It is well known that Bruce Arians and the Pittsburgh Steelers like to utilize three and four-wide-receiver sets to create mismatches with the defense. To be successful doing so, the WR units will need to be deep with talent.
The starters are Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes behind them though; the three through five spots are unsettled as of now. Leading one to speculate concern, being the reason they have so many currently on the roster? Typically, you would expect five WR’s to make the 53-man roster, but this year six may not be of the question.
The Steelers regime is also fond of the two and sometimes three TE sets as well. Normally a team would retain three on the roster but with so many multiple TE sets, it is possible they hold four this season.
Steelers Position Breakdown of the Receivers
Santonio Holmes - After a great playoff performance last season, Holmes gave the team an encore in the Super Bowl with his heroics on the final drive that earned him MVP honors, after scoring the game winning touchdown for the Steelers in their victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
While statistically he didn’t have the breakout season many expected in his third year, he came on strong down the stretch making big plays in every playoff contest that included a punt return for a touchdown and his game clinching catch in the Super Bowl.
This being Holmes’ fourth year, more will be expected of him as he should become the go-to guy and playmaker for the offense.
He has the tools and talent to do it, just as long as he doesn’t ‘toke’ his way to a league suspension and into the Steelers dog house again. To his credit, despite some off-field problems, he has been nothing but a pro once the cleats are tied and we do not see that changing anytime soon.
Hines Ward- What more needs to be said about Hines that hasn’t already been said. He is the heart and soul of the offense and plays the position the way it should be, with a ton of passion and a touch of a mean streak. The best way to describe Ward would be to call him the linebacker of the WR corps.
Ward holds most of the all time Steelers records for a WR yet some insiders have whispered that he has lost a step. Don’t let the rumors fool you though, as his numbers may not be the best of his career, he is still the leader of this group and Big Bens safety blanket.
His off field contributions are just as important as the ones on the field and he is a great mentor to the young guys and a leader, who does so by example.
With a new contract in toe and the knowledge he will be able to retire as in Pittsburgh, Ward should return to form and have another solid year for the Steelers.
Even with the newly dubbed “Hines Ward’ rule in effect, look for Ward to continue catching everything that comes his way and welcoming rookies to the league with broken jaws, while blocking for his teammates.
Key Role Players
Limas Sweed– Plaxico Sweed, Limas Burress, the comparisons tell the tale of his rookie season. Both where big targets with tons of promise but struggled to make much of an impact for the team. To his credit, the average young wide receiver usually takes 2-3 years to develop but much more will be expected of him in his second season.
With Nate Washington now a turn-coat and defecting to the powder puff, towel stomping, Tennessee Tits via free agency, Sweed may not have the luxury of another down year as he will be leaned on to fill the third wideout spot for the team.
With all that talent and promise coming out of college and his rookie jitters behind him, only Sweed can hold himself back.
Look for Limas to put up solid, if not impressive numbers and give the Steelers another option spreading the field and a big red-zone target for Ben to play pitch and catch with. Sweed should only get better as the season goes on though and could be one to watch down the stretch.
If he can remain as focused as he was during mini-camps, we should see some good things from Sweed this season.
Shaun McDonald – As a member of the Detroit Lions 0-16 team in 2008, McDonald had some decent numbers and showed allot of promise. He signed with Pittsburgh right before mini-camp and could be the veteran insurance policy they were looking for via free agency.
McDonald has also played for the St. Louis Rams and could be a wild card for the Steelers this season. Though he is not very big he reminds many fans of Cedric Wilson or Courtney Hawkins. If Sweed stumbles, McDonald could be the answer to the No. 3 wide out position for the team.
McDonald could also be a viable starting option as well if the injury-bug where to bite Ward or Holmes in the ass. He should also get some looks at the punt returner position but is not well known for that aspect of his game. A nice depth chart addition but we see his role as the No. 4 and insurance WR on the team, nothing more.
Mike Wallace – We like Mike, just this Mike was not the one many Steelers fans expected to be drafted by the team. Expectations are not always for the better though as this kid has mad skills and should bring some excitement to the team via his return and run after catch abilities.
