In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl XLV loss, most fans and critics are calling for some drastic changes.
Some changes are already underway as Steelers defensive backs coach Ray Horton has been named defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals.
Technically the Steelers will still be very serious Super Bowl contenders next year. They still have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL—in his prime—and a lot of other players in key positions in their prime as well.
However, the Steelers have glaring weaknesses and have had those weaknesses exposed in every single one of their losses.
The Steelers cornerbacks were exposed big time against the Green Bay Packers and have been one of the weak links of this team for a while now.
Ike Taylor is the Steelers' best cornerback, and is one of the best cover-guys in the league. However, his contract is up and the Steelers might not re-sign him.
That would be a big mistake. The Steelers would be left with William Gay, who is a nickelback at best in the NFL.
Gay is not a great player and I don't ever feel that he'll get much better. Opposing quarterbacks pick on Gay and he struggles very badly in one-on-one coverage.
Do the Steelers need a shutdown corner?
Bryant McFadden is under contract untill 2012 but has looked old and slow. McFadden was one of the most thrown-at corners in the league this year.
Even if the Steelers bring Taylor they'll still need to upgrade the position.
Anthony Madison is a decent player and might compete for the nickel position but talent/depth is the issue at hand for the position. Gay, Taylor and Madison are all free agents to be so it'll be interesting to see who they keep.
If it were up to me I would re-sign both Taylor and Madison and cut ties with Gay. Gay failed miserably as a starter and isn't getting any better.
The Steelers could look to sign a big free agent like Nnamdi Asomugha and/or Brent Grimes. Or they could look to fix the position in the draft, which they haven't done since in over a decade.
Chad Scott, drafted in 1997, was the last cornerback taken by the Steelers in the first round. The Steelers could look at former Miami Hurricane Brandon Harris too.
Now some would like you to believe that the position isn't as important as you would think, but if you watched the Super Bowl and all of the games in which the Steelers lost, you would know that the position needs to be upgraded—especially in the pass-heavy NFL.
Safety Troy Polamalu didn't have a great Super Bowl, or playoffs, for that matter.
However, he was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year and is one of the premier players in the NFL. As long as Polamalu is healthy the Steelers have a chance to win.
Ryan Clark had a good season and is currently under contract, but I still think the Steelers could bring in some more depth and talent at the safety position.
Like you didn't know this was coming. It seems like every year the offensive line needs upgrading.
The Steelers offensive line just isn't as talented as a lot of the other teams in the NFL. Yeah, they're getting better but I still think a decent free agent and/or first-round pick is needed.
The offensive line was almost immediately upgraded by drafting Pro Bowl rookie center Maurkice Pouncey; the Steelers never saw their offensive line's full potential this year.
It was unfortunate to see Pouncey's great rookie season go down the drain as he was injured in the AFC Championship Game, ruling him out of Super Bowl XLV. The Steelers are in good hands with Pouncey, as he looks to be the next great Steelers center for years to come.
Meanwhile, starting right tackle Willie Colon was lost even before the season even began due to his Achilles.
Colon's contract is now up and the Steelers should look to re-sign him. Colon played much better in 2009 than he did in 2008, and was expected to be even better this year.
Flozell Adams did a very good job filling in for Colon but is probably at the end of his career.
The Steelers also lost Max Starks for the season. Starks will be back next year and is a very solid left tackle. I still think if a good offensive tackle falls in the draft for any reason the Steelers should take him.
Starks' replacement, Jonathan Scott, wasn't very good.
He had a few good games but he simply is not a starting left tackle in the NFL. Scott's contract is up and I'd be surprised if the Steelers re-sign him.
Just like Scott, I expect backup Trai Essex to also be gone from the team next year.
Essex found himself on the bench after Doug Legursky, then, Ramon Foster outperformed him at the right guard spot. Essex has been with the team for a while now and is nothing but a career backup.
Time to upgrade the talent.
Unfortunately, left guard Chris Kemoeatu will be back with the team next year.
What needs to be upgraded more?
I'm one of the few that actually thinks and knows how vastly overrated Kemoeatu really is. He whiffs on blocks and is always good for a penalty a game.
The Steelers have a few decent backups now with Adams, Ramon Foster and versatile lineman Doug Legursky. Legursky was huge for the Steelers this year filling in at multiple positions.
Now, I don't expect the Steelers to sign any big free agents but here's some wishful thinking: How about signing Logan Mankins and/or Tyson Clabo?
Perhaps the coolest thing that could happen would be if the Steelers end up drafting Maurkice's bother, Mike Pouncey in the first round of the draft. Mike's natural position is guard and he would probably end up being an upgrade over what they have at guard now.
Other linemen that the Steelers should look at if available in the first round:
- Gabe Carimi (OT), Wisconsin
- Derek Sherrod (OT), Mississippi State
- Anthony Castonzo (OT), Boston College
- Rodney Hudson (OG), Florida State
By default the Steelers offensive line should be better next year. However, if the line can improve drastically, the Steelers offense has huge potential.
Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall are both in their prime. This offense should be able to produce a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,200-yard rusher (at minimum), and score put up about 20 points a game next season.
Of course the Steelers have other areas in need: They need more depth and youth on the defensive line, and at linebacker.
I'll also be very interested in seeing if they decide to bring Bruce Arians back as the offensive coordinator.
Only time will tell, but if the Steelers upgrade these two areas and manage to stay healthy, there's no reason not to believe that they won't be right back in the Super Bowl next year.