Steelers Depth is a series aiming to dig into one hypothetical situation; every currently anticipated starter on the team is injured. Which positions could manage, which would struggle, where would the strength of the team be and where are its new weaknesses? No player is simply replaced. The face of the team automatically changes. This is a look into the quality of the back-up and based on their specific skills, the ability of that position to continue at the same level it was with the starter in place.
The depth factor among an NFL team's roster is a big part of why I'm happy my paycheck does not depend on my ability to coach a football team.
Position coaches are not only expected to prepare starters to play, but they also must prepare for back-ups to fill in when necessary. So much is out of their control, it's no wonder why fans read stories about coaches who work 17 hours a day and sleep on cots in film rooms.
The Steelers probably have a better situation in terms of depth than most others in the league. Evaluating each positional unit in the event of the unpredictable injury, we uncover a few positions in which the Steelers could go from Super Bowl contenders to .500 with one misstep.
Non-Issue Depth Positions
Eliminating a few of the deeper positions first, we start with quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger has no rival in terms of the way he plays the game, and the understatement of the year is his starting position is only challenged by his health. In the event of an injury, a healthy Byron Leftwich is as good a back-up as any in the league. This does not suggest Leftwich is an equal quarterback as Roethlisberger. The fact in the NFL is, as Bill Parcells says, "If you have two starting quarterbacks, you have none." No one has two quarterbacks who would start for every team in the league. Given the hypothetical situation, Roethlisberger cannot play, Leftwich is as good a second option as what any other team would have.
Even after him, Charlie Batch has shown he can win games with a week of preparation. Obviously, it wouldn't be ideal, and there would be a veteran or two acquired in the event of both Roethlisberger and Leftwich going down, but it's possible either back-up could keep the ship moving forward.
As strange as this may sound, the offensive line has magically turned into one of the deeper units on the team. Starting with offensive tackle, the Steelers will watch a training camp battle between veteran Jonathan Scott and rookie Mike Adams unfold at left tackle. Both will become better through that competition, and the non-starter likely won't be far from the effectiveness of the starter. It's possible Adams wins the job and Scott is released, opening up the chance for the Steelers to re-sign Max Starks. That seems a more effective strategy, considering Starks is a step up from Scott at either right tackle or left tackle. The point being the Steelers would have to consider themselves one of the fortunate teams in the NFL with a very solid personnel grouping at tackle.
Offensive guard isn't much different. It would take some digging, but find a team with two starters, LG Willie Colon and RG David DeCastro, who have never started a game at guard in the NFL, with two back-ups who have started numerous games all over the offensive line. Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky have loads of experience, and that experience is in multiple positions. Clearly, DeCastro and Colon are the starters, but the team has won a lot of games with both Legursky and Foster playing significant snaps.
It's been written often, but cornerback is one of the deepest positions on the team. It's always nice to have two starters (Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis) more or less entrenched, but with a great competition brewing for the third spot between two quality players. Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown both have futures in this league, to put it mildly. While the edge has to go to Allen, what Brown has showed on special teams can't be ignored. And again, like offensive tackle, the competition will make both of them better.
Next: Non-Fatal But Not Ideal Position Depth