Beautiful ain't it?
The Pittsburgh Steelers now sit atop the NFL when it comes to the number of Lombardi's achieved in the Superbowl era. Year in year out our Front Office does the work required to maintain a roster full of talent on both sides of the ball.
We make changes, we let some high profile players go. At the time it makes the fans hold their breath, but we always seem to be better off. For example, in the 2 years removed from our '05 title, we lost both the starting Outside Linebackers from the championship winning team, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans.
For the 2006 season, we had passionate leader and defensive star Joey Porter depart our city for Miami, leaving us with what seemed like a big hole to fill. Yet we saw a previously undrafted OLB move from mainly 2nd string and Special Teamer, step up, and has since been to 2 pro bowls and has one Defensive Player of the Year award.
For the 2007 season, less spectacular but effective and important all the same, Outside Linebacker Clark Haggans departed, leaving a minor hole - but hole all the same - in our defence. Once again though we had a player step up, this time Lamarr Woodley, a 2nd rounder out of Michigan, who became a brilliant starter and pass rusher on the opposite side from Harrison. He took his chance and made the most of it.
So in my second edition of Steeler Review, I put the spotlight on 5 players who have a chance this season to step up and make a name for themselves, and for some, could solidify their chance at being a long term option for our team.
TIME TO STEP UP
Note: The list is not in order of priority
1. William Gay, CB, 3rd year out of Louisville, 5th Round draft pick
Obviously, everyone here has heard of Brian McFaddens departure to Pittsburgh West , oh i mean the Arizona Cardinals by now. No doubt McFadden made his impact on the field, but he is gone now, leaving - for now - some medium sized shoes to fill. William Gay, seems primed to be in the best position to fill those shoes for now. So here is his chance. In 16 games and 4 starts, Gay produced a pretty solid 2nd year for a 5th round corner, grabbing 33 solo tackles and 1 interception that clinched the victory against Baltimore and the AFC North title. (Stats obtained from NFL.com). Gay has pretty good instincts as a number 3 corner, and would relish the chance to attempt to prove his worth as a #2 corner, on the opposing side to Ike Taylor. Will has pretty good speed and acceleration for a corner, but lacks ideal size (hes 5'10). To me, size means jack. He is a football player, and is very physical for his size, and that is what is important. Barring the unlikely chance that we take a 1st round cornerback or sign a free agent, I think Gay has a great chance to show his worth for that number 2 spot for this season and prove his longetivity for the future. Time to step up.
2. Limas Sweed, WR, 2nd year out of Texas, 2nd Round draft pick
I know this guy seemingly failed to win many of the Steeler faithful over in his first year. I mean the guy had nerves clearly, had a couple key drops at times, including the infamous wide open bomb from Big Ben in the AFC Championship game (although to his credit he made a couple huge blocks later on in the game). But really how often do rookie Pittsburgh Steelers Wide Receivers have amazing first seasons, the only two that come to my mind are Holmes and Troy Edwards. One turned out great, one not so much. Plaxico Burress for one only managed barely 20 catches for 270 yards, and he was the 8th overall pick, let alone a 2nd rounder. Im far from given up hope for Sweed. Washington has left for Tennessee after being a very very solid #3 receiver for us for the past 3 years, and now Sweed has a chance to inherit his spot in the slot (nice ring to it don't ya think?). Sweed has size and he has speed, he just needs to learn a little more focus, its very obvious he wants to be successful in this league and he wants to contribute to the most successful NFL organisation. I think its likely we will address WR at some point, probably 3rd round AT THE EARLIEST, in the draft. Yet Sweed has one year on anyone we draft, and even though we had a meeting with Galloway (please dont sign him, please dont sign him), I think the #3 spot is his to lose. He is also out there now to show enough potential to possibly step into Hines Wards role when Hines will hang it up, in a couple years at least. He seems to have the coaches faith and trust, and he has mine. Time to step up.
3. Rashard Mendenhall, RB, 2nd year out of Illinois, 1st Round draft pick
Lets face it, Mendenhall got pretty unlucky in his rookie season. I think the plan was to slowly ease him into the game before establishing a proper power/speed combo later in the season with Willie Parker, to keep Willie fresh at the end of the season and to also attack defences at the crucial latter stages of the season. Mendenhall is a power back, with good size (5'10, 225lbs) and is not short of a step either. He had a solid preseason, however it was marred by 3 lost fumbles in 2 games when he carried the ball more, which got the fans a little nervous. He had 19 very uneventful carries in the games against Houston and Baltimore, before good ol' Ray Lewis went and bashed Mendenhalls shoulder in a tackle. Mendenhall finished his campaign only 4 games into the season with 58 rushing yards and 17 receiving yards, so the jury is still very much out on this guy for the meantime. Heading into this season healthy, he now has to compete for carries with both Parker, coming off a pretty ineffective postseason, and also Mewelde Moore, who proved himself very capable as a backup last season. I am highly sure that Arians and Tomlin will again try and instill that power/speed combo of Parker and Mendenhall this upcoming season, with Mewelde spelling the two and also being the 3rd down back. If anything Mendenhall should at least get the goal line carries off of Gary Russell. This guy has a lot of untapped potential, and there will be plenty of carries to go around this season. Time to step up.
4. Darnell Stapleton, OG, 3rd year out of Rutgers, Undrafted
Stapleton virtually came out of nowhere this season, and when Kendall Simmons went down four games into the season, he became the new starting guard by default pretty much, starting all remaining games including the Superbowl win over the Arizona Cardinals. Stapleton is a good size for a guard, at 6'3, 305lbs, and wasnt really all that bad for us throughout the season. Had a few false start penalties to begin with, but got his head around it for the most part come seasons conclusion. He does struggle against larger Defensive lineman, and also needs to work on footwork so that when he engages in a block, he is in a good position footwise, to maintain, and resist being shoved sideways or backwards. With Simmons not being retained, and the Steelers more likely to draft Offensive Tackle or Center rather than guard, it appears "Stapler" will likely be a staple (sorry had to do it) in this upcoming seasons offensive line. He should take a very serious mindframe into Training Camp and preseason to make the most of this oppurtunity to cement his place on the line. Time to step up.
5. Bruce Davis, OLB, 2nd year out of UCLA, 3rd Round draft pick
Bruce Davis saw action in the preseason, but was not used during the regular season. Some circles of the Steelers organisation and fans see this guy as a tremendous talent, and will surely be used in the upcoming season. Davis is big, at 6'3 and 253lbs, yet is very mobile. He is a hard worker, which always goes down well in the Steelers organisation. With the contract status of James Harrison beyond next season up in the air, Davis is certainly a prosepct for the future. WIth Foote getting up there in age, and special teamer Arnold Harrison also being pretty average, Davis will have a chance to showcase himself for the future this season. Although we will primarily use our familiar rotation at LB with Woodley, Harrison, Foote, Farrior and Timmons, there is little room to break into significant gametime. However I expect to see him star in preseason and on special teams, to command more game action. He could be a long term option, so it is time for him to ean his spot in our future plans. Time to step up.
Max Starks, T
Ryan Mundy, S
Tony Hills, T
Cheers for reading this guys. Hopefull you agree with my views. Feel free to add anything below in the comments section. Look forward to your feedback!
Bleeding Black and Gold since 1989