Now that '09 is officially over, it's time to take a look back and grade the performace of each Steeler on the active roster. Overall, it was a disappointing season for us Steeler fans, however there were some good performances to go along with some very poor ones. In passing out my grades, I take a look at the players entire body of work for the regular season. However, I judge their performance based on their role on the team, and give more weight to their role/expectations going into the season. In other words, for example I judge Ben (starting QB) differently than Dixon (3rd QB)...so an "A" for Ben would be based on different criteria than an "A" for Dixon. Also, a player like Sweed will be judged more on the expectations at the beginning of the season (which was that he'd be the 3rd or 4th WR). So, without further ado, here they are (and I'm sure there will be some debate)...
Ben Roethlisberger (A-) At the midway point, with the Steelers at 6-2, Big Ben looked like an MVP candidate. Then, he had a dud performance against the Bengals which started the 5-game tailspin. In spite of the losing streak, BB played well for the most part expcept for the most disappointing game of the year (the 13-6 embarrassment to the Brownies). That game was BB's worst of the year (although his rating for the Bungle loss was lower). However, the very next week he came back to have one of the greatest games ever for a QB in the 37-36 thriller vs. GB (503 yds. 3 TD no INT). BB set the Steeler record for passing yds. in a season with over 4300 (despite missing the Ravens game). His uncanny ability to shake off would be sackers and make a play downfield has become his trademark, making him probably the most clutch and exciting QB in the league. Only problem is he was sacked 50 times this year (his most ever) and many were the result of him holding onto the ball too long..."throw it away Ben! throw it away!" we all scream. He is unquestionably the greatest QB in Black and Gold since Bradshaw and likely will be the best ever before his career is over.
Charlie Batch (N/A) Came in for a couple of plays in the KC game when Ben got the concussion, then somehow mananged to break his wrist! And that was Chuck's action for all of 2008 and 2009 combined. Would have been interesting how he would have faired vs. the Ravens since he would have gotten the start. Might be time for Chuck to hang up the helmet and being his coaching career, however as a UFA it's unlikely he'll sign elsewhere since he's home in the Burgh, so maybe he comes back for another year...this time as the #3.
Dennis Dixon (B-) Got the start against Ravens on the road when Ben and Chuck went down, which is a tough task for your first career start. He did well in the first half and looked impressive, but had a rough second half when Balt went zone on him and forced him to make reads. Even so, he gave the Steelers a 4th QTR lead which the D blew. In OT, his INT cost the game. Will be #2 next year and will probably get a lot of work in offseason and camp so that he can lead the team if Ben were to go down again next year.
Rashard Mendenhall (B+) Was in Tomlin's doghouse at beginning of season and after being inactive in first Cincy game, he got the start against SD when FWP went down and had his coming out party (165 yds. 2 TDs). He never matched that output again although he came close against Den with 155 yds. and his only other 100 yd. game was vs. Oak. Even so, he has shown that he is the real deal and a potential star in the NFL (over 1100 yds. a 4.6avg. and 7 TD). He can run with both power and speed (kinda like what you'd get if you cross the Bus with FWP), he can catch out the backfield and he is an effective blocker in pass protection. One flaw is that he tends to hit the hole sideways too often. He looks to be the feature back for years to come.
Willie Parker (B) Started out slow, then had his best game in the first Cincy loss before getting hurt. The injury ended up costing him his starting job (see Mendy above). In second half of season, he was used to spell Mendy on occasion each game and ran hard, then he had a nice game in the finale against the Fins (especially the last drive). Still has some speed left and would be a nice backup to Mendy but as a UFA its not likely that the Steelers will bring him back for much more than vet minimum...especially since he'll be 30 next year and has become injury prone (along with Moore's ability to start if Mendy went down). If we did see the last of FWP in Black 'n Gold, he did have a nice career and would have been great if actually got that last TD vs. Fins (called back for Hines' holding). FWP probably will get a shot somewhere else next year, but if not, he would certainly be welcomed back to the Burgh.
Mewelde Moore (B) Saw a lot less action this year since he wasn't needed as the starting TB (see Mendy above). Still was valuable as the 3rd down back and was used as the "safe" back on carries late in games in first half of season. Also, was used as "safe" PR for most of season replacing Logan at times. While MeMo didn't have many big plays this year, he always performs his role and does what he is asked. He may see an expanded role again next year if FWP is not re-signed.
Carey Davis (C-) Brought back for SD game when Summers went on IR after getting cut and not making 53-man. Only played in 6 games and really didn't see much action as a blocker in the backfield (Steelers used TE to do that mostly). Most of his action was on STs and he really didn't distinguish himself there either. Future with team is questionable next year with both Frank "the Tank" and Sean McHugh coming back from IR.
Frank Summers (D) Made the 53-man roster after not seeing much action in preseason due to injury. Played in 2 games (started 1) then got hurt and was out for season. Didn't show much in his limited action, which is a big disappointment after much hype before and after the draft. The "Tank" will get a second chance again next year and will have to show much more this time around.
