Pittsburgh Steelers: 8 Players with the Most to Prove in 2013

Joe TordyAnalyst IMarch 2, 2013

Pittsburgh Steelers: 8 Players with the Most to Prove in 2013

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers underachieved in 2012, but some players were worse offenders than others.  The team showed great promise in 2011 and was in prime position to make a splash this year before injuries derailed their playoff hopes.

    Regardless of the reasons, the Steelers didn’t get the production they’d hoped for from many of their star players.

    If the team is going to bounce back from a disappointing 8-8 season, here are some players who must step up next year.

8. Troy Polamalu

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    The Steelers’ strong safety missed nine games in 2012 with lower-leg injuries.  The soon-to-be 32-year-old Polamalu created a huge void with his absence, and as the injuries mount, Steelers fans are beginning to grumble about how effective Polamalu is at this stage of his career.  It doesn’t help that Polamalu carries a cap hit of over $10 million according to Spotrac.com.

    When healthy, Polamalu showed why he is considered one of the premier safeties in the league, and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau told the Tribune-Review that he thinks his star has plenty left in the tank.  However, Polamalu must shed the “injury-prone” tag by staying healthy this year and producing at a high level all season long. 

    If he can, the Steelers will have taken a big step toward bringing back the fearsome defense that’s always been their calling card.

7. David DeCastro

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    When the Steelers drafted the Stanford guard in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Steeler Nation hailed his arrival with euphoria at landing the next sure-fire All-Pro.  However, it was not meant to be, as DeCastro suffered a serious knee injury in the preseason and didn’t look dominant when he returned.

    He’ll be eager to show the Steelers why their faith in him was justified this year.  DeCastro will have to show durability as well as spectacular play in order to live up to the lofty expectations that come with being a first-round pick in Pittsburgh.

6. Emmanuel Sanders

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    Obviously, this selection is contingent upon bringing the restricted free agent back aboard the Steelers’ ship, but I would be surprised if he leaves Pittsburgh.

    Sanders gets his first shot at a starting job with the likely departure of Mike Wallace in free agency.  He’s well-versed in every Steelers receiving role, so the training wheels are coming off for this season.

    At times he looks like he could be a long-term NFL starter, but at others, it’s tough to even find him on the field.  Sanders has battled injuries and inconsistency for much of his career, so this is a make-or-break season for the SMU wideout.

5. James Harrison

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    Harrison’s status won’t be fully settled until after the draft, but at the moment it looks like he’ll be returning to Pittsburgh to man the right outside linebacker position.  If he gets another chance, he would do well to take advantage in 2013.

    Like Polamalu, age and injuries have sapped Harrison of much of his trademark strength and quickness.  He mustered only six sacks last year, roughly half of what the Steelers have come to expect from him.

    James Harrison has some work ahead of him if he wants to prove that he has something to contribute to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it starts in 2013.

4. Marcus Gilbert

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    It’s pretty rare when a player that many think of as a “Steeler-killer” actually plays for the Steelers, but that’s exactly the case with Marcus Gilbert.

    His subpar strength and haphazard blocking form have done worse than just allowing sacks and penetration—which they have, incidentally.  The fact that Gilbert routinely gets shoved backwards has resulted in injuries to both Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro.

    The Steelers have had tough luck with injuries to a young, talented offensive line, but much of it falls directly on Gilbert’s shoulders.  If he improves his technique and punch, the Steelers’ offensive front could look worlds better in seasons to come.

3. Ben Roethlisberger

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    Ben Roethlisberger was the scapegoat for many of the Steelers’ late-season losses, somewhat unfairly, in my view. 

    I’m looking for the signal-caller to prove the bad interceptions he threw had more to do with injuries that had not yet healed than questionable decision-making abilities.

    Detractors are quick to point out crucial interceptions during games against the Cowboys, Chargers and Bengals, but I think that’s short-sighted.  Headed into the Kansas City game in 2012, Roethlisberger looked like an MVP candidate, and I think that he was not the same player after his injury.

    Typically the Steelers go as Roethlisberger goes, and he will go along way toward determining Pittsburgh’s fate next year.

2. Antonio Brown

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    There’s an argument for Brown to top this list after signing a contract extension last offseason for five years and nearly $43 million.  Both Mike Wallace and he had down years catching the ball in Todd Haley’s new ball-control offense, with Brown failing to break the 800-yard mark receiving.

    Wallace will likely depart, and so all eyes will be on Brown to take over as the leading receiver in the Steelers’ stable.  If he struggles in 2013, fans will begin to wonder whether paying Brown after his breakout year was a big mistake.

1. LaMarr Woodley

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    Is he complacent?  Overweight?  Washed up?  And that’s just from within the Steelers’ locker room.

    There is no doubt that Woodley is one of the players that makes the Steelers defense go, and it did not go much of anywhere last year when he was not productive.  Woodley’s four sacks were the fewest since his rookie season, and he has struggled with injuries in recent history.

    When you couple Woodley’s disappearing act with James Harrison’s age and cost, it’s no wonder that the Steelers are believed to be targeting pass-rushers in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.  LaMarr Woodley is the biggest mystery on the Steelers’ roster, and as such is the player with the most to prove in 2013.