The Pittsburgh Steelers get an "A" in history for their activity during the 2013 offseason.
That doesn't mean every move the Steelers made is the right one. It means they're doing three things that have worked well for the franchise in the past, and if history repeats itself, the Steelers will make a deep playoff run in 2013.
Watch how these three scenarios unfold during the 2013 season.
1. Promoting Cortez Allen to Starting Cornerback
That's how impressed they are with Cortez Allen.
Allen's role increased in 2012 when Ike Taylor was lost for the season in Week 13 at Baltimore. Allen broke up three passes in that game and broke up three more against the Cincinnati Bengals three weeks later.
With the Steelers fighting for their playoff lives, Allen also intercepted two passes and forced a fumble in that Week 16 home loss to the Bengals. He forced two more fumbles in the season finale, a 24-10 win over the Cleveland Browns.
Allen's emergence in the last two games of 2012 is reminiscent of Troy Polamalu and Deshea Townsend in 2003.
Like Allen, Polamalu and Townsend were defensive backs who had been role players. Like Allen, Polamalu and Townsend came of age late in a non-playoff season.
Polamalu was a rookie who did not start any games in 2003. He had his first career sack in Week 13, then another in Week 16. He provided a glimpse of what was to come by forcing his first career fumble in Week 16.
Then in 2004, Polamalu started all 16 games with five interceptions for a 15-1 team. His legendary locks will be carved into a bust in Canton one day.
The parallels between Allen and Townsend are even sharper.
Allen has played two seasons. Townsend was in his sixth season in 2003 but not a full-time starter. He started the last eight games in 2003 and made three interceptions, including a pick-six, in the last two games.
Townsend won't be a Hall of Famer like Polamalu, but after his late-season surge in 2003 he became a regular starter at cornerback for the next four years. He finished his Steelers career with 84 passes defended and 21 interceptions.
Considering their difficulty forcing turnovers the last two seasons, the Steelers would gladly accept similar numbers from Allen over the next few seasons.
2. Drafting Wide Receivers in the Third and Sixth Rounds
The Steelers drafted wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders in the third round and Antonio Brown in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL draft.
Both of them helped the Steelers get to Super Bowl XLV as rookies, and now they're the Steelers' top two receivers heading into 2013.
This year, the Steelers again drafted receivers in the third and sixth rounds. They took Oregon State's Markus Wheaton in the third round and Oklahoma's Justin Brown in the sixth round.
The Steelers don't need both Wheaton and Brown to become prominent as rookies for history to repeat itself in this case.
Even if Brown is stashed on the practice squad, Wheaton can help the Steelers get back to the playoffs.
The Steelers drafted two receivers because they lost Mike Wallace to free agency. Wheaton might not be able to completely replace Wallace's speed. However, he's fast enough to have run track at Oregon State.
According to NFL.com's pre-draft scouting report, Wheaton is a more well-rounded receiver than Wallace. NFL.com predicted Wheaton would go in the first two rounds because of his "ability to test defenses horizontally and vertically."
It doesn't look like Wheaton will have to worry about Steelers coach Mike Tomlin slapping the "one-trick pony" label on him.
3. Changing Philosophy on the Offensive Line
The Steelers offensive line needs to do a better job opening holes for running backs. Pittsburgh rushed for 96.1 yards per game last season, 26th in the NFL.
Jonathan Dwyer led the Steelers with 623 yards, the lowest total for a Steelers leading rusher since Merril Hoge gained
810 610 yards in 1991, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
New Steelers offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. prefers smaller, more athletic offensive linemen over lumbering behemoths. He told Bob Labriola of Steelers.com that he doesn't like offensive linemen "who get huge and then they can't bend and move."
When second-year Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley was head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010, the Chiefs led the NFL in rushing and made the playoffs with an offensive line that averaged less than 300 pounds, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Furthermore, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Steelers will employ a new blocking strategy in 2013. The outside zone-blocking scheme involves offensive linemen blocking an area rather than just plowing straight ahead. The running back aims for a spot outside the tight end.
This transition echoes Chuck Noll's thinking in the early 1970s. Via Chad Millman and Shawn Coyne, The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, the Cowboys, the '70s and the Fight for America's Soul, page 132, Gotham Books, 2010:
While the trend in the league was to put big beefy men up front, Noll wanted his guys to be smaller and faster. His preferred method of running the ball wasn't to overpower a defensive line, it was to use a defender's aggressive nature against himself by executing trap blocks. In a trap the offensive lineman doesn't initially block the defensive lineman across from him. He just lets him go, while another offensive lineman pulls from his position and blindsides the onrushing defender.
Even if outside zone blocking isn't the same as trap blocking, the Steelers are shifting the personnel and scheme of their offensive line in 2013.
It worked out pretty well in the 1970s.
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