The Steelers know they are coming off a rough year in 2012. They lost five games by three points or less and missed the playoffs for only the second time under Mike Tomlin. Insiders refer to the team being in a transition period, others refer to it as a rebuilding year. Tomlin won't have talk of either around him.
"That's March talk," Tomlin said. "I'll see you at the stadiums in the fall."
Everyone knows 2013 is going to be a hard year for the team, even Tomlin. The only difference is he still expects a top performance from his guys. That's going to be easier said than done with all the changes to the roster. They lost three key starters in free agency - Mike Wallace, Mendenhall and Keenan Lewis and they released another two in Harrison and Colon. Then again, the Steelers have always drafted well and it's times like this we get to find out how well.
Roethlisberger is still the starting quarterback, he has become the face of the franchise over the last couple of seasons. He had, and still has, to make adjustments to his game now that Todd Haley is the offensive coordinator. Haley is a big change from former OC Bruce Arians who Big Ben had been playing under since his rookie season. Haley doesn't like to push the ball down the field as much and really doesn't like when Ben lets a play break down and tries to improve like he's on the playground. Instead he wants his quarterback to make smart decisions and place an emphasis on the run and short passes.
The running back position leaves a little to be desired in Pittsburgh. The team decided to part ways with Mendenhall after he was subject to the wrath of Tomlin two times last season. That forced the club to spend its second round pick on Bell. They believe he has what it takes to be the feature back in their system, even if he doesn't get there this year. They also brought in Stephens-Howling to add some depth and the 3rd and 4th string duties will fall to the familiar faces of Redman and Dwyer.
Receivers have always been at a premium in Pittsburgh. Even when they were at their best, and Big Ben was coming home with their two Super Bowl rings, they didn't have a top 5 receiver. On top of all that, they lost Wallace, their top deep threat. They hope Brown can really step up in his absence. He won't be able to stretch the defense like Wallce did, but he is a more complete wideout due to his route running abilities. The team also added to the unit by drafting Wheaton in the 3rd round. He is a versatile receiver who will be able to play all three positions in Haley's scheme and should fit in nicely from the start.
When you think of the Pittsburgh defense, the calling card of the team since the Steel Curtain days, you think of Dick LeBeau. A grizzled veteran of the league he finds ways to produce a top-rated defense year after year. The Steelers ranked No. 1 in pass defense last year and 2nd against the run...and that was without being able to produce any real pressure. He is the epitome of a coach who knows how to put his guys in the best possible position for them to succeed.
Over the past three seasons the Steelers have spent two first round picks on the D-line; Hood and Cameron Heyward. Neither one has made a significant impact yet. This is the year they are expected to step up and produce. If they don't they could very well hit the bench and then have to start looking for work elsewhere. The linemen in this scheme are expected to keep the O-line busy and away from the linebackers who can then make plays. At least Brett Keisel is still a beast, who at 35 years old, is coming off one of his best seasons.
Going all the way back to the 1970's the linebackers in Pittsburgh are what carried the calling card for the team. However, as the fans will tell you, that is no longer the case. Harrison is gone, Woodley isn't what he used to be and they still have yet to find someone who can replace the production that Farrior gave them on the inside. They used their No. 1 draft pick on Jarvis Jones, he led the nation with 15.5 sacks last year and was highly touted coming into the draft. What they are really counting on is Worlids to step up. He was a second round draft pick for them in 2010 and will be stepping in as the starter this year in place of Harrison. In only 10 starts he has already amassed 10 sacks, I would be awfully happy if he started 16 games and added 16 sacks to stay on his current pace.
I don't care what Tomlin thinks or says about it, this is a rebuilding year as far as I am concerned. With all the holes and areas of trouble this team has can anyone really see them contending for the AFC North crown? If not they are rebuilding, because Pittsburgh is known as a top notch team. They have built their team correctly and their rebuilding won't be like other teams, there will be no 4-12 season for them. However, this is a year where some of the players on the field are still going to be learning, and because of that it will probably look ugly at times. For Pittsburgh to turn in a respectable year and really develop some rhythm with their units, the veterans will have to stay injury free this year.