5 Unheralded Players Poised to Break out for Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013-14
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport
The only silver lining from the Pittsburgh Steelers' preseason stinkeroo Monday night is that it came just five days before their next game.
There are a lot of new faces competing for roster spots during the preseason.
There also are players familiar to their teammates but maybe not the general public. Some of these players have shown they're on the verge of breakout seasons for the Steelers.
Jerricho Cotchery, WR
Jerricho Cotchery, 31, has caught 33 passes in his two years with the Steelers.
Even if he remains the team's No. 4 receiver, he could come close to that number of receptions in 2013 alone.
Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Steelers tight end Heath Miller will miss at least the first month of the season. As a possession receiver, Cotchery can function like a tight end.
With Mike Wallace gone, teamwork might be emphasized a little more among Steelers' wide receivers. There should be more balls to go around.
Cotchery has been a mentor to the younger receivers during training camp, according to Ralph N. Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He'll have a chance early in the season to not just tell them what to do, but show them.
Robert Golden, S
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In his one moment in the spotlight this preseason, Robert Golden dropped a sure pick-six against the New York Giants at Heinz Field.
That doesn't overshadow the progress he's made.
Golden was an undrafted free agent last year out of Arizona. Of his eight combined tackles last season, five came in December.
The converted cornerback will see the field a lot more this season on defense. Ryan Mundy and Will Allen, backup safeties in 2012, left in free agency. Golden could be an upgrade over Mundy.
If he can just hang on to those interceptions, he'll be a factor in 2013.
Will Johnson, FB
Ryan Kerrigan had a sack, a forced fumble and an interception return for a touchdown against the Steelers on Monday night.
Will Johnson didn't let the Redskins defensive lineman bully him on a play late in the first quarter. He kept Kerrigan away from Ben Roethlisberger long enough for the quarterback to complete a 26-yard pass to David Paulson.
The Steelers advanced to the Redskins' 16-yard line on that play and ultimately kicked a field goal.
Johnson does more than just block. He caught two passes for 18 yards in the preseason opener and hauled in 15 passes for 137 yards as a rookie in 2012. He will be expected to increase those numbers this season.
According to Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley feels Johnson can be the NFL's best fullback.
David Paulson, TE
David Paulson is the front-runner to start at tight end in Week 1 with Heath Miller likely sidelined for the first month of the season.
Paulson caught seven passes as a rookie last season. Miller will still be wearing street clothes when he passes that number in 2013.
Even when Miller comes back, Paulson won't slip past No. 2 on the tight end pecking order, at least in passing situations. He's caught two passes for 39 yards in the preseason and has better hands than Matt Spaeth, who also will be on the shelf when the season begins. Speath hasn't caught more than 17 passes in a season.
David Johnson was activated from the physically unable to perform list on Wednesday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He's also more of a blocking tight end. He has 18 receptions in his four-year career.
Paulson is a work in progress as a blocker. He helped free up Jonathan Dwyer for a 12-yard gain on his first carry Monday night, but he also was beaten a few times.
He'll be a bigger help catching passes in 2013.
Al Woods, DE
The Steelers need to find a way to get Al Woods on the field more.
Woods made nine combined tackles, including two for losses, and had a sack in the second half of the Steelers' preseason opener.
The 26-year-old has been a "sensation" at training camp, according to Mike Prisuta of Steel City Insider (subscription required).
Brett Keisel, who turns 35 Sept. 19, and Ziggy Hood are the Steelers' likely starters at defensive end. However, it wouldn't be surprising to see Woods move ahead of Cameron Heyward on the depth chart. Heyward is entering his third season and hasn't produced like a first-round pick.
Woods was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. He spent time with the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the Steelers picked him up off waivers in 2011.
He appeared in 12 games last season after playing in 11 games combined in 2010 and 2011.
Woods' upward career trajectory will continue in 2013.