier this week with a video of a bearded Ben Roethlisberger throwing passes.
His main target in that video, JuJu Smith-Schuster, came away impressed by what he saw from his veteran teammate, who he thinks is all the Steelers need to return to legitimate contention after missing the playoffs in 2018 and 2019.
"Honestly, I think it's going to be a big year for us," Smith-Schuster said during an appearance on Good Morning Football on Friday. "I was very happy with the draft picks we got, being able to draft a running back, being able to draft (Chase) Claypool. Good defense. We already had a solid defense. Our missing piece was Ben. I think coming up this year, it's going to be a great year for us. ... Just wait. Honestly, I just gotta say just wait and let our pads do the talking."
It's never a bad idea to let the pads send your team's message, even when the only way to send a message during this time is verbally, and not with contact. We won't quite know how well Roethlisberger will be able to play until it's time for activities with said contact, and since the nature of his injury is related to his arm, the element of the unknown feels a bit stronger than in years past.
If you took Smith-Schuster's word, though, you'd be ecstatic and anxious for the season to begin.
"You're getting a version that we all expect that he will be at. He's back," Smith-Schuster said. "He's doing what he's doing. He's throwing NFL passes, there's nothing more to that. I'm excited, James Conner is excited, Ryan Switzer is excited. We're doing things, we're supposed to be doing. And with the great defense we had last year, and this upcoming season I can't wait to play with him."
Though they missed the playoffs last season and were never really in the conversation in the larger AFC discussion, the Steelers should be commended for managing to finish 8-8 amid the circumstances. Year one without both Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown brought more challenges than one could anticipate, starting with the loss of Roethlisberger after just two games. James Conner's persistent injury issues didn't help, nor did the loss of Smith-Schuster to injury, causing him to miss four games. The Steelers went from a team led by a future Hall of Famer at quarterback who was working with promising talent at receiver and running back to a team with an offense engineered by a backup handing off and throwing to backups.
Meanwhile, the Steelers managed to remain competitive because of the rise of their defense, headlined by the acquisition and stellar play of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. That, plus the return of Roethlisberger to an offense that expects to actually be healthy in 2020 instead of constantly banged up, is a strong reason for excitement. We'll listen for word from the pads come September.