6 Pittsburgh Steelers Who Need to Put Up or Shut Up in 2012

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst IJune 27, 2012

6 Pittsburgh Steelers Who Need to Put Up or Shut Up in 2012

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    While the Pittsburgh Steelers don't have a ton of roster spots up for grabs this season, they figure to have more than their usual share of intrigue.

    Several players are battling for jobs, and their work in this year's camps and preseason will likely determine the course of their tenure in Pittsburgh as well as their tenure in the NFL.

    Here's a look at six guys that have a lot of work to do this season.

Jonathan Dwyer, RB

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    When Dwyer was drafted, there was a lot of talk of the promise he had and how he could become a major part of the team's backfield. That hasn't ever really materialized. He had conditioning problems when he arrived in camp as a rookie and has since been injured regularly.

    When he has been on the field, however, he has performed well enough to merit consideration for a significant role in 2012. The situation is good. The running back position is in turmoil, so he may get more of a look than he'd get in a usual year.

    If Dwyer shows well and can recapture that promise, he could carve out a significant season and position himself well for the future. If he falters again, the Steelers will be hard-pressed to keep him around.

Keenan Lewis, CB

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    Lewis is another player who's never been short on potential. Results have been more difficult to come by, but he took a huge step last season. Lewis had his best year as a professional and seemed to finally realize some of his great potential.

    Now, the game moves to a new level. Lewis will be asked and expected to emerge from training camp as the starter opposite Ike Taylor. Anything less than that is a disappointment and could be cause for Lewis to begin looking for work in 2013.

    Lewis can't stop there, however. If he wants to truly stick around, he must show that he can be an able starter and that he isn't going to be a flash in the pan or a preseason star that fades when the real competition begins this fall.

Stevenson Sylvester, ILB

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    When Sylvester was drafted and during brief glimpses during his rookie season, there was talk that he was a guy who could carry on the great tradition of linebackers in Pittsburgh. He was to replace James Farrior and be the next great in a long line.

    Somewhere in the last year, that's been lost. Sylvester had a very underwhelming season last year and has so far been behind the aging Larry Foote for the starting job vacated by the retired Farrior. That's a bad sign for a guy who was nearly replaced in the draft.

    Sylvester needs to show up in camp and really push himself to the top of the depth chart. He may stick as a backup this year, but he will almost assuredly be removed after this season if he doesn't find a way to claim the top job. There are no excuses.

Larry Foote, ILB

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    On the other end of the spectrum is Foote, who will be vying to reclaim a starting job on the inside several years after losing it when left town for Detroit after Super Bowl XLIII. So far, he seems to have the inside track on the position.

    The trick with Foote is that this is probably his last chance at starting. If he wins the job, he might still end up being replaced in another year or two at the most. If he loses the job, he probably won't be around much longer and his career would likely be over.

    Foote is on the downside of things as it is. He must put up a performance this year or he's likely done. It won't be easy to catch on with another team.

    He's used that mentality as motivation and has really turned himself around after a couple of so-so years as a backup.

Shaun Suisham, K

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    I was mildly surprised the Suisham didn't receive competition in the form of a young kicker during the draft or from a veteran in free agency. His numbers, while decent, are nothing special, and his leg isn't strong enough to be considered a viable solution in the long term.

    Suisham will be the team's kicker in 2012 unless something unbelievable happens in the interim. What happens after that, however, depends on how he does this year. If he has a big year or even a good one, he will continue to kick either in Pittsburgh or with another team.

    If he doesn't, he probably is done. His career numbers aren't very good and he doesn't really have much going for him in a league with only a tiny number of kicking jobs.

    The new kickoff rules implemented last year were a blow, and teams won't likely need kickoff specialists nearly so much.

Casey Hampton, NT

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    Hampton's roster spot isn't in any danger, but he's going to have an uphill battle for playing time if he proves to be unable to start the season on the field. Alameda Ta'amu, while a rookie, seems like a player who could step in right away.

    Hampton's career is likely down to the 2012 season. I don't see him continuing with another team and I also don't see him playing beyond this year for any reason. He's simply losing steam, and the injury he suffered at the end of 2011 will likely speed the end.

    Hampton has nothing left to prove in a mostly sterling career, but he won't receive many opportunities to see the field if he can't get healthy and prove he's still a better option than the younger, more athletic Ta'amu.