Santonio Holmes (B+) Came into season with high expectations after last year's playoff/SB heroics. Looking at his nearly 1250 yds. and 15.8 avg. one might think he met those expectations. He started out strong in the opener vs. Tenn with 131 yds. and a TD, but after that, he seemed to disappear for the first half of the season and had a few drops along the way. He came on in the 2nd half of the seson though and ironically had some of his best games during the losing streak (the Oak game particularly). He finished strong with 4 TDs in his final 6 games but with only 5 total for the year, that was less than expected. Tone did get top attention from opposing D's so that made the going a bit tough for him, so all in all it was a solid performance. Now the Steelers need to lock him up with a long term deal since he will be a UFA after the 2010 season.
Hines Ward (A-) At age 33, he had 95 recs for 1167 yds and 6 TD (his most recs since '03 and most yds since '02), quite impressive for the toughest WR ever to play the game. After his fumble that almost cost the game in the opener, Hines was solid all year (if but for a couple of drops). He was clutch at times in key situations, and always made his punishing blocks. He took some flack for calling out Ben when he thought the QB should've played in the Ravens game. As far as I'm concerned, Hines has earned the right to call out anyone if he wants because there is no greater trooper or more of a loyal teammate than him. Even so, there we no ill feelings between Hines and Ben anyway and it was a misunderstanding. A future HOFer, Hines is still going strong and his legend continues to grow.
Mike Wallace (A) Ok, I'll admit when I saw Ben drop back and start to heave the ball deep downfield, in the Fins game, I felt like a giddy teenager about to make out with the hottest cheerleader in school. That's because I knew downfield Wallace would be burning past the coverage and about to catch the bomb for a TD (of course that's exactly what happened, and to me, that type of play is one of the sexiest in the NFL). In terms of expectations, I think Wallace exceeded everyone's expectations for the rookie this year. His performance was the best I've seen by a rook since Louis Lipps back in '84 (and Lipps was a #1 pick drafted to start right away). Yes, Wallace has a few "attention to details" to iron out, but over 750 yds. 6TDs and a 19.4avg. as a 3rd WR is exceptional. And the one of the highlights of the year was his Holmes-like catch for the win in the GB game. Let's just hope there is no hangover for him in 2010.
Limas Sweed (F) Now here's the buzz killer. As exciting as Wallace was, that's how disappointing Sweed was. He came into the season expecting to be the #3 WR replacing Nate Washington. Even after a shaky preseason, he was still basically given that role, but literally dropped it when he dropped the TD in the first Cincy game that started the chain of events that led to that loss. He even lost his game day "active" spot to Shaun MacDonald at one point, then was relegated to ST duty only for the most part. Finally, he came down with a mysterious illness and was put on the IR for the season...with only 1 rec for 5 yds to show for it all. Not what you want from a #2 pick in his second year. Sweed will have one more chance next year to show he belongs in the NFL, so let's hope he spends his time this offseason wisely, or else he will be added to the list of 2nd round Busts.
Tyler Grisham (B) Based on his game play alone, not enough to grade him, although he did have a nice catch in the Balt win (as well as a key drop). However, the fact that as an undersized, not very fast UCFA he still showed enough on the practice squad to be called "up" to the active roster for 4 games and even get in on some plays other than STs. He'll get a another shot at the making the 53-man again next year, so Sweed better watch out...depending on who they draft/sign, it could come down to those two for the final spot.
Stefan Logan - I will grade him as a STer when I do that part.
Shaun MacDonald/Joey Galloway - nice cup of coffee you had with the Steelers, enjoy retirement
Heath Miller (A) Heeeeeath! Wow, he just had his best season ever for the Black n Gold by far. 76/ 789/ 6 TDs. He was a key target for Ben all year and was money when called upon. He had some clutch catches down the stretch...particurlaly in the GB "drive" and in the Fins win. Shame, that his lone low spot was possibly the turning point in the KC loss...when the ball hit his hands and bounced into the LBs for the pic. Anwway, Heath may never put up the numbers of Gates or Clark, but he is a better all around TE than both, and in my book deserving of a Pro Bowl spot (which is somewhat likely since Indy and SD are faves to go to the SB, so he would replace Clark or Gates). Some day I would like to see Heath juke and jive and fake out a would be tackler, but now that's just geting picky...lol
Matt Spaeth (C) Heath's big season probably came at the expense of Spateth a bit...which is probably a good thing. Only 5 catches from the backup TE this year (1 for a TD back in game 2). His blocking wasn't very impressive either, so it makes one wonder if using a 3rd round pick on him (in '07) was really worth it. Altough he does offer a tall target that can be useful near goal-line (which they really didn't see to use him at all even though they struggled there at times). Anyway, as a RFA he'll likely be offered a tender to come back for another season and then see what happens after that.
David Johnson (C+) Used more like a FB than a TE really, which is what Arians likes to do...esentially he filled Sean McHugh's role of last year. To some degree he got the blocker role by default when Frank the Tank failed/got hurt and Carey Davis was...well...Carey Davis. At first, DJ was a bit tentative upon hitting the hole, but as the season wore on he became more agressive. Overall, not too bad for a rook 7th round pick, and he even managed 2 catches. He'll get another shot to be even more involved next year and could be an eventual replacement for Spaeth as backup TE if he shows more as a receiver.
