Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Steelers Facing Make-or-Break Seasons in 2011

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst IJune 14, 2011

Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Steelers Facing Make-or-Break Seasons in 2011

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    PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 21: Keenan Lewis #23 of the Pittsburgh Steelers goes airborne while attempting to hit a ball out of the endzone during a kickoff against the Oakland Raiders during the game on November 21, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylva
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    With the lockout having severely hampered whatever free agency that will be possible once the league can get back to business, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in a position similar to several teams in the NFL. They have several players who will likely be put into the spotlight due to roster holes that may not be filled by the start of the season.

    From corner to along the offensive line, potential starters and key backups face make or break seasons in 2011.

    Here are five players to keep an eye on.

1. Keenan Lewis, CB

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    DENVER - AUGUST 29:  Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers has something to say to cornerback Keenan Lewis #23 after he was called for a personal foul as he tackled Brandon Lloyd of the Denver Broncos during preseason NFL action at INVESCO Fie
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    What He's Done

    Not much. Lewis has a lot of talent and has decent measurables too, but he just has never had a real impact. Part of that, no doubt, is his attitude and propensity to commit costly and unnecessary penalties on special teams.

    In Pittsburgh, players who perform consistently and effectively on special teams units work their way up the depth chart. Lewis has never been that kind of player. He virtually disappeared in 2011 as the less talented William Gay earned the lion's share of playing time as the third corner.


    What Chances Will He Have?

    He figures to become a very prominent figure if the team can't resign Ike Taylor. The Steelers are currently in the market for a starting corner, maybe two, and at least one backup who can play solid nickel defense. Lewis could fit one of those spots, but he has to prove himself.

    Right now, he figures to be in a battle with Crezdon Butler for playing time. Even if the team resigns Taylor, Lewis could push Bryant McFadden for playing time with a strong camp and preseason.

    The chances will be there. The question is whether or not Lewis finally seize the opportunity.

2. Bryant McFadden, CB

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 21:  Bryant McFadden #20 of the Pittsburgh Steelers lines up before the snap against the Oakland Raiders during the game on November 21, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    What He's Done

    He was great in his first stint with Pittsburgh and seemed to be one of the more solid corners on the team. Then he went to Arizona, had a poor 2009, and returned to Pittsburgh on the cheap. There was no question that Pittsburgh needed him back, but his 2010 season was mostly disastrous.

    He's still the most accomplished corner on the current roster. Unless he can up his game again, however, that is more of a commentary on just how weak the current roster is at the position.


    What Chances Will He Get?

    He figures to be the incumbent starting corner. Like Lewis, he becomes even more important if Ike Taylor leaves.

    With no one else on the roster currently to fill his spot, McFadden is going to get every opportunity to return to his 2008 form. The question is whether or not he can be that player consistently. If he can, he has the chance to develop into a solid complementary piece. He does not have the ceiling to become a top starter, but he could be a steady contributor until Curtis Brown or someone else is ready.

3. Ramon Foster, OG/T

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 23:  Ramon Foster #73 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates as they defeat the New York Jets 24 to 19 in the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Get
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    What He's Done

    Foster was steady in eight starts after the team tired of Trai Essex' inconsistencies. He's shown the versatility in his brief career to play at either guard or tackle, but seems more at home at guard. He showed enough to be in the hunt to retain his starting spot this year as well, but he's got some stiffer competition now.

    Foster certainly has a spot on this roster, but right now it's unclear where he fits exactly.


    What Chances Will He Get?

    He figures to get pretty much every opportunity to hold onto that right guard spot. The team isn't usually high on starting rookies or unproven players, so his main competition figures to come from Doug Legursky, another super substitute that could push for a job.

    Foster has to show that he wasn't a one hit wonder and that he can be a solid starter. The right side of the Steelers line was much improved once he stepped in, but he has to show that he can be that player over a full season.

    Foster likely will retain his starting job, but this is his year to show he should get a long-term deal and that he should have that job for longer than one season.

4. Ziggy Hood, DE

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    ARLINGTON, TX - FEBRUARY 06:  Ziggy Hood #96 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts against the Green Bay Packers during Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. The Packers won 31-25.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    What He's Done

    He stepped in last season when Aaron Smith went down and proved to be capable and steady. He was quiet statistically, but was adept at opening holes for the linebackers and proved he can play in this system and excel at it.

    Hood hadn't shown much before 2010, but he made a case for playing time and a starting job with his performance. He was a key cog in one of the league's top defenses and helped the team tremendously by preventing a drop off in production when Smith once again fell injured.


    What Chances Will He Get?

    He'll likely be in at least a platoon situation with Smith this season. That figures to benefit both players. Hood will have the chance to prove he belongs and Smith will be kept fresh without the danger of a talent drop when he's off the field.

    So why is it make or break? It's important that Hood play well this season because Cameron Heyward is now also waiting in the wings. With Brett Keisel entrenched for at least a few more years on the other side of the line, Heyward's future appears to be tied together with Hood's.

5. Limas Sweed, WR

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    PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 13:  Limas Sweed #14 of the Pittsburgh Steelers warms up prior to the preseason NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at Heinz Field on August 13, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Steelers won 20-10.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Gett
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    What He's Done

    Absolutely nothing. He was once thought to be the future at wide receiver. Instead, he developed a serious case of the dropsies, dropping key catches in several games. In 2009, one of his catches was the difference between victory and defeat. Had he caught the key touchdown in Cincinnati, the Steelers would have won and would have been in the playoffs that year. Instead, he dropped an easy catch and promptly disappeared from the radar.

    Sweed had a ton of talent coming out of Texas, but he looks to be an NFL washout at this point. He's had plenty of chances, but he has never been able to translate that into success of even and intermittent kind.


    What Chances Will He Have?

    Fortunately for Sweed, Antwaan Randle El was less than impressive in his return to Pittsburgh. While Randle El is still a better receiver at this point, Sweed is younger and much cheaper.

    Also, Sweed was having a good offseason in 2010 before an unfortunate injury ended his season before it began. Sweed worked diligently to get better and more consistent and the early returns looked good. He'll likely get one more shot this year to prove he can be an NFL player.

    For Pittsburgh, he could still develop into a fourth or fifth receiver this year and then push his way up the depth chart by being consistent and clutch. It would be a complete reversal from his current numbers, but it's possible.

    This is, however, likely his last chance in the NFL. It's definitely his last in Pittsburgh.