The Pittsburgh Steelers know plenty about injuries and how the loss of even one player threatens an entire season. They have learned to adjust and prepare, but drop-offs are still noticeable between starters and reserves. Is it because the depth is lacking in quality, or is it because the players lost were indispensable?
NFL.com's Adam Schein formulated his own rankings of the league's most indispensable players. Evidently when it comes to the Steelers, Schein believes the problem lies in the quality of depth; not that he said as much, but more as he excluded all Steelers from his list.
To be fair, all quarterbacks were excluded, leaving the obvious Ben Roethlisberger out of the equation. However, even to the casual fan, several names immediately come to mind as guys the team could not live without. Troy Polamalu used to be one of those guys, and his playmaking instinct will never be replaced; but Pittsburgh persevered without him in 2012 and still boasted the NFL's best pass defense. Cornerback Ike Taylor seemed to take a bigger toll on the defense when he was lost a broken ankle late last season.
No one knows how the defense will perform this year without James Harrison. The Steelers were without the typical Harrison until the midpoint of 2012. He came on strong down the stretch, but the team still had a better record in the first half of the year when he looked rusty, than they did when he looked more like his old self in the second half.Many are anxious to see Steve McLendon, who is presumably the new starter at nose tackle. However, it has yet to be seen if he can operate in the massive missing shadow of Casey Hampton.
On the offensive side of the ball, several players could cause problems should they be medically eliminated. The team lost some of its momentum when Antonio Brown missed three games in the middle of the season. Heath Miller is one of the most spectated people at OTAs, because of what his absence could do the offense. The Steelers seem to have at least four men qualified to hold down the right tackle position on the offensive line, but what happens if someone falls on Marcus Gilbert for once?
Despite all the question marks surrounding the trainer's room, Schein didn't feel any of these players or their teammates belonged in this ranking. While many of the names on his list feel deserving, some could be debated, like tight end Jimmy Graham from the New Orleans Saints, wide receiver Torrey Smith of the Baltimore Ravens and left tackle Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns.
The Saints are going to put 50 points on the scoreboard whether Graham is in the lineup or not. Drew Brees cannot be mentioned because of the no-passer rule. Perhaps Graham was an apologetic pick. The Ravens' Smith could fall into the Graham category, as the team seems pretty emphatic Joe Flacco is to blame for all their success. By quality of player, Thomas would be a logical selection; unfortunately the Browns suck whether Thomas is on the field or not, leaving his label of indispensability in question.
Surely, Schein sincerely intended this only for the sake of discussion, as every NFL team has players they feel are necessary or irreplaceable. Although, Steelers fans should take the same confidence from Schein's exclusion, as his exclusion shows in the Steelers ability to adapt in the face of adversity.
If he's not sweating it, maybe neither should we.