Quarterbacks- Thanks to Big Ben’s “lack of better judgment” he is suspended for at least the first four games of the regular season. Mike Tomlin still hasn’t given the word as to who will lead the team as starting quarterback in Roethlisberger’s absence.
The Steelers signed Byron Leftwich presumably to take over the helm during Rothelisberger’s suspension. An interesting note is the Steelers second game is in Tampa Bay, where Leftwich played last season.
Now if Dennis Dixon out plays Leftwich in the pre-season then it could be Dixon leading the offense for the season opener. Dixon did nearly lead the Steelers to victory in his first regular season start at Baltimore last year, but came a game deciding interception short.
Now don’t forget about the wise old veteran Charlie Batch lurking as well. Batch is more on the team as another quarterback’s coach, but if there are too many quarterbacking struggles don’t be surprised if Batch gets some time since he knows the offense as well as he knows his hometown of Pittsburgh.
Running Backs- Rashard Mendenhall proved he’s a big time running back last season gaining over 1,100 yards on the ground, but staying healthy and hanging onto the football will be the key. The main question in the backfield is who will help Mendenhall carry the load now that fast Willie Parker has moved on to the Redskins.
Mewelde Moore is a solid third down back, which he proved last season, but his problems with busting through the middle for short yardage is still a concern. This was never more evident than when he was stuffed by the Giants goal line D to end the first half of this year’s second pre-season game.
Enter Isaac Redman. He looks like the closest thing to Jerome Bettis since the bus retired. He should receive a lot more carries this season in short yardage situations.
Stefan Logan and Frank Summers may need to work hardest during the pre-season to remain on the team with rookie Jonathan Dwyer and second year man Justin Vincent in their shadows.
Big Dwayne Wright seems secure in his full back role.
Wide Receivers- Santonio Holmes, another guy that uses a “lack of better judgment”, was traded to the Jets leaving behind a huge hole in the receiving core.
The wily old veteran Hines Ward still remains with the team , but he’ll need some big time help from second year player Mike Wallace. Wallace’s stats and speed say he’s ready for the challenge, and he’ll need to be as Ward isn’t getting any younger.
Antwaan Ranel El is back with the team and figures to factor in the slot much like Wallace did last season. Arnaz Battle was also brought in to help fill Homles’ void.
Since Limus Sweed is on the injured reserved list and Shaun Mcdonald is no longer with the team, that leaves some spots open for the younger guys.
In training camp rookies Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders sound like they are taking the most strides to making the squad. Brown had three receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown in the preseason opener against the Lions, while word has it that Sanders looks better than Wallace did at this time last year.
Tyler Grisham, Brandon London and Isaiah Williams round out the remaining receivers still on the roster at this time.
Tight Ends- The Pittsburgh people are already poised to say it, “Heeeath!”
One of the most under rated players in the NFL, Heath Miller, is back to start at tight end.
Matt Spaeth looks to play in the double tight end set and give Miller a breather from time to time. Spaeth’s receiving ability continues to improve.
David Johnson figures to be the third tight end again, coming in on goal line stands and whenever his number is called.
Eugene Bright and Sean McHugh are the odd men out.
Offensive Lineman- This is and has been the biggest concern for the Steelers since Dermontti Dawson’s retirement.
With right tackle Willie Colon out for the season due to an injured Achilles tendon, Jonathan Scott figured to be the man to step in to the starting role. That is until the Steelers signed former Dallas Cowboys veteran Flozell Adams.
Adams primarily plays left tackle, but that’s the trusty Max Starks position. Starks did play right tackle earlier in his career, but that was back in 2005 and 2006. Adams and Scott will be battling throughout the preseason for the starting role at right tackle while Starks stays on the blind side.
Even at center there’s some controversy. Justin Hartwig has started for the past few years, but with rookie Maurkice Pouncey now involved Hartwig may be in a back up role. Roethlisberger even asked during a practice to take some snaps from Pouncey, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It is likely, though, that Pouncey (Tim Tebow’s collegiate lead blocker) will either play a back up role, or be moved to right guard. That all depends on the play of starting right guard Trai Essex.
