This is another in a periodic series recapping some of the more memorable moments from the 2014 season.
Today: The rookies.
Jan. 3, Baltimore: WR Martavis Bryant caught five passes for 61 yards and a touchdown in the Steelers' 30-17 loss to the Ravens in an AFC Wild Card Game in the wake of having caught eight touchdown passes in his first 10 regular season games. Bryant still has work to do in terms of grasping the offense and the playbook, but what he produced as a fourth-round pick was good enough to win the Joe Greene Great Performance Award as the Steelers' Rookie of the Year and capture the imagination of those who watched the rookie receiver's season unfold.
That's value for the draft round.
Dec. 21, Kansas City**: DE Stephon Tuitt hustled downfield after a short pass to Jamaal Charles to deliver a big hit on the Chiefs' running back to force a fumble that was recovered by LB Vince Williams at the Pittsburgh 25-yard line with the Steelers leading 10-6 midway through the third quarter of a game they would eventually win, 20-12. Mike Tomlin's sideline celebration was uncharacteristically expressive, and it was the hustle of a defensive end to force a fumble that had the Steelers' head coach so excited.
The Kansas City game was the third in a succession of four consecutive starts made by the Steelers' second-round pick at season's end. It perhaps took a little longer than initially expected, but Tuitt eventually developed as anticipated into a player capable of playing significant snaps and making significant plays.
Nov. 17, at Tennessee: NT Daniel McCullers made his first and only start and saw by far his most extensive action of the season (13 of 40 defensive snaps, 32 percent) in a 27-24 victory. McCullers was only in on two tackles in the regular season, but his progression from a 6-foot-7, 352-pound, sixth-round project (No. 6b) to becoming a starter on Monday Night Football was intriguing, as is McCullers' potential upside.
Aug. 16, Buffalo**: ILB Ryan Shazier had nine solo tackles, an interception and two special-teams tackles in the first half of his Heinz Field debut, a 19-16 preseason victory over the Bills. A starter next to Lawrence Timmons since Day One of the offseason program, Shazier would go on to struggle with injuries and inconsistency as his rookie season wore on. He wound up missing more games (seven) than he started in the regular season (five). But those 30 minutes in August against the Bills forecast the type of splash plays the Steelers are hoping to glean from 2014's No. 1 pick sooner rather than later.
Aug. 9, at New York Football Giants: The first pass of the preseason was a wide receiver-screen from QB Ben Roethlisberger to third-round RB/WR Dri Archer that went for 46 yards.
What did it mean?
"It showed that I can play in the NFL," Archer maintained following the Steelers' preseason-opening, 20-16 loss.
That sounded about right at the time, but after further review Archer and the Steelers have yet to establish that there's a place for a 5-foot-8, 173-pound scatback in the offense and that Archer is that guy.