Pittsburgh Steelers: 6 Players Feeling the Most Pressure Heading into Camp
As training camp approaches, several Pittsburgh Steelers will be feeling the heat, and it has nothing to do with the weather.
Some of them are in contract years. Their production will determine if they break the bank next year or struggle to get a respectable contract.
Others are just looking to stay employed. Injuries and disappointing play could leave them one step away from selling used cars in 2014.
Players' stats courtesy of NFL.com.
Players' salary info courtesy of Spotrac.com.
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Stevenson Sylvester quickly learned his market value this offseason. First, the Steelers showed him no love by not tendering him a restricted free agent offer. This allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent.
Unfortunately for him, the rest of the NFL didn't notice. Fortunately for him, however, the Steelers are so thin at inside linebacker they had to bring him back, albeit for one year.
With Larry Foote turning 33 before the season starts and the future of Sean Spence in doubt, Sylvester needs to step up. If he doesn't, his time in Pittsburgh, and quite possibly the NFL, will come to an end.
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Ziggy Hood is in a contract year. The former first-round draft pick has started 39 games for the Steelers since 2009. In that time, he's collected nine sacks and 101 tackles.
While the Steelers defensive linemen are never about the stats, Hood's play hasn't made fans forget about Aaron Smith. Unlike Smith, Hood doesn't dominate the line of scrimmage.
This isn't to say that Hood's play has been awful, but it hasn't been first-round worthy either. As such, the Steelers may let him walk if he doesn't go to the next level this year.
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In the 2011 NFL draft, the Steelers drafted a cornerback who has exceeded expectations. Unfortunately for Curtis Brown, he isn't that cornerback.
While fellow draft-class alum Cortez Allen appears to be the starter opposite Ike Taylor, Brown has struggled. So much so that Pittsburgh brought back oft-maligned William Gay.
Taylor just turned 33. That's almost 50 in cornerback years. If Brown aspires to fill Taylor's spot, he must show something now. If he doesn't, he will disappear into oblivion.
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The offseason has not been kind to Jonathan Dwyer.
In a span of a few days, the Steelers drafted Le'Veon Bell, signed LaRod Stephens-Howling and then were reported (via NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah) to have Dwyer on the trading block.
Not that long ago, Dwyer looked to be the featured back in Pittsburgh. At one point last season, he had two consecutive 100-yard rushing games against the Washington Redskins (127) and the Cincinnati Bengals (101).
He missed the next game against the New York Giants due to a quadricep injury. And after his return, his production never crossed the 100-yard threshold the remainder of the season. He finished the year with 156 carries for 623 yards.
Unless he sets the league on fire, this is likely Dwyer's last year in Pittsburgh.
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Emmanuel Sanders raised some eyebrows by signing an offer sheet with the New England Patriots, forcing the Steelers' hand. Pittsburgh ultimately matched.
Afterward, Sanders' agent, Jordan Woy, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette that his client may move on after 2013. Of course, the statement wasn't well received, which put Sanders in damage-control mode. He then went on ESPN to say that he's happy to be a Steeler.
Regardless of his true feelings, Sanders needs to produce. He's never caught more than 44 passes in a season.
This will also be his first year as a starter. A strong showing could mean an overvalued contract next season, although not as hefty as Mike Wallace's. However, if he doesn't have the numbers or he gets injured, it may be the Steelers who decide to move on in 2014.
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From 2008 to 2010, LaMarr Woodley averaged 12 sacks a season. Last season, he got four, despite starting 13 games.
Injuries and a lack of production led one anonymous teammate to call Woodley out to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook:
He was awful. He tells us he works out, but we didn't see it. He wasn't in shape. That has to be a reason why he was always hurt.
Woodley's physique isn't the only thing that's bloated. His contract takes up approximately $9.2 million against the cap this year and $13.9 million in 2014. That buys a lot of Little Debbie snack cakes.
If his production doesn't return, it could be him, not Jason Worilds, who Jarvis Jones replaces.