Pittsburgh Steelers: Some Key Veterans Are Likely to Take a Backseat in 2011

Cian Fahey@CianafFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2011

ARLINGTON, TX - FEBRUARY 06:  James Farrior #51 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes in on Daryn Colledge #73 of the Green Bay Packers during Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Letting go is never an easy thing to do.

Persistence is often renowned as an aspect of bravery but it can also be reflective of selfishness. The hardest thing in the world can be to step aside and let someone else take over "your" job.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a few players who have reached that stage of their career.

It probably won't come as easy reading to most of us Steeler fans but the harsh reality is that of an aging team with certain stars who will need to be eased out of the lineup.

Its never easy to criticize a legend like James Farrior but last year he was found out in pass coverage. In a sense, he was exposed the previous year and Dick LeBeau took action to hide this flaw in his game by blitzing him more often than not on third down as the season went on.

Farrior has been a pivotal player for the Steelers for a long time. He is their leader emotionally and Mike Tomlin has repeatedly stated his admiration for what Farrior brings to his football team. Its safe to say that without Farrior the team wouldn't have had anywhere near as much success as they have had over the years.

However it is time to reduce his role.

Make no mistake about it, Larry Foote was not brought back to Pittsburgh to be an overpaid backup. Foote is 30 years of age and earned almost $4 million dollars last season seeing limited action.

He originally left the Steelers in 2009 because of his reduced role with the team, so why exactly would he have come back if he was to see even less time now? Foote could have started for many teams in the league, he even visited with the Arizona Cardinals a matter of days before signing with the Steelers.

In all probability Foote will see more time on the field this season at the expense of Farrior who will be 36 years of age. Farrior has been defying conventional logic by being able to play on until his mid-thirties at an elite level but he was exposed when teams looked to spread the field last season.

More teams are likely to try to spread the Steelers defense this season since they should be strong against the run as always.

In a perfect world the team would be able to bring in the speedy Stevenson Sylvester in these situations but the young linebacker is unproven and it would be presumptuous to think he could be trusted in the scheme at this stage of his career.

That leaves the team with Larry Foote, who albeit is a run stuffer by nature, as the best option to help the team's pass coverage.

Foote should see more playing time but James Farrior still has value to the team.

His leadership alone will allow him to retire when he chooses, as a Pittsburgh Steeler. There will be no need for a Bill Belichick cutting Tedy Bruschi type of situation in western PA, for this offseason at least.

James Farrior is a true leader and was a great football player. I doubt very much that he would remain on the field if he thought he was hurting the team.

Farrior will, in all likelihood, join another Steelers legend who has already reduced his role with the team by accepting his limitations with a smile on his face. Hines Ward spent more time on the Steelers' sideline last year than any other since becoming a starter.

Ward could not deny something that he helped to shape as Mike Wallace overtook him as the team's first choice receiver. It was Wallace, and not Ward, who remained on the field when the Steelers brought in their heavy package featuring only one receiver.

This was mostly due to the threat of Wallace going deep that would have kept the defense honest in play action situations. Wallace eclipsed Ward's statistics during the regular season putting up almost 500 more yards and scoring 10 touchdowns.

Ward still has a huge role to fill as the team's second/slot receiver and should continue to put up better than respectable numbers into next year and maybe beyond. Should Emmanuel Sanders build on a promising rookie season however, Ward could find himself with stiff competition for time on the field.

Sanders, and fellow rookie Antonio Brown, brought added sparks to the team from the third and fourth receiver slots. Their emergence will likely, and to an extent already did during last season, bring the team to a lot more four receiver sets than ever before.

Ward will see significant time on the field and always remains Ben Roethlisberger's go-to guy in clutch situations, but the days of him being the only star receiver in Pittsburgh are over.

There will be nobody happier about this than Hines Ward, who has always valued team victories over personal statistics. Evidence of this is reflected in his ferocious attitude towards blocking as well as his willingness to teach the young receivers on the roster about playing the position.

Aaron Smith's starting position on the Steelers' defensive line is not under threat. However, his snap count is likely to reduce should he still be playing, next season.

Smith was valuable enough to the team to remain on the roster for all of last season, despite being injured for most of it.

Evander Hood played great football in his place and will likely spell both Smith and right defensive end Brett Keisel during next season. Hood is an energetic player who has the size to also fill in for Casey Hampton when needed.

Smith's play hasn't been dropping off when he has been on the field in recent years but lowering the stress level on his body could allow him to avoid the major injuries he keeps suffering. It doesn't hurt that you are also giving time to a player with as much talent as Hood either.

Most Steeler fans won't be too surprised by any of the names that have been mentioned so far, but the final one may shock you.

James Harrison was outstanding last year. In my opinion he was more deserving of defensive player of the year over Troy Polamalu.

However Harrison has recently undergone two back surgeries and the Steelers did spend a second-round pick on Jason Worilds out of Virginia Tech last year.

Worilds was very impressive in the limited action he saw last year. He won't be displacing Harrison as the starter any time soon. Asking James Harrison to stand on the sidelines for a play or two is a scary prospect but you have to remember that he is now 32 years of age.

Harrison may play every snap in 2011 but its worth keeping an eye on. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to see the trio of Worilds, Woodley and Harrison in together on some third down packages next year.

Its a mouthwatering prospect for everyone, except the opposing quarterback of course.

None of these players should be dropped completely for next season but in order to continue this team's excellent tradition of winning, tough decisions have to be made.

I, for one, completely trust the coaching staff of the Steelers, well maybe except for Bruce Arians when he has a playbook in his hand, to make the right decisions.

The Steelers emphasis on a person's character means that they likely have very few "selfish" players so it should be interesting to see how things unfold during the next football season.



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