Now that there are only two teams left playing almost everyone has turn towards the off-season. For the Steelers that means facing a 20+ million dollar cap number and a 'transition' year. There are many of our opponents praying, wishing, and hoping that the Steelers would pull something out of the 1999 season and just stink it up next year. As much as we enjoyed seeing the Ravens lose yesterday, they thrive off of seeing us lose every year. Not just the ravens virtually almost every other team in the NFL hates the Steelers. But that is OK, I feed off of their hate. I devour their unrealistic plea of desperation to see the might giant that is the Steelers fall. I know that their hate is really fear, fear of knowing what this team is capable of. So here is my assessment of the 2012 Steelers and what we can expect.
First of all coaching: I think we get an offensive coordinator that will employ a baltimore ravens type offense. Yes, you heard me right. Art Rooney wants to return to the running game more, I don't think it will be the dominant force but I think it will be featured more. I believe we will finally get a fullback on the team and our 3rd TE will be cut. I think Mendenhall will be used a ton more next year, even in the passing game. They will still try to stretch the field because that ultimately helps the running game but I doubt you will see them go deep 5 times in the game just for the heck of it. But what helps Joe Flacco out so much is the play action pass. In order to make it work you have to be committed to the run to make the defense actually believe the fake. The report is that Green Bay will give the offensive coordinator job to Tom Clements, hopefully not or we can snatch him away.
QB - We will be fine here. Ben is a top 5 QB in this league. Yes, we are upset because he got himself hurt but he wasn't the reason why we were bounced out of the playoffs early. Does a healthy Ben R. beat SF at SF in that game, probably but with Ben you have to take the good with the bad and in this case I will take getting him a better offensive line. I'm fine with the backups again for one more year as long as Leftwich can stay healthy. I expect Batch to the be the third string QB again this year.
RB - We are stacked at running back. Mendenhall, Redman, Batch, Dwyer, Moore. I honestly don't see Moore making the final cut if Batch can show what he showed last year before his injury. I think we will carry four RBs this year, Mendenhall, Redman, Batch, and Dwyer. Mendenhall will be recovering from an injury and there is no reason to think he won't be ready for Week 1. He is young and has been injured before, he knows what to do. I trust redman to carry us for a couple games if needed in the case that Mendenhall can't go. But in a contract year, I just don't see Mendenhall letting that happen with not having a spectacular career up to date. I am one of the few that believes he is just as talented as Ray Rice but is under utilized in the passing game, he doesn't drop many balls when he gets his chances and does make plays, and in the running has had to run behind a below average line for most of his career. I think we will boost the offensive line this year and you'll see better numbers from mendenhall. I think will get a FB too but I"m not sure who that is right now.
TE - I think we will only carry two tight ends this year. I think Saunders will be the #2 WR and it would behoove the Steelers to utilize him and Miller more in the offense. When our TE is being used this passing offense is dangerous. Weslye is an athletic freak in the same mold of Gronk, with a year under his belt he should be ready to contribute more to the offense. Weslye was a guy with character concerns coming out of college, like Burfict, but he has given the Steelers no problems. Miller is the most under utilized player on this team. We will be good here again this year.
WR - I think they will re-sign Wallace and the WR core will be even better next year. I haven't made it a secret that I would like to see Plax come back and give us a tall WR that already knows Ben to contribute. I expect more from Emmanuel Sanders next year if he can stay healthy. I would like to see Cotchery back also. As far as Hines I wouldn't mind keeping him as a 6th WR but at a very low price.
OL - This is the part of the offense that has so much question. We know Pouncey will be back and healthy and well Gilbert. Outside of that everything is a question mark. Starks and Colon will be coming back from injury, if they make a healthy return and play up to the level they are capable of the Steelers will be in great shape. Then we will just need to draft a guard to play right away. If this unit were to stay healthy I believe they could be a good line. I expect the Steelers to spend two draft picks on the offensive line this year as we prepare for when Ben cannot move and take the hits he once could. If we can fix the line this offense will be a top 5 offense next year.
DE - I believe the defensive end position will be fine, the Steelers just need some depth here that they can find late in the draft. Hood will return and should play better with a full year of knowing he is the unquestioned starter. I expect Kesiel to be back even if it is in a reserve role because I expect Heyward to have an outstanding year next year. The guy really had flashes of being a dominant force in the line this year. I think a year under his belt will do him wonders, we may have found our Ngata, seriously.
NT - This is another position in serious question. We need to find a starter in this year's draft since Hampton will likely be gone next year and I don't think McLendon can handle the job full time, at least there needs to be quality competition in camp. Either way with Hoke retiring we'll need someone regardless. Poe, Ta'amu, Chapman. One of those guys will be a Steeler next year. I think it will be Ta'amu. Which I think we are lucky he has fallen so far, he was the consensus #1 NT in the class before his games against Stanford and Baylor. Two bad games and now he is a number two pick, I think if he fixes his technique he has the skills to be a dominant NT. Casey who has struggle with weight issues when healthy will not only lose athleticism and speed coming off an ACL injury but what will his weight be like with not working out at all? I just don't see him making the team next year. Hopefully we get a warm up game or two to start the season so that Ta'amu can get his sea legs under him.
OLB- We are solid in this department. Harrison shows no sign of slowing down and as long as he doesn't get hurt in the off-season he should be the same dominant force as he was before. Woodley should too as he silenced his critics this season when harrison went out and he went on a terror attacking the QB before his injury. Even one of the two do suffer an injury I have confidence that Worlids will be better next year after having a full year in the NFL to lift with Harrison and Woodley to get his strength up. Once he does that and is able to bull rush and seal the edge in the running game he will be set. Carter needs to build strength too but this is a position of strength for the Steelers.
ILB - Here is an area of concern for the Steelers. What to do with Farrior and Foote, Timmons is set to be a starter but it can be said that he needs another playmaker next to him to take some pressure off of him. That is what I am in favor of, the question is who is that guy and where will the Steelers go to find him. I prefer the draft and letting Farrior go. Keep Foote as a backup and bring in a dynamic playmaker who we can pair with Timmons to terrorize the league with. It could be Burfict, Highttower, Ronnell Lewis, whoever it is we pick needs to be a guy that can cover in the passing game and blow plays up in the running game. Sounds like Burfict but will they take the same risk on him as they did Weslye Saunders (who was kicked off his college team) as a undrafted free agent. Of course its harder to get rid of a 1st round pick and those do more damage to your team if they don't work out than an un-drafted free agent. We will see but this group is really just one play maker away from being great.
CB - It feels good to say this, I feel we are set at Cb this offseason. Brown and Allen will be used more in coverage next season and Lewis has shown he can be a valuable piece to the team. Ike still has another year in him so if we can get Brown and Allen playing at a high level then this defense can go to new heights. Gay may be brung back and I think McFadden will be brung back as a quality backup and special teams player. But I think we are set here.
Safety - We are set here also, Clark had his best year and Troy still had a very good season. I think if we improve the ILB and NT position that will allow him to play off the ball more and make more splash plays.
So there you have it, this team will still be good next year, there is no major rebuilding needed, we can trim out cap number down to where we need it and still sign who we need without losing needed components to the team. All that is really needed is to make sure we hit on three draft picks in the positions of NT, OL, and ILB and the Steelers will be back again next year, knocking on the door. I think they will knock the door down this time.