Wallace was clocked in the 4.3 range at the NFL combine and was the second fastest WR to run in the time honored hazing of potential NFL draftees. With his blazing speed, he could be called on to fill Washington’s role as a deep threat, during his rookie year.
As of now Wallace is the favorite to earn the kick return job and he could be their first true home run threat at the position since Randle El was deported to Washington a few years back.
Wallace is full of promise but we don’t anticipate him making a huge splash in the passing game as a rookie. His progression will be interesting to watch over the summer and as the season progress’ though.
Dallas Baker - A former seventh round pick who has made his living as a Steelers practice dummy. Baker has all the physical tools to be a solid NFL wide out, but has yet to show it on game day. He is said to have had a solid mini-camp though and the coaching staff seems very high on him.
Thus far, Baker’s NFL career has only reinforced the stereotype that Florida WRs don’t translate to the NFL very well. He has the tools, but he is not a KR/PR type, which will work against his odds of making the team this year. Thus this will likely be the make-or-break year for him.
With the addition of Shaun McDonald and Mike Wallace to the group, Barker will not have an easy road to finding a niche on the team and could be a casualty once the team is forced to cut down to the 53-man roster.
Look for him to be waived altogether this time though as a third season as a practice dummy won’t be in his tarot card reading this time around.
Martin Nance – Another practice dummy with a catch as he has a connection to Big Ben from his Miami (OH) days. He has size an advantage over the rookies in that he is familiar with Ben, but the key to him making the team will be his play on the special teams unit.
Like Baker, he is not a return guy, so he will have to impress on coverage teams as well as his route running and catching.
Nance has all the tangibles to be a solid NFL wide out but he is probably to low on the totem pole to find his way to the active roster. Look for him to spend another season on the Steelers practice squad then fade into obscurity in a year or two.
Hope you got a day job list
Jayson Foster – The practice dummy theme continues with Foster, as he has an on and off love affair with the Steelers practice squad, being resigned to a second stint this year, in time for mini-camp. He is a versatile player who can do a few different slash-like things, and can return punts / kicks.
Foster is kind of a smurf though and will have to find his niche on the team as a returner. Which won’t be as easy as it sounds with Mike Wallace and Joe Burnett recently drafted with those skills as well. Look for Foster to be let loose too ride off into the sunset, during the early rounds of roster cut downs.
Brandon Williams- He was signed in off-season to compete for KR/PR job, and would likely need to win one of those to make the roster. Williams is a former third-round pick of the 49ers but doesn’t have an NFL catch and didn’t make a team last year. He is the odds on favorite to be the first cut from the team on this list though.
Cedric Goodman- A track star from Georgia who didn’t make a lot of catches in his collegiate career. It will be interesting to see if the team gives him a try at returner or just strictly as a WR. More than likely Goodman is nothing more than training camp fodder but he might be a nice ‘project player’ on the practice squad.
Steven Black- A big target who started at Memphis. Didn’t put up impressive numbers but he does have good size for an NFL wide receiver. Black will have to earn his way on STs to make the squad but the odds and numbers are stacked against him. Don’t bother adding Black to your MySpace friends list though as he won’t be in a Steelers uniform very long.
Tyler Grisham- Isn’t very big, not a return guy, and does not have the best hands but is an interesting prospect because he is known for his downfield blocking. Great he will get flagged 10 times for violating the new ‘Hines Ward’ rule, just what the Steelers need. Can you say “Mr. Grisham please step into coaches office, he has something pink to give ya”.
Training Camp Battles
Limas Sweed verse Shaun McDonald- The only significant training camp battles for the wide receivers we anticipate will be for the 3rd down wide out duties. Due to Sweed being a high draft pick, he should already be penciled into this spot on the roster card. McDonald was signed as insurance though and will get a chance to impress the coaching staff.
Look for it to be a close battle but in the end, Sweed’s size, speed, potential and red zone abilities should win out. McDonald won’t collect a ton of fairy bench dust though as he has too much talent for the team not to utilize his abilities. He should see plenty of action, spelling the top three and in the Steelers' four-and-five-receiver sets.
Well that’s the lowdown on the wide receivers, thanks for reading and your comments are always welcome. Let us know what you think.
*Check back soon for the 4th edition of this 9 part series. Next up will be the Tight Ends.