Over at Pittsburgh Blitz, we have decided to pin-point five young players from the Pittsburgh Steelers, who could impact the Steelers season and chances of defending their Super Bowl title. These players could directly effect their shot at a seventh Lombardy Trophy.
1. Limas Sweed - After an inconsistent rookie season and the defection of Nate Washington to Tennessee via free agency, now is the time for Sweed to step up his game. The Steelers will count on the second year player to step into the third wide receiver role and become the deep threat required of that position in their offensive scheme.
Sweed was outstanding during his college career at Texas and was drafted in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft, for this exact reason. He will be counted on to make about 35-45 catches and be a serious red-zone threat.
If Sweed can reach his potential and be the wide-out the Steelers think he can be, then Pittsburgh's chances of defending their Super Bowl title will be much better then many of the so called experts think.
2. William Gay - By default, the fifth-round draft pick out of Louisville, in his fourth season, William Gay, becomes the starting LCB on the defending Super Bowl Champions top rated defense. He has the potential and the experience, after splitting series with Bryant McFadden during the '08 season, to step in and make a monumental difference.
McFadden is now in Arizona via free agency and Gay is the man called upon to step in and fill his shoes.
Gay started four games last season and had 41 tackles, 7 passes defended and an INT while splitting time with McFadden. Though his playing time was limited, he has shown great instincts and always seems to be around the ball and in his fourth season he should be well schooled in Lebeau's defense.
He will need to become another play-maker in the Steelers secondary though, to make an impact on the season.
3. Lawrence Timmons - Mike Tomlin has a ton of faith in Timmons or he would not have made him his first ever draft pick two years ago and Timmons has not disappointed either. He has shown his athletic prowess and play-making ability with every chance he has been given.
His one obstacle though was Larry Foote, who is no longer with the team. With Foote being released, Timmons will finally get his chance to start at ILB opposite of James Farrior and should give the Steelers and even more dynamic group of linebackers then last season.
The difference Timmons will bring to the defense will be his speed and ability to rush the passer, where as Foote was primarily a run stopping backer. This new wrinkle in the Steelers defense should also give apposing defensive coordinators plenty of headaches.
The addition of Timmons as a full time starter could potentially turn a great pass rush into one of the best ever.
If this happens, the Steelers could be a very hard team to beat and easily be on their way to a seventh title. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley already are a dynamic due, with the added dimension of Timmons, the pass rush could be deadly.
4. Rashard Mendenhall - Willy Parker has been the starting HB in Pittsburgh for a while now and that won't change in 2009, even with a healthy Mendenhall. The place for the former first-round pick to make his mark though will be as a relief hitter for Parker.
He should also give Pittsburgh a solid one-two punch out of the backfield and provide the thunder to Parker's lightning.
If both backs can stay healthy, they could be a great compliment to one another and give every defense they face the he-bee jebee's.
Mendenhall should be good for about 450 yards and be used in the red-zone to help the teams struggles in the running game on that part of the field. His power should also help to wear teams down, while Parker's speed is utilized to blaze by the winded defenders.
These two have the potential for greatness together and their ability to compliment one another, will go a long way in determining the teams success or failures in 2009.
5. Mike Wallace - The only rookie on our list is Mike Wallace. It's not because we fill he is better then our other draft picks, but for his potential in the return game. If Wallace can fulfill his promise, he will add a fear factor to the team the Steelers have not had since Randal El was returning kicks.
His ability to step into the role of primary return man and get our 240 lb running-backs off the field will be a huge upgrade to the special teams.
Though the ST did improve last year, they still lacked a home-run hitter and in our opinion, was the weakest link, next to the offensive line, on the team.
If Wallace can improve on the yards gained per return and help our team into better field position he not only sets up the offense but he also helps the team win the field position battles that so often can determine the outcome of a game.
Add a home run or two and he changes the way other teams prepare for the Steelers and gives them yet another wrinkle to iron out...
These five players will be counted on to step it up this year and how they respond will set the tone for the season and the possibilities that lay ahead on the road to a seventh ring. Their ability to play up to their potential will be a major factor in the success or failures of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009.
These five young faces could be the difference between greatness and immortality. They are the future and the future is now.