The Steelers have been successful and in the running as Super Bowl contenders year in and year out as well as Super Bowl Champions twice in the last 6 years and an unsuccessful appearance. As it stands, this year would seem no different from that recent years past. With the loss of some key veterans through unfortunately necessary cuts made, retirements and temporary losses due to injury, there is an influx of new and young faces that can potentially fill the holes and, in some cases, huge voids.
Their has been a lot of talk about our revamped offensive line that i think will be very successful in the next few years to come, but not without hardships that need to be overcome. Our defense will be looking for new leadership and a valid replacement in a runstopping Buck linebacker that will seemingly be Larry Foote, as well as reducing the success of opposing offenses on big plays, as linebacker Lamar Woodley stated was a problem in a recent interview.
Here is an attempt to break it down by group.
Obviously Big Ben is one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Despite media blowing up his comments about learning Haley's offense he will be fine as far as understanding the terminology come game time. If he is to become more of a pocket passer under Haley's system, he will need to develop confidence in this system and more importantly in his O line, which may be hard to do given that most of his career he has had to create plays for lack of protection. If the O line is even middle of the road this year as opposed to terrible the last few he will be comfortable in the pocket. I am wary that Haley wants him to become to conventional from the interviews that have taken place but he will have no huddle be part of his ensemble as a play caller in which Ben really shines.
As for backups, I find it slightly dissapointing that Leftwitch will take the second spot over Batch only cause i feel that Batch does a better job of not losing a game when he steps in. I think Byron tries to do more than necessary at times and can really hurt the team when putting too much confidence in his arm but i am a big fan of Batch so take that with a grain of salt.
The injury of Mendy may be a blessing, with the emergence of the north south runner that we have in Isaac Redman. Isaac Redman is one of my favorite backs that the steelers had in recent years and is about time he gets his shot. He has shown that, even with mediocre play from his O-line that he can break away from the line of scrimmage creating his own holes and hitting the opposition hard. I was also fond of Willie Parker during his tenure but, as i have seen brought up in comments on here, he was very inconsistant in his production due to the fact that he wasn't strong enough or big enough to make his own holes in the wake of a deteriorating offensive line (not enitirely his fault). The depth that we have in halfbacks could potentially be one of the deepest in the NFL. We can chose from about five or six guys to be starters all the way to third or fourth string that all have different and overlapping skill sets. Johnathan Dwyer should get a shot as well and i would like to see how he runs in preseason despite reports of him being out of shape. Bettis was rarely, if ever, in shape but that would probably be one of his strong points. We also have Rainey and Batch who are smaller more agile backs. While Rainey will probably not be getting handoffs that often he would likely still be able to be utilized as receiving back on third downs, provided he shows the ability to catch the ball. Batch is the likely choice of the bunch's one two punch in the early part of the season, and it seems he has really caught the coaching staff's eyes.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends:
I put WRs and TEs in the same category due to, what seems to be, Haleys likelyhood that he will utilize Heath more this year. Antonio Brown is my favorite receiver on that squad this year due to his willingness to put his body on the line for crossing routes as well as his humble demeaner. He is fast versatile and I think if given the chance can stretch the defense almost as effectively as Mike Wallace. Emmanuel is also going to come back in a big way this year. He was considered the better receiver out of the two of them coming out of college and i think he is going to try and catch back up with Brown as far as recognition as a starting WR. Don't be surprised to see them swap back and forth as starters this year as the number 2 and 3 receiver. Cotchery is the veteran on this squad and i saw him make some catches last year that Hines usually gets but it seemed he caught passes more when they were contested which hardly makes sense. Either way his toughness in the middle will leak through to the younger guys.
As for Wallace well he may be a step behind as far as the new playbook, but he is also always going to be a step behind the defenders. Flying past them with ease. It has also been reported that Haley has the intent of not only throwing over the top of the defense, which is great when it works and gets out of our chairs every time Ben puts one up there, but also wants to incorporate deep passes over the middle, like the one in Super Bowl XLIII to Fitz. There is no contesting how good and how much of an impact Mike has on our offense but I dont think we need him to be successful. He can lead this teams offense in receiving but we have plenty of players to replace him if he isn't here. Also look for that promising seventh round pick to emerge as an impact player if not this year then next few years. He shows a lot of promise.
Finally we have one of the most underrated, but still appreciated league wide, tight ends in Heath Miller. He can catch, block, run precise routes, and get tough yards after the catch. Did i say he can block. He may lack top end speed that is displayed by 49ers' Vernon Davis or Patriots' Hernandez, but his precision route running and awareness makes him as effective in the pass game as any tight end in the league. He may have lost a step in recent years but i have a tendency to believe that Arians had more to do with that than we think.
Even with the loss of all those veterans on defense, the O line has still been the most talked about among Steeler fans this offseason. Start right to left cause to me the left is going to be the biggest question mark. RT Marcus Gilbert has molded himself into a solid tackle that can play both sides but better suited as RT in the NFL. He's big strong and has decent awareness and agility, which showed at the end of last season. Then we have OG David DeCastro. I hope he is everything that we say and want him to be, but i feel that he will not be as imposing as what has been discussed in the run game only for lack of pure size. If he was a solid thirty pounds heavier or even twenty i think he could be the big bull rushing run blocker that we all hope him to be, but i could and probably am wrong. Outside of that he will greatly improve our inside pass protection with his awareness and agility as well as counters with his pulling ability.
