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Pittsburgh Steelers: Best-Case Scenario for Every 2nd-Year Steeler in 2012

Nick DeWittAnalyst ISeptember 29, 2016

Pittsburgh Steelers: Best-Case Scenario for Every 2nd-Year Steeler in 2012

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    While much has been made of the Pittsburgh Steelers draft haul in this past April's class, it would be shortsighted to forget about the group of players brought in last season through the draft and undrafted free agency. Several important pieces of the team's future and other complementary players entered the picture in 2011 and will try to earn a bigger part in 2012.

    Here's a look at the best-case scenario for each player entering their second season.

Cortez Allen, CB

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    Best-Case Scenario

    Win the starting job opposite Ike Taylor and prove he's a solid long-term option to start in the NFL. Allen is in the mix for the starting job along with Curtis Brown and Keenan Lewis.

     

    Advantages

    Allen is a sure tackler and a hard hitter. He makes smart plays and he's emerged from a mid-round selection and afterthought to a player that the team is seriously looking at for major duty.

     

    Obstacles

    Allen is facing stiffer competition than you might think. Lewis is more experienced and he's really tearing it up this spring. Brown is viewed with higher regard and he seems to have more potential. Allen is only going to get so many reps in camp. He'll need to make the most of them.

     

    Final Analysis

    I think Allen will come up short, but I think he's going to be a part of the nickel and dime packages. Lewis just seems to have the upper hand in the starting battle. I think he can beat out Brown, however.

Baron Batch, RB

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    Best-Case Scenario

    Become the second running back in the rotation and solidify himself as the team's third-down running back. This is entirely possibly since Batch got many long looks during OTAs and answered the bell regularly with great work in the new system.

     

    Advantages

    Batch and Chris Rainey are going to be asked to play a similar role to the one Dexter McCluster played in Kansas City. Batch is a more versatile back than Rainey in that he can do more things well. He also has the better skills as a runner.

     

    Obstacles

    There's a lot of competition in the backfield. The team can only carry so many runners now that they will have a dedicated fullback. Jonathan Dwyer is going to get a long look. There are questions about Rashard Mendenhall possibly being ready soon after the regular season opens. With all of that, Batch is going to have to really fight to stand out.

     

    Final Analysis

    I think this is a reasonable goal. Batch can easily replace the production of Mewelde Moore, and his skill as a receiver will make him more valuable than Dwyer. I think he'll be the No. 2 back at least until Mendenhall is back and I think he has a great chance to be the third-down back.

Curtis Brown, CB

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    Best-Case Scenario

    Win the starting job opposite Ike Taylor and prove he's a solid long-term option to start in the NFL. Brown is in the mix for the starting job along with Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis.

     

    Advantages

    Brown has big-play ability and he was drafted because it was thought he could bring that ability to the Steelers, who lack a guy at corner who can make the splash plays.

     

    Obstacles

    Brown didn't get much of a chance to show his stuff in 2011. He's currently well behind Allen and Lewis in terms of reps and production. He was great on special teams last season, however, and that could help his cause. The biggest obstacle will be overcoming that tiny sample size.

     

    Final Analysis

    I think Brown will get some snaps in the nickel and dime this year, but I think that he's going to have to earn his way onto the field more than some others. I think he has an outside shot at eventually unseating Allen in the nickel, but the starting job is likely to go to Lewis.

Chris Carter, LB

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    Best-Case Scenario

    Become the top backup on the inside behind Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote, the presumptive choice to replace James Farrior. He'll have to beat out Stevenson Sylvester and possible even rookie Sean Spence.

     

    Advantages

    Carter is versatile and can play inside or outside. He had a great rookie campaign and proved himself to be a valuable piece. The Steelers likely need him more on the inside as they have Jason Worilds outside, but there's no limit to where Carter can play.

     

    Obstacles

    There's a numbers game here. I think Carter has a good chance of winning it. The problem is that Sylvester and Worilds are historically more highly regarded by the team, although Carter has better numbers than Sylvester inside.

     

    Final Analysis

    I think he can beat out Sylvester. Sean Spence is going to be more difficult. The trick is the starting job. If Sylvester or Spence somehow win it, then Carter is going to have a hard time proving a more valuable backup than Larry Foote.

Marcus Gilbert, RT

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    Best-Case Scenario

    Solidify his position at right tackle and earn a spot in the Pro Bowl. This is a long shot, but it is wholly possible if he can continue to improve upon his impressive rookie campaign.

     

    Advantages

    The big advantage for Gilbert is that he's already done this once. He started for almost all of last season and played very well. He was so good that the team was considering him at left tackle and might still make that move. Gilbert went from second-round prospect to mainstay in just one year.

     

    Obstacles

    I honestly don't foresee any major issues. This isn't like most second-year players trying to make a big leap. Gilbert is simply returning to the same role and trying to keep getting better.

     

    Final Analysis

    Is the Pro Bowl unreachable? No. Is it a crowded field in the AFC? It could be. There are a lot of fine choices. Gilbert has a chance to put himself there. Don't be surprised if he somehow gets there.

Cameron Heyward, DE

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    Best-Case Scenario

    Win the starting job opposite Brett Keisel. To do this, Heyward has to beat out incumbent Ziggy Hood. That will be no small feat, but there is some sentiment that he's the better player.

     

    Advantages

    Heyward is a big guy who actually has surprising quickness and skill. He is a sure tackler and he can make the big plays when needed. He also makes some solid hits. I think he has a ton of upside and potential.

     

    Obstacles

    Hood is in the way. Hood hasn't been a slug as a starter either. He's been quietly very good. He shouldn't really be in a camp competition, but that's just how deep this team has become in some spots.

     

    Final Analysis

    I don't see it. Hood isn't going anywhere and the Steelers are quite pleased with his work. I'm not sure there's really a true competition as much as Mike Tomlin leaving no stone unturned. I see Heyward getting a lot of relief work, but not getting to start unless there's an injury.

Weslye Saunders, TE

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    Best-Case Scenario

    Use his chances in camp to place himself as the No. 2 tight end once his suspension ends and beat out Leonard Pope.

     

    Advantages

    Saunders has a ton of athleticism for being so big. He also has the advantage of David Johnson moving to the fullback role full time. Leonard Pope is a free-agent addition, but there's no guarantee he'll make the roster, and he's not nearly as athletic as Saunders.

     

    Obstacles

    That suspension doesn't help matters one bit. Neither does the fact that Pope will come in knowing a lot more about Haley's offensive system. The Steelers have been patient with star players before, but Saunders isn't one yet. He will have a tough road to travel.

     

    Final Analysis

    I think Saunders will win out simply because he's going to be the better athlete. Pope will serve in the jumbo package and on some other specialty formations, but Saunders was developing a good rapport with Ben Roethlisberger. That shouldn't be stopped.

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