He’s lost the player who led the NFL with 15 receiving TDs last season and the offensive line coach who was perceived, at least in Pittsburgh and apparently in Denver, as the best at what he does in the league.
But second-year Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner isn’t exactly starting from scratch heading into 2019.
“What you don’t have to replace is the guy throwing the ball,” Fichtner maintained today, the second day of Mandatory Veteran Minicamp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
The Steelers’ mantra has been and remains “In Ben We Trust,” even with Antonio Brown and Mike Munchak having changed organizations.
But Fichtner also knows quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t and can’t do it alone.
What the Steelers have been working to sort out and will continue trying to establish leading into the regular-season opener on Sept. 8 at New England and beyond is how the new-look offense will compensate collectively.
“If you don’t have the group effort, you’re not scoring many touchdowns,” Fichtner maintained. “We’re just going to have to chew on all that. Opportunity’s gonna be there for somebody. Everyone has an opportunity to put their hand in the pile and see who can do it.
“‘A.B.’ and Ben have been together a long time. A lot of potential touchdowns were broken plays, extending plays, made, really, by both. Ben’s still going to have the opportunity to have those broken plays. Now, what are going to be the reactions of the other guys to maybe being in the same spots and catch the ball? We know that’s gonna happen somehow, someway, it happens every year.
“Vance (McDonald), JuJu (Smith-Schuster), James (Washington), Donte (Moncrief), these guys are all going to have to step up and that’s the expectation, they will.”
It remains to be seen how the division of labor will play out among tight end Vance McDonald, wide receivers such as Smith-Schuster, Washington, Moncrief and perhaps rookie Diontae Johnson, and running backs James Conner, Jaylen Samuels and potentially rookie Bennie Snell Jr.
Former assistant offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett’s challenge is to replace Munchak not just as the Steelers’ offensive line coach, but as their unofficial “run game coordinator,” a moniker Roethlisberger hung on Munchak last season.
Sarrett has been on the Steelers’ staff since 2012, two seasons prior to Munchak’s arrival.
That has Sarrett ahead of the game at this early stage in Fichtner’s estimation.
“From a terminology standpoint to a transition with the (offensive line meeting) room, it’s been awesome,” Fichtner assessed. “We still do the same thing we’re always going to do, we’re going to do it collectively. And ‘Munch’ was great because he involved everyone, we were always a part of it. He’d get adamant about certain things, and I would expect Shaun’s going to be adamant about certain things, too, things that utilize the abilities of those guys up front.
“We do the same thing in the pass game and we try to use everyone’s strengths, run the right type of concepts to get everyone involved. I don’t see that changing.”
Another thing that hasn’t changed is Fichtner’s position within the staff.
He’ll be a second-year offensive coordinator this season, as opposed to a guy transitioning from wide receivers coach who hadn’t called plays previously in the NFL.
“Learned a lot,” Fichtner said of last season. “Learned a lot situationally. For some things that we did pretty well, there was always something that just kind of irked you, and you just realized you could have done it better.
“I think we took this spring to do just that, improve the things we know we have to improve from last year, improve the things I know I have to improve from last year just to give us a better chance to win.”