The only certain position is Chris Kemoeatu starting at left guard.
The rest of the guys, Dorian Brooks, Kyle Jolly, Adrian Jones, Kraig Urbik , Ramon Foster, Tony hills, and Doug Legursky, are battling for back up positions.
Defensive Lineman- Casey Hampton got his deal and is back where he belongs, clogging up the middle for the “Steel Curtain.” Maybe even more important is the play of Aaron Smith coming back from his season ending shoulder injury last year.
Brett Keisel will start on the other side of the 3-4 opposite of Smith, with Ziggy Hood figuring to get more snaps in his second season.
Nick Eason and Chris Hoke will factor in as well in the rotation.
Ra’shon Harris, Steve Mclendon, Scott Paxon, and Doug Worthington are all fighting to replace the lost back up defensive end Travis Kirschke.
Linebackers- James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, and Lawrence Timmons will start in the 3-4 defense.
It’s going to be strange seeing Larry Foote in a Steelers uniform as a back up, but that’s what happens when leaving the strong Steelers line backing core for a year. Timmons is now a definite starting line backer, with word out of training camp saying he is bigger, faster, and stronger. As long as Timmons remains healthy he seems poised for a break out season.
Rookies Stevenson Sylvester and Jason Worilds are receiving tons of praise, which could mean bad news for career back ups Patrick Bailey and/or Keyaron Fox.
Thaddeus Gibson, Brandon Renkart, and Renault Williams are also battling for a back up role to replace the losses of Andre Frazier and Arnold Harrison.
Defensive Backs- Of Course the starting safeties are Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. Their health is key to the Steelers success in helping against both the run and pass.
Ike Taylor will start again at corner, locking up the opposing teams number one receiver. The question is who will start opposite of Taylor.
Last year it was William Gay and the way he played he certainly won’t start again this year. That’s why Pittsburgh signed former Steeler Bryant McFadden and gave him a three year extension. But, McFadden isn’t being handed the starting job as Kennan Lewis is making his bid for the starting role.
The back up corner back position battle is between Joe Burnett, Crezdon Butler, Anthony Madison, and David Pitman.
The back up safety position battle is between Will Allen, Da’mon Cromartie-Smith, Ryan Mundy, and Justin Thorton.
Surprisingly the Steelers didn’t resign Deshea Townsend, who played all12 years of his professional career with Pittsburgh before moving on to Indianapolis this season. Pittsburgh also lost Tyrone Carter and Keiwan Ratliff from last season’s defensive back field.
Special Teams- One of the best kickers in the league Jeff Reed is back for another season and so is one of the best punters in the league Dan Sepulveda, who has never had a punt blocked yet in his career. Greg Warren remains the long snapper.
Sepulveda may share kickoffs with Reed throughout the season and already showed his range when he kicked against the Giants.
Stefan Logan was ranked second in league in returning kicks last season, setting a single season team record with 55 kick returns for 1,466 yards, but he had no touchdowns.
Now, this year it looks like rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown will return kicks in hopes one of them can bring some points to the special teams return game.
The Steelers need some points in their favor on special teams as the Steelers were the worst team in NFL history last season in allowing returns for touchdowns (this stat includes interception returns).
With all that said, the most important piece to the Steelers may be Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians. His play calling throughout the first part of the season in Ben’s absence will trigger the success of the offense.
The defense will remain as one of the tops in the league. And if you listened to Defensive Coordinator Dick Lebeau’s Hall of Fame induction speech this summer, you know he’s still ready to shut down every offense in the league once again.
Mike Tomlin has a lot ahead of him this season, but he’s handled the pressure well throughout his career. For the Pittsburgh Steelers in the year 2010 nothing less should be expected than being in the playoff hunt once again.
Here we go.