MVP. Most Valuable Player. The Pittsburgh Steelers annually select an individual on their roster as team MVP—voted on by the players themselves.
James Harrison, the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the year, was named the Steelers team MVP for the second consecutive season this past year. However, there are more than just one Steeler which the team can afford to be without.
Prior to Harrison's current two-year run as team MVP, running back Willie Parker "ran" away with the title during the teams Super Bowl hangover in 2006.
Other past team MVP's still on the roster include Hines Ward (also 2002 and 2003) and Casey Hampton, who shared the honors in 2005, along with James Farrior in 2004.
So who are the candidates for this upcoming season's award? The following is a list of 10 possible candidates, five which the Steelers can't go without.
10) James Farrior: The defensive signal caller is the anchor of a linebacking corps that includes Harrison, emerging star LaMarr Woodley and former first-round draft choice Lawrence Timmons, starting for the first time in his career.
Farrior, known as "Potsie" to his teammates may be 34 years-old, however, he still brings the passion and leadership to an otherwise youthful group.
9) Max Starks: For all the talk about the Steelers recent inconsistencies on the offensive line, it has been Starks, the teams third round pick in 2004, who has started both the teams last two Super Bowl victories. Starks brings a calm, yet encouraging presence to a very young group of offensive linemen.
8) Heath Miller: Perhaps the most underrated tight end in the NFL, Miller is the complete package. There are others at his position in the game who put up great stats including Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, but it is Miller who opens various running lanes with his above-average blocking skills.
Miller gives the Steelers a true third receiving option on downs where the Steelers have just two wideouts on the field.
7) Ike Taylor: Not as underrated as Miller, Taylor may be the most under-appreciated part of two Super Bowl winning teams. Taylor is the teams number one cornerback, who draws the toughest matchups on game day.
What he lacks in speed and hands, Taylor makes up in physicality. With the loss of Bryant McFadden and the aging Deshea Townsend, Taylor will be asked to step up once again to cover the likes of Braylon Edwards and Brandon Marshall.
6) Santonio Holmes: The reigning Super Bowl MVP, Holmes will be a target of opposing defensive double teams this coming season. Perhaps one of the leagues most dangerous down field receivers, Holmes has the hands and speed of a number one receiver.
Playing opposite Hines Ward enables Holmes to get open as the Steelers like to spread the field. As Ward's career continues to extend in to his 30's, Holmes will be asked to assume the top spot on the depth chart.
FIVE MOST VALUABLE PLAYERS THE STEELERS CAN'T LOSE
5) James Harrison: What else can be said of the two-time defending team MVP? A player with the power and speed of Harrison is hard to come by.
Without Harrison, the Steelers may well have lost Super Bowl XLIII.
His 100-yard interception return for a touchdown at the end of the 1st half has been mentioned with the greatest plays in Super Bowl history. His 16 sacks in 2008, along with his Super Bowl performance, are just two of the reasons he was recently rewarded a six-year, $51.75 million contract extension.
Playing opposite Woodley, Harrison is able to take advantage of slower offensive tackles who must attempt to cover him one-on-one. Look for Harrison to continue his dominant play in '09, while looking to become a MVP for a third consecutive season.
4) Hines Ward: Sure, he can catch a football pretty well. However, Hines Ward does everything other than catch the football, making him one of the five players the Steelers can not go without.
He makes blocks most fullbacks can only dream of, all while being hunted by opposing defenses week in and out. The intensity Ward brings to the game comes from his upbringing.
Raised by a single mother, Ward used the struggles and life-lessons he learned as a youth to elevate his game to become one of the games best. Widely considered the NFL's most complete receiver, Ward lines up each play with the thought of greatness.
Whether it a block, drive-extending first down catch or touchdown, Ward has the skill to change a game in one moment. Without Ward, the Steelers would lose a great player and an even better leader.
3) Troy Polamalu: It is safe to say that Troy Polamalu is one of the top three safeties in the league. While Ed Reed and Bob Sanders are also on that short list, consider the fact that Polamalu covers the field the same way Michael Phelps covers the pool.
On any three-and-out series, Polamalu may line up 20 yards off the line-of-scrimmage on first down, blitzing off the end on second and diving over the defensive line on third to make a stop. With hair that flows like the rivers outside Heinz, Polamalu is known for his convergence to the ball.
Polamalu easily confuses the best quarterbacks in the game by roving the field on all downs and situations. Even the Peyton Manning as fallen victim to a Troy Polamalu interception when it matters most.
Without this great of all-time, the Steelers can ill-afford an extended stretch without Polamalu.
2) Ben Roethlisberger: Not the prototypical quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger has redefined the QB position. His strong arm and even stronger will to succeed makes him No. 2 on the Steelers list of MVP candidates.
Following a rookie season that saw Ben win 14 consecutive games before losing to the Patriots in the AFC championship game, Roethlisberger guided the Steelers to the first of two Super Bowl titles the past four seasons.
Since that rookie season, Roethlisberger has led the Steelers to 18 victories when tied or trailing in the fourth quarter. No comeback was bigger than the 2:30 drive that culminated with a touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes in Super Bowl XLIII.
Roethlisberger also has the uncanny ability to elude the rush and fight off sacks better than any in the game today. Already in the all-time record books for rookie and career numbers, Roethlisberger may not be the best "fantasy" QB in the game, but he is indeed one of the best when it comes to wins and Super Bowl titles.
With the departure of Byron Leftwich, the Steelers once again will look to Charlie Batch as their backup signal caller, were Ben to go down.
At 34, Batch hasn't taken a snap that counted since the 2007 season. He missed all of last year while being placed on injured reserve with a broken collarbone.
The 27 year old Roethlisberger is the franchise player for years to come. A franchise player the Steelers hope can stay upright and on his feet the entire season.
1) Aaron Smith: Simply put, had Aaron Smith been healthy the entire 2007 season, it is not out of the question to suggest the Steelers could head in the the coming season as two-time defending Super Bowl champions.
Yes, Smith means THAT MUCH to the black and gold.
He may be 33, but what he lacks in youth he makes up for in veteran savvy skill and expertise. Try and run to the left side of the Steelers defensive line, then line up the next play and run anywhere other than the left side of the field.
Where do you gain more yards, the bet here is the other two-thirds of the field which Smith doesn't cover.
Sure, Casey Hampton is literally a giant in the middle of the Steelers three-man D-line, and Brett Keisel can hold his own, Aaron Smith means as much or even more to the Steelers front-7 than Harrison or Farrior.
An epic collapse occurred during the 2007 season. Prior to an injury against the New England Patriots, with Smith in the lineup the Steelers allowed an average of 69 yards per game on the ground in 13 games. Following the Smith biceps tear, the Steelers allowed 157.25 yards per game on the ground in four games (including playoffs).
It is no coincidence that happened, as Smith has stuffed opposing blocking backs, pulling guards and tackles in their place before the running back even approaches the line-of-scrimmage.
Prior to last season, Smith said "A lot of people have told me the team really missed me last season, heaven forbid I come back and stink."
He came back and didn't stink. The only thing that smelled was the success of the teams second Super Bowl in four seasons.