5 for Friday: Steelers finalize aggressive offseason

The hay is in the barn. The 53-man rosters – for the most part – have been set across the NFL.

It's finally time for some football.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Steelers' 53-man roster is that with the trades of both Kendrick Green and Kevin Dotson, to the Texans and Rams, respectively, the Steelers have just two offensive linemen remaining from their 2021 roster, those being tackles Dan Moore Jr. and Chuks Okorafor.

That's a complete rebuild of the line in just two years, and what was considered a liability in that 2021 season is now considered a strength.

Credit the front office for being aggressive in rebuilding that line. But also credit offensive line coach Pat Meyer for doing a good job of working with the group and gaining better cohesion within the unit.

But it's also a reminder of how quickly things can change in the NFL, where two seasons are an eternity.

"Me and Chuks are the only two left. That's how it is," left tackle Dan Moore Jr. said. "I'm learning that it's definitely a business. Year to year you see new faces with the team. It's good to be a part of it again."

That rebuilt offensive line, which added four new bodies this season, including starting left guard Isaac Seumalo, is a big reason the Steelers have so much confidence heading into the 2023 season.

The Steelers know how they finished last season, and they see Seumalo as a clear upgrade to that line. They also have seen how players such as Moore have taken their game to another level.

"I think we caught a little bit of a rhythm. We found some offensive cohesiveness," Moore said of how the Steelers finished last season on a 7-2 run. "I just feel like there's a certain type of swagger we have. I could feel that elevating last year as we ended the season. If we can start based off how we finished last season, we can continue to grow."

And a 3-0 preseason in which the first-team offense scored touchdowns on all five possessions it was on the field did nothing to dispel that swagger.

"Preseason was definitely a confidence boost to show a baseline of where we are," Moore said. "But obviously, none of that means anything. We'll find out pretty soon. I like where we are."

• You have to like the aggressiveness with which the Steelers attacked the entire 2023 offseason.

They weren't messing around at all. But you can be aggressive when you're not paying your quarterback big money.

The Ravens and Browns are already at that point where their quarterbacks are now taking up a huge part of their salary cap. The Bengals, who have yet to sign Joe Burrow to a long-term extension but soon will, are going to be there, as well.

That's one big reason the Steelers have been able to build what is easily the deepest roster in the AFC North – if not the entire AFC.

And when they haven't had the kind of depth they wanted, they've been proactive in addressing the issue. Witness the signings of linebacker Kwon Alexander early in training camp and the addition of cornerback Desmond King this week following his unexpected release by the Texans.

But having enough depth is always an issue. Injuries are going to happen along the course of a 17-game season.

What needs to be avoided is a rash of injuries at one or two positions.

"Depth is required, depth gets tested," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "And so, we're sitting right here in Week Zero, it's easy to feel good about it. It gets tested during the course of the journey and that's when you really get to find out the quality of it."

Take a look at the Steelers 53-man roster heading into Week 1 of the 2023 season

When you look at the Steelers' roster, however, it's hard not to be impressed with what they've acquired. It's easily the deepest team they've had in at least a decade.

• So many players across the league were just hoping to make a roster this season so that they could play in their first NFL game.

Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward will match Hall of Fame center Dermontti Dawson for seventh on the team's all-time list next week against the 49ers when he appears in his 184th career game.

If Heyward, who is entering his 13th season, plays in all 17 games this season – something he has accomplished in each of the previous two seasons – he'll move into a tie with Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount for the fifth-most games played in a Steelers uniform.

"That's animalistic right there," said rookie defensive lineman Keeanu Benton, one of those players who will be seeing action in his first NFL game next weekend. "That's why he gets so much respect because he's been doing it for so long at such a high level."

Heyward has already played more games on the defensive line than anyone in team history. He passed Hall of Fame member Joe Greene (181) for that honor last season. If he plays in all 17 games this season, he'll be one behind Hall of Fame member Donnie Shell (201) for the most games played by a defensive player in team history.

• In the past 17 games in which outside linebacker T.J. Watt has played, the Steelers are 12-5.

Watt is completely healthy and ready to go for the 2023 season.

Why pick 17 games? Well, it matches up well with what is now a full NFL season. It also marks when he returned to the lineup in 2021 after missing a game due to injury at Los Angeles against the Chargers.

In those games, Watt has 15.5 sacks, 31 quarterback hits, 2 interceptions, 16 tackles for a loss and three forced fumbles. If Watt plays in all 17 games – or close to it – and approaches those numbers, the Steelers should be really good in 2023.

Take a look at photos of fans from the Steelers' Week 2 preseason game vs. the Buffalo Bills

Then again, considering he had a league-record 22.5 sacks in 15 games in 2021, there are some, including Watt, who might look at what he has done over the last 17 games and want better than those numbers.

Watt is that kind of impact player.

• There's been a lot of speculation out there about who will be the Steelers' most improved player this season. Kenny Pickett, George Pickens and other names get tossed around when it comes to that. And for obvious reasons.

But one player who is often overlooked is Moore.

People seem to forget that Moore, a fourth-round pick in 2021, wasn't expected to start that season, but wound up doing so at left tackle.

Then, he started all 17 games at left tackle again last season.

Now, he's heading into his third season at 24 with 33 career regular season starts under his belt. There's a good chance he's just now starting to come into what will be the prime of his career.

Yet there was an assumption – and still is nationally – that he's going to be pushed aside by first-round pick Broderick Jones sooner rather than later.

Jones has looked good. He got better throughout the preseason. And he's got a bright future ahead of him.

A big part of that is because of how Moore has worked with him, taking him under his wing. After each practice, that duo works on hand placement and technique together.

It would be easy for Moore to not want to help a player who was essentially brought in to replace him – at some point.

But he has enough confidence in his own ability to get past that.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

"You try not to think about it like that. It's always a revolving door," Moore said. "It's part of the business. New faces come in. People leave. You hope the people we brought in have elevated the position and are capable and can get the job done."

There's also a growing sense Moore could be much better in 2023 working next to a veteran guard such as Seumalo. Whereas just a couple of years ago, the left side of the offensive line was extremely inexperienced, now it has plenty.

And the Steelers have liked what Moore has done leading up to this point.

"I would hope so. Unless they're just keeping me around," Moore joked.

That's obviously not the case. Given how the Steelers showed a willingness to move on from former starters such as Dotson and Green this past week, if they weren't happy with Moore or Okorafor, they would have drawn plenty of interest on the trade market.

But the Steelers weren't interested in moving on from their returning offensive tackles, even with a first-round pick in the fold.