Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Names Steelers Fans Need to Know for the 2012 Season
Every year football fans get to see the next breakout player on their team.
This offseason, the Steelers did a lot of cap restructuring and, in doing so, lost out on a few veteran players who led this team through the last decade. Guys like Aaron Smith, Hines Ward and James Farrior will have to be replaced.
These guys are some of the names that could fill these roles and Steelers fans will probably be talking about by the end of the season.
Stevenson Sylvester, Inside Linebacker
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Entering his third year out of Utah, Stevenson Sylvester in going to be in a heated training camp battle this offseason.
He'll be battling veteran Larry Foote for the hole left inside by James Farrior.
The former fifth-round pick has the size (6'2", 225 lbs) and ability to be a good player inside for the Steelers, but lacks the game experience. According to ESPN.com, Sylvester has accounted for just 21 tackles in his two-year career, mostly as a special teamer.
More importantly is what he's done well.
In just two years, Sylvester has also forced four fumbles, two each season since being drafted by the Steelers in 2010.
It's my belief that at some point Sylvester will take over the middle linebacker position from Foote, simply because he's younger and probably better at this point in both their careers. He'll have to work hard in camp but it could pay off big time for him.
Baron Batch, Running Back
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Batch could have become a household name amongst Steeler fans last season had it not been for a knee injury he suffered in training camp last season.
The former seventh-round pick was all the talk at Steelers camp last season, and may be that same guy this year.
With starting running back Rashard Mendenhall expected to start the season on the P.U.P. list, Pittsburgh will be looking to their committee of backs to help fill his role.
It's pretty apparent that Isaac Redman will be the starter to begin the year, but he's never been a true go-to guy and he'll need to be spelled, especially on third-down situations. Batch will most likely be the guy to fill that role.
Pittsburgh is actually pretty deep at running back with Redman, Batch, Jonathan Dwyer, Mewelde Moore, John Clay and rookie Chris Rainey all healthy enough to start the season, so some players are going to get cut.
My bet is the Steelers let Dwyer and Moore walk, leaving the door open for Batch to become one of those guys Steelers fans grow to love.
Steve McLendon, Nose Tackle
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It's been widely reported that the Steelers expect long-time starting nose tackle Casey Hampton to start the season on the P.U.P. list, leaving his spot open to competition.
The contest would most likely pit third year backup Steve McLendon against rookie fourth-rounder Alameda Ta'amu.
Although I see Ta'amu as the future for the Steelers here (and possibly a future star), McLendon seems to be the guy now.
In an interview following the draft, Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell openly praised McLendon, telling reporters to "hold their opinion on him until after the season."
McLendon is a bit undersized, but has gained some good experience working behind Hampton the past few seasons. He recorded 16 total tackles last season, including his first sack.
He'll need to prove he can be the space-eater Hampton was, or no doubt the Steelers will turn to Ta'amu without hesitation.
Jerricho Cotchery, Wide Receiver
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People...I'm not kidding.
Pittsburgh transformed themselves into more of a passing offense last season and, with the Mendenhall injury, they'll figure to do the same in 2012.
But the Steelers receivers aren't very big and have proved to be a little prone to injury, especially Emmanuel Sanders who missed five games last year and three in his rookie season.
Cotchery is one of the best possession guys in the league and will fill the role left open by the retired Hines Ward while competing with Sanders for the No. 3 receiver job.
But his talents won't stop there.
He'll also most likely be one of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's favorites in the red zone, considering he's the biggest of the team's four receivers.
I like Cotchery and the skill set and veteran leadership he brings to the team. He's not going to be a 1,000-yard guy barring any injuries, but the fact is he's still got the potential to be.
Keenan Lewis, Cornerback
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This fifth spot is interesting because it could be three different players, but I'm going with the guy who I think is going to win the Steelers' starting corner job opposite Ike Taylor.
Lewis will enter his fourth year with the Steelers and appeared in all 16 games last season for the first time in his career. He had one interception and defended six passes according to pro-football-reference.com.
Lewis will be competing with second year corners Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown for the starting spot left open by the departed William Gay, but I think Lewis' experience wins out in this case.
This position is extremely important for the Steelers as they haven't had a dominant cornerback pairing in a very long time and they'll need to find someone, especially if they suffer injuries to their main pass-rushers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley as they did a year ago.