Hines Ward: 4 Reasons Pittsburgh Steelers Will Miss the Wide Receiver in 2012

James ReaganCorrespondent IIMarch 1, 2012

Hines Ward: 4 Reasons Pittsburgh Steelers Will Miss the Wide Receiver in 2012

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    For both the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans, it is surreal to think that Hines Ward has just been released. The third-round pick out of Georgia has been an integral part of the Steelers offense ever since he joined them in 1998. Ward has spent all 14 of his seasons with the Steelers and has been vastly influential to their success which resulted in two Super Bowl titles in four years. 

    Yet Ward pledges to return for a 15th season in 2012. It will be extremely bizarre to see Ward in any color other than black and gold but nevertheless, that looks like what will happen this season. 

    Though the Steelers may have made the right decision by cutting Ward, not having him on the team will be hard this season. Here are four reasons why I think the Steelers will miss Ward in 2012. 

1. He Provided Leadership and Served as a Mentor for the Younger Players

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    2011 saw a clear decrease in playing time for Hines Ward as he dropped all the way down to third and even fourth on the depth chart. Injuries also limited his playing time as he started only nine games as the Steelers' third-string receiver and played in 15. This resulted in Ward putting up some of the worst numbers of his career, with only 46 catches for 381 yards and two touchdowns.

    What couldn't be measured on the field, though, was how Ward mentored the team's younger receivers. Both Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, the team's current starting receivers, had great relationships with Ward. With both of these men being young and inexperienced NFL players, Ward's mentoring was instrumental in their emergence as superstars. 

    No other receiver on their roster will likely be step up in that way. Wallace is actually the longest-tenured receiver that they have and he's only entering his fourth season. It's possible that not having Ward around could have a negative effect on the young receivers. 

2. Ward Was One of the Toughest Recievers in the League

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    Much has been said over the years about Hines Ward's unique playing style. He has been known as a violent blocker who relished putting up hits against other NFL players.

    It's not a style of play that's common in today's NFL. So many wide receivers have reputations of being divas who are all about seeing their statistical numbers improve and they don't care as much about the needs of the team. There are few receivers today that put in nearly as much effort in blocking or even tackling defensive players. 

    Ward gave his all for the team every play. He took the hard hits when he needed to make a catch and got up always wearing that same smile on his face. The very definition of a blue-collar football player, Ward is one of the few NFL players that gave his all every play.

3. Ben Roethlisberger Will Miss His Favorite Target

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    Since Ben Roethlisberger was drafted by the Steelers in 2004, Hines Ward has been the only consistent weapon that he has had. The Steelers offense has undergone a lot of changes in recent years with Heath Miller being the only other receiver or tight end to have been with the Steelers since before the 2006 season began.

    It's safe to say Roethlisberger will miss Ward who could arguably be his favorite receiver. During the Steelers' brilliant Super Bowl run in 2005, it was Ward who carried them, not Ben Roethlisberger. Ward was rightfully honored for his contribution by winning the Super Bowl MVP.

    And even in later days when Ward no longer started, he stayed consistent. Roethlisberger always seemed to trust that he could look for Ward and toss the ball to him in clutch situations. 

    The Steelers will have the young and fast receivers on the field in 2012. But it's going to be hard for these players to be as dependable as Ward was throughout his career.

4. Ward Could Miss on the Opportunity to Build His HOF Credentials

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    At this stage of his career, it's debatable whether or not Hines Ward makes it to the Hall of Fame. He's got great numbers and is one of only eight NFL players to reach 1,000 career receptions. He also holds the team records in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions in a career.

    Unfortunately, Ward could have trouble getting in since there have been very few receivers that have made it to the Hall in recent years. With the NFL continuing to praise quarterbacks and vote them into the Hall, receivers naturally suffer as the good ones are mostly seen as products of the elite quarterbacks. It's a shame to think that this fate could affect someone like Ward, as it has already with players like Cris Carter and Tim Brown.

    What's baffling is that an organization like the Steelers wouldn't want to give one of their all-time greats a chance to reach for those records. The Steelers pride themselves on being a close-knit organization that runs almost like a family. Yet at the end of the day, even the Steelers are a business that will cut a player if they think he isn't good enough for them.

    Ward could have the chance to continue building his Hall of Fame resume elsewhere. It'll be weird but both he and the Steelers should adjust. And when the day comes that Ward retires, it's going to be his career as a Steeler that will be its highlight.