Max Starks (C-) As LTs go, he's too inconsistent in pass protection. Sometimes he handles his man, yet other times he gets toasted and gets Ben hit. Granted Ben sometimes can fight his way out of the sack, but it's much harder to do from the "blindside" that your LT protects. For his size, Starks isn't powerful in the running game either. Good LTs are hard to find, which is maybe why the Steelers settled and signed Starks long term (since they couldn't find another option), but I'm not so sure that wasn't a mistake. It would be nice to find an upgrade to protect BB, but I have a feeling we're stuck with Max for another year or two.
Chris Kemoeatu (B) Kemo started a bit slow but then really came on and was a monster pulling out from his LG spot. Unfortunately, he got hurt and ended up missing 4 games down the stretch. He still isn't the best in pass protection, but is passable. For his size, I still think he needs to get a bit stronger (for a better push in short yardage), but he can be money making blocks out in space.
Justin Hartwig (C+) The Steelers 40-year legacy of dominant C's ended when Hartings retired 3 years ago and Sean Mahan was signed to replace him. Hartwig was then brought in and he stablized the position, but really isn't the strong leader in the middle that we're used to. Maybe that's ok with the Air Airians-era Steelers, but it is exposed when it comes time to grid out the clock in the 4th QTR or punch it in from the 1. He was adequate again this year but that's about it.
Trai Essex (C+) Trai was called on to start at RG when Stapleton went down for the year in early preseason. Overall, he was passable although he's not that powerful at the point of attack, and he can be beat in pass protection at times. He had some decent games, but he is best suited as the 6th-man swing OL, and versitility is his asset since he can play anywhere on the line. Probably will see him back in that role next year, unless no one emerges to start at RG.
Willie Colon (C+) Yet another inconsistent starting OL. He had some really good games where he looked dominant and other games where couldn't open a hole or stop his man from getting to Ben. Also, he seems to be the most penalty prone of the OL. I always thought his frame was better suited for G than T (short arms and stocky), yet he seems to be the most powerful of the Steeler OL, doubt they'd switch him to RG at this point, but I thought that's where he might be better. He'll be a UFA (or RFA if there is no cap), so it will be interesting to see what the Steelers do with him. Right now, there is no one being groomed as his replacement so they'll have to make a tough decision...although having already commited long term to Starks and Kemo, it could really tie the teams hands if they invest alot in Colon.
Doug Legursky (B) After an impressive preseason where he won the backup C/G spot, Big Leg saw action in half of the games this year...even a notable play as FB on the goal line against SD. Doug showed that he is capable of filling in and holding his own when needed which makes him a valuable game day "active". The ? now is wheter or not he can be considered for the potential C job in 2011 (if they don't keep Hartwig) or even the RG job next year. Big Leg will get a chance again in camp and if nothing else provides nice depth...impressive for someone who was a UCFA.
Ramon Foster (B+) Not only did Foster make the 53-man as a UCFA, but he was one of the game day actives as a backup. Then, to top it all of he started 4 games at LG when Kemo went down (and 3 of those games were wins). Foster did a good enough job that a significant dropoff from Kemo wasn't noticed. He has versitility to play G/T and even though he worked mainly as a LG this year, his future is probably at either RG or RT. If they don't sign Colon, he could be in the mix at RT, which I think would be a good fit for him. Otherwise, he could even get a shot at RG. Eitherway, he looks like a real find for the Steelers.
Tony Hills (N/A) Didn't play in a game this year so I can't give him a grade. But the fact that he didn't dress in of itself is very telling of how disappointing he has been. A 4th rounder last year, at least he should have been able to push Starks a little or show signs of being a viable backup OT...he's done neither. At this point he's not a serious candidate for RT even if Colon is not signed. 2010 will be his last chance to show he belongs on an NFL roster.
Kraig Urbik (N/A) See above about Hills. Urbik was drafted in 3rd round to compete at RG, but he didn't do much in preseason and didn't dress during regular season. Disappointing, since he was drafted with the thought of at least being an active backup this year. He could be suited for RT which means if Colon is gone he may have a chance, but at this point that is merely just based on his potential coming out of college. Right now, he looks to be a very questionable 3rd rounder. We'll see next year, maybe he will surprise
Vets on IR who'll be in the mix next year:
TE/FB Sean McHugh - probably will be brought back to compete with Johnson at H-back
RG/C Darnell Stapleton - is an RFA bought likely signed to come back and compete and does have starting experience
Practice Squad players in the mix next year:
C A.Q. Shipley - will get another chance to compete for a job, probably will need to show more at G to make the team as backup
RB Isaac Redman - training camp star was a surprise but it didn't materialize in a 53-man job, will get another shot again next year and there may be an open spot if FWP isn't resigned
So there you have it, I know it's legthly, but hope it made you think about your own grades for each player. My next post will be the Defense....