Pittsburgh Steelers: Can They Turn a Weakness into a Strength in Two Years?
Looking back on the pre-Draft reports, there was much talk about the Steelers getting old on the defensive side of the ball. There was talk about the aging defensive line, that James Farrior and James Harrison were both getting old, and that our secondary needed a shot of youth infusion.
Add to that, the offensive line was a joke, Hines Ward is old, and Santonio Holmes is gone. The Steelers are a team on the decline.
In 1974, the Pittsburgh Steelers had the best-known draft in the NFL. It produced four Hall of Fame players, with 25 Pro Bowl apperances, and another 22 All-Pro nominations (You can read my comparison of the 1974 and 2010 Draft Classes HERE).
Of all the issues the Pittsburgh Steelers have, they spent the 2010 off season addressing their needs.
The age of James Harrison and James Farrior.
There is no question that the strength of the Steelers is their defense. It has always been and always will be. There was starting to be some concern with the age of the linebackers, but that concern has been eliminated.
The Steelers drafted three players in the draft, all of whom made the 53 man active roster. Jason Worilds, Thaddeus Gibson, and Stevenson Sylvester (two outside linebackers and one inside) have made the Steelers' linebacking corp that is not only currently the best in the NFL but could also be one of the strongest in the years to come.
The Offensive Line.
The Steelers, at one point in time, had one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Marvell Smith and Max Starks were the tackles, Alan Faneca and Kendall Simmons were the guards, and Jeff Hartings was the center.
Hartings and Smith retired due to injury, Kendall Simmons was released because of injury, Alan Faneca left via free agency, and Max Starks had to switch sides, to protect the blind side of Roethlisberger.
The Steelers still have some players that will continue to be strong members of the offensive line, but the first round selection of Maurkice Pouncey is the first step to the return of the dominant offensive line.
The Wide Receiver Position.
Many people thought the trade of Santonio Holmes would spell doom for the Steelers' offense in 2010. They still had Hines Ward, but Ward is 34 years old and no longer can be counted on to go an entire season without injury.
In steps Mike Wallace, and the Steelers have their replacement for Holmes. Who is going to take the place of Ward?
Rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown could both develop into potential replacements for Ward. If they both pan out, then the Steelers' receiving weapons going forward could be the best unit the Steelers have ever had.
The Steelers defense did not play up to par in 2009. Yes, they were ranked fifth in the NFL in total defense, but the leads lost in the fourth quarter were too much for Steelers Nation to handle. The passing game slipped from first in 2008 to 16th in 2009.
Many of the problems with the Steelers defense in 2009 centered around the injuries to Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith. There was also the poor play of Will Gay who replaced Bryant McFadden, who left following the 2008 season to join the Arizona Cardinals.
Not only did the Steelers trade to get McFadden back, but they also drafted Crezdon Butler, who one day may replace Ike Taylor.
With the additions that the Steelers made during the 2009-2010 offseason, they have addressed many of their different issues, but there are still more that need addressed.
In 2008, the Steelers spent their first round pick on DE Evander "Ziggy" Hood. It was an important selection but not enough of one to replace the entire line.
Casey Hampton still has some gas left in the tank, and Aaron Smith also has some tread left on his tires. Even still, moving forward, these are two positions that the Steelers are going to have to take care of sooner rather than later.
As I stated earlier, the drafting of Maurkice Pouncey was a great, long-term selection, but there is still more work that needs to be done. Chris Kemoeatu has done an admirable job replacing the legend, Alan Faneca. Max Starks has some games where he looks like a Pro Bowler and others that make you wonder if he even practiced.
Trai Essex is a decent Guard, and if healthy, Willie Colon could become a quality player on the right side.
What do the Steelers do?
As I stated in another article I wrote, the Steelers could have a very hot commodity next off season in Dennis Dixon. If he shows that he is a true starting caliber QB, the Steelers would be able to trade him to finish re-creating their roster.
If Dixon plays to his potential and the Steelers get similar value for him as the Falcons got for Matt Schaub, that would give them an early first round pick, in addition to, two second round picks in the 2011 NFL Draft.
With their three picks, my guess would be that they would select, one offensive lineman, one defensive lineman, and with the third selection, another of either.
That is either two offensive linemen, and a defensive lineman, or two defensive linemen and an offensive lineman. Either way, that would eliminate the "Defensive Line Is Getting Old" stories, and the offensive line would become a strength.
Most of the other positions where the Steelers had needs have already been addressed. They have youth behind experience, and other than the trenches, they are one of the most solid teams in the NFL with a very nice mix of youth and experience.
Could a team turn their weaknesses into strengths in just two years? I am not sure, but the Steelers first year leads me to believe that they could be on the cusp of building their next dynasty.
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