Then Pouncey in the middle...... Nothing needs to be said he is a great player, and hopefully our guards can keep him healthy.
Former Rt and now LG Willie Colon is starting to look like a shining light and may be one of the best Guards in the league. I always thought that a decent tackle would make a great guard due to the fact that they already developed insane instincts as a tackle against the most athletic pass rushers on the field and then they are put in a position where less guess work is required and just have to worry about guys with more brute strength. Again personal opinion don't hate me for it. Mike Adams, arguably the biggest question mark on the entire team as a starter next to the starting cornerback opposite Taylor. Mike Adams is fast enough, quick enough, smart enough (instinctually, decision making could use some work though, lol) and almost strong enough to be one of the top tackles in the NFL. The biggest question is how will he react when he is outmatched by a Dwight Freeney, Terrel Suggs, Ware or the like. Will he look at himself as a failure like so many rookies do or will he show the confidence that Joe did for the Browns and become one of the best in the league by the end of the season. I dont see him having the confidence that i would like to see in a guy that probably has the most important job as far as protecting Big Ben. Only time will tell, but i do feel that he will be the starter at LT.
As for backups I really like the valedictorian that we picked up late in the draft. Anyone that smart can likely do what ever he wants on the line and he could be the sleeper on O line. If and when one of our O linemen get injured if he gets a chance to fill in i think he will prove a lot to some people. As for the rest of the backups I like Legursky, he is solid as a backup, and then thats really it. Everyone else i could do without but we have to have some fillers. If they pick up Starks out of necessity then i guess i could agree with that in the case of Gilbert moving to left starks taking right., but i do think he was overrated.
Todd Haley may be the best thing for this team at this point. It is definitely time for a change and anytime you have an offensive coordinator in Bruce for as long as we did and he wasn't offered a head coaching position in the NFL at some point, there is usually a reason. If Todd understands that the team usually succeeds when our passing game is in the middle of the pack in comparison to the NFL then we will be fine. Every year that Big Ben has a huge year, its usually because the running game has fallen short which also means clock management isn't that great. I believe with our improved offensive line Red Zone is going to be a huge improvement with the utilization of our tight end. On the other hand I hope that he can incorporate a passing scheme in which we can effectively have a great passing game incase we need to put up points quickly when slow and methodical scoring and ball hogging can't win the game. There are too many shoot out Offenses to rely on grinding out the football all the time. On top of all this i feel that we still wont have an effective blocking fullback till we pick one up in the draft or convert a short run blocking tight end. He may use one but we have the personnel for a passing offense. So for those of you wishing we will have a huge run game this year it will be effective in a different way. I believe there will be a balanced attack leaning one way or the other depending on the defense. But again this is all speculation on what Haley is planning on doing and how well our guys adapt to his play calling and coaching style.
Our run game on a down by down basis will look like this. Isaac can run to the right side all day inside the tackle with Willie pulling to the right and Pouncey and DeCastro crashing to the left, openning up a hole for our (hopefully) fullback to lead and Isaac to reign terror. Gilbert and Heath will hold off the LOLB and LE long enough for our guys to hit the hole. To the left is a different story with Adams not necessarily having the desired strength for the NFL he may find himself lacking in the run block skill set. Which means no outside runs. Inside to the left will be fine with DeCastro pulling to pick up the slack but against a good front seven they will make short work of them on the left side. All in all against a decent front seven we might be predicable only being able to run to the left with a pulling guard,and with the right side being our strong point, watch defenses stack that side and bully Mike Adams with a strong ROLB or RE on the left. With that being said the success of our running game may rely heavily on our passing game.
The passing game may be a combination of high percentage crossing routes over the middle in defferent tiers. of course the top and deepest being Mike Wallace running posts, slants and streaks, Heath Miller running slants, drags and outs, Brown running all four as well, Just remember that those so called high percentage passes have been incorporated before with Big Ben and it didn't go so well all the time. Most of his picks have been the result of a misjudged pass over the middle with a wide open receiver underneath getting overthrown. Roethlisberger needs some bootlegs to stay sharp and broken plays to shine. With the lack of a predifined powerful run blocking fullback, singleback formations will still be the base of our formations quite a bit (hopefully im wrong). The purpose of our pass game this year will likely be used to open up the run until the defenses get tired and then it will be run all the way. Of course with the exception of a close game in which we are behind and we need points quick. If we plan on running with our fullback then we better have a base offense that passes with a fullback in it. If we don't then, just like Arian's offense, the defense is going to know we are about to run it when the fullback enters the game, and stuff the line. Also none of this matters if our line sucks. Individually they look good but they have to mesh as a group and Adams and Decastro not being there for OTA's sucks for them not being able to be there for "teambuilding."
I think that pretty much wraps it up and i hope this gets a lot of discussions and if requested i will attempt to do the defense as a whole next. Sorry for the lack of good gramar if there is any. This is my first post and I am looking forward to see the discussions that this initiates. Have a good one and i will be monitoring this to respond if any commenters want me to clarify why i feel the way i do.