Steelers 2013 season preview: Nine questions on what to look for this year

Justin K. Aller

Summarizing the Steelers' 2013 season in just nine questions is a difficult task, but we're giving it a shot anyway.

1. Who is the easiest player on the roster to root for?

The Steelers' fifth wide receiver, local product Derek Moye. With the tragic passing of his father just a few weeks before training camp started, Moye's effort and ability to make plays landed him on the 53-man roster for the first time in his career.

The season-ending injury suffered by Plaxico Burress possibly opened a spot for Moye, and he took full advantage this preseason, catching 10 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown.

2. If you could buy a ticket to just one game this year...

I'd go with Week 15 vs. Cincinnati. It's a primetime game (Sunday Night Football), and one that could possibly have large playoff implications for both teams.

The Bengals' defense is fun to watch, removing the rivalry aspect and viewing this just as someone who enjoys football. They're active and versatile, and create havoc in so many ways. How offensive coordinator Todd Haley will defend against that is one of the more intriguing aspects to this season, in my eyes.

3. Which veterans could be cut before the season due to salary cap issues?

It wasn't a surprise the Steelers released running back Jonathan Dwyer on the final cutdown day. The $1.3 million tender he was given in restricted free agency was more to motivate Dwyer to come into camp prepared, which he seemed to be. He just isn't a great fit in a zone running scheme, which the Steelers will use this season.

Both Dwyer and Isaac Redman were given $1.3 million tenders, and in the end, it seems they chose Redman over Dwyer. There could be several reasons for that, but ultimately, rookie Le'Veon Bell will be the starting running back, and keeping two others at $1.3 million each doesn't seem wise.

4. Which second year player is going to make the biggest leap?

It's sort of cheap to consider Steelers right guard David DeCastro a second year player - he missed the vast majority of the 2012 season with a knee injury. However, DeCastro is arguably the most talented non-quarterback on the roster, and with a full camp under his belt, and three games of experience, the Steelers should reap a huge upgrade due to his presence.

The Steelers failed to win a preseason game, and the running game didn't exactly shine through those games, but it's still a work-in-progress. DeCastro as an individual should have an outstanding season.

5. What are the odds of your head coach getting fired?

Slim to none. It wouldn't be a surprise to learn after another 8-8 season in 2013 that Mike Tomlin's tail may be a little bit warmer than it was at the start of the year, but contrary to the opinions of the national media, this is a very young team in many ways, and Tomlin will be given the slack to coach them up as he sees fit.

This isn't a franchise that removes head coaches often, and the team isn't a total loss. They will be competitive in 2013, even if this might not be a team that's going to win a playoff game.

6. What franchise or NFL records could be broken this season?

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger needs 21 touchdown passes to tie Terry Bradshaw's franchise-leading mark of 212. That's an attainable number, even if the Steelers are looking to run the ball more often in 2013. Roethlisberger already holds the career mark for yards with 29,844, so he should surpass the 30,000 yard plateau in Week 1 against Tennessee. Only 35 quarterbacks have ever thrown for that many yards.

Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley needs 12 sacks to tie former Steelers OLB James Harrison for second in franchise history. He'd need 26 to break Jason Gildon's mark of 77.

7. Which rookies will see regular playing time this year?

OLB Jarvis Jones will see regular time beginning in Week 1 - if he doesn't claim the starting spot outright. Jones made several plays throughout the preseason, and despite having been injured in the team's third preseason game against the Chiefs, he's expected to play a lot of snaps against the Titans.

WR Markus Wheaton will be utilized in packages, and may be the team's third receiver starting in Week 1. Despite a few drops, Wheaton showed he can make plays all over the field, and is a burst of athleticism the Steelers offense will need to help occupy the opposing secondary.

When RB Le'Veon Bell returns from a mid-foot sprain (possibly as late as Week 4 against the Vikings in London), he is expected to join a platoon of running backs, but likely will be the team's featured back by midseason.

8. Predict the order of finish in your division.

1. Cincinnati

2. Baltimore

3. Pittsburgh

4. Cleveland

9. What do you expect your season-end record will be?

I think this will be another 8-8 year for the Steelers. While preseason predictions mean little more than "worthless," it just seems like the younger core of this team is continuing to build, but isn't quite there yet. I didn't see enough out of the offense to think they'll improve on their sluggish 20 points per game average from last year, and while the defense will regain its ability to create takeaways, they're too thin along their offensive line to feel comfortable. One injury to any of the five starters could send the season south very quickly.

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