The 2008 football season ended in historic fashion, with the Pittsburgh Steelers capturing their sixth Lombardi trophy.
Following the celebration, the questions immediately started working there way into the media. Newspapers, ESPN, and even here at B/R, the talk about what the Steelers have to do to secure Lombardi No. 7 began.
And a lot of the talk is centered around one of the "weakest" positions on the Steelers roster—wide receiver.
Sure, we are set at starters. Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes are the only two receivers with Super Bowl MVP honors playing on the same roster, but with the departure of Nate Washington to the Tennessee Titans, many believe that there is a huge gap that needs to be filled.
Shortly after the conclusion of the 2007 season, Big Ben Roethlisberger signed his Steeler record $100 million contract, and one of the things that Ben asked for was a tall receiver.
Much of the early success of Roethlisberger (his rookie season), he had not only Hines Ward, but also Plaxico Burress. Burris was Ben's favorite target, and who could blame him?
Every scrambling quarterback loves the "tall" receivers. When they get in trouble, they can throw it high, and let the receiver make the play.
In the second round of last year's draft, the Steelers granted Ben his wish. Limas Sweed was drafted with the 53rd pick, (No. 20 in the second round), when many people believed the Steelers should have bolstered their lines (either one).
But when it came time to select, the Steelers went with Sweed.
Some people believed that this was an absolute steal for the Steelers. Had Sweed come out after his junior season, many believed he would have been a top-10 pick.
Had Sweed not suffered a wrist injury near the end of his senior season, he would not have been on the draft board when Pittsburgh used their first pick, let alone their second.
Sweed stands 6'4", and weighs 220 lbs. He has very deceptive speed, and had above average hands in college.
Then his rookie season came.
Sweed had problems right from training camp. After a few weeks, it became known that Sweed needed to start wearing contact lenses.
Kinda hard to catch a ball if you can't see.
Then, behind the talented Ward, Holmes, and Washington, Sweed did not get to see much game time action. Sweed finished the season with six catches for 64 yards.
What we did get to see in the playoffs, the good was overshadowed by the bad. After dropping a sure 60-yard touchdown pass near the end of the first half, Sweed was "injured", costing the Steelers not only an additional TD against the Ravens, but our final time out, which could have been used to set up a field goal.
What I saw was a vicious downfield block against Corey Ivy that Hines Ward himself was proud of. I also saw a third-down reception that kept a drive alive in the third quarter.
This shows that even though he made a mistake in the first half, he made up for it afterward. It means, that he has the heart to keep playing and can forget the mistakes.
Last Monday, the "optional" part of the offseason began. Limas Sweed started two weeks early to show his teammates how committed he was to be worthy of the draft position he received.
Every day after practice, Sweed, with the help of Dennis Dixon, works on routes, timing, and his release from the line.
“I have been going through routes, getting a better feel for it, catching balls over and over again," said Sweed. "You can never touch the ball enough. It’s definitely positive momentum for me.”
In Hines Ward's rookie season, he had 15 receptions for 256 yards and zero TDs, but has since become the leader in almost every receiving category for the Steelers.
Mark my words: By the 2011 season, Limas Sweed is not only going to the best WR on the Steelers—he is going to be in the top 10 in the league.
Once Big Ben has confidence in Sweed, Sweed will become Ben's favorite target. He has the size, speed, and hands (you'll see) that is going to make him elite.
By 2011, Ward will no longer be the receiver we all love, if he is even still playing, and Sweed will more than take his place.
So, everyone needs to do themselves a favor. Go out now and buy your No. 14 jerseys because they are going to be a lot harder to find down the road.
And who knows, maybe he will be the fourth WR in Steelers history to be named the Super Bowl MVP.