Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Key Veterans Who'll Take a Backseat in 2012
A changing of the guard has slowly begun to occur in Pittsburgh as the Steelers have undertaken efforts to get younger this offseason. Several veterans have already found their way off the roster, and others will likely see their roles reduced.
Here's a look at five players who will be taking a back seat in 2012.
Part of this is happening because of necessity (Hampton is nursing an ACL injury), and part of it is the natural progression of a player who's aging.
Hampton is a large man, and he's anchored the Pittsburgh defensive line for a long, long time. The problem now is that he has started to lose a step or two. The injury will certainly hurt, and there are no guarantees that he can return given his age and weight.
Hampton has improved his conditioning in recent seasons and has also restructured his contract to stay in Pittsburgh, but he will likely have to accept a reduced role this season as the team works in either draft picks or Steve McLendon.
Cameron Heyward, last year's first-rounder, is another option since he has the size and athleticism to succeed in the middle.
Foote has long since seen his starting days pass into history, but he's been an integral backup since returning to the Steelers after a brief stint in Detroit.
Foote was a surprise retention to me since the Steelers had more to gain by retaining James Farrior than Foote, but the team will want his veteran experience on the roster for at least another season it seems.
Foote has been the primary backup on the inside, but I expect to see him transitioned out of that role this year as Stevenson Sylvester steps up into a starting role (hopefully) and likely a new draft pick moves onto the roster and needs snaps.
Foote could be on the roster bubble still if the team feels the need to make further financial cuts (his salary is rather high for a backup), so this situation bears some watching.
Mendenhall ripped up his ACL in the final regular season game of the year and will likely be shelved for a portion of 2012. Kevin Colbert doesn't seem too eager to rely on him at all for next season, an indication that even if he is active, he may take a back seat.
Part of that is because the team is eager to see if Bowie State product Isaac Redman can build off his excellent work in limited spots and be the team's feature back. Redman seems better suited to playing behind Pittsburgh's quixotic offensive line.
There have been some rumblings in various mock drafts (including mine) that the team could pick up a back there. Mendenhall is a free agent after this season, so his future on the roster is in serious limbo.
Mendenhall might be better in a reduced role as he recovers, so it makes sense that he will take a backseat for at least this season.
Saying Wallace will be taking a back seat is different than someone like Hampton or Foote who will move off the field more often. Wallace may simply be overshadowed this year by Antonio Brown, a more complete receiver that has slowly developed into Ben Roethlisberger's favorite target.
Wallace has been called a "one-trick pony" by some. That might be a bit unfair, but that doesn't mean that he's the best receiver on the depth chart now.
That's Brown, who can do things that Wallace cannot. He runs better routes, is much better on short and intermediate throws and he also can catch the deep ball that Wallace is famous for.
While Roethlisberger and Wallace seem to have hiccups in their chemistry, Brown seems to always be able to hook up with the quarterback regardless of the situation. That means he might overshadow the speedy Wallace and push him to the passenger seat.
As good as Foster has been as a starter for the Steelers, the team has never seemed particularly sold on him as a long-term option at right guard.
I think Foster will once again find himself in competition to retain his starting job, although I'm not sure yet if that competition will be from a draft pick or from a veteran who's brought in during free agency.
Foster might very well win that competition, but you get the feeling that he may be the backup or the odd man out if anyone else shows some promise. The Steelers do need to improve their run blocking, particularly in the middle, so maybe the lack of faith in Foster is more well-founded than one might think.
Either way, on a team where so many aging veterans have found their way off the team, Foster is a younger guy that might simply have to fight once again to hold his spot.