Pittsburgh Steelers: 7 Little-Known Players Destined to Have Impact Seasons
Last year, the Steelers defied all expectations and made an improbable run to the Super Bowl. There were a number of huge question marks this team faced going into the 2010 season.
After Willie Colon tore his ACL, many experts claimed that there was no way the Steeler's offensive line would allow them to be an elite team. Although the line was shaky at times, several players, such as Maurkice Pouncey and Doug Legursky, really stepped up and allowed this team to play at its full capacity.
Other critics claimed that the Steelers wide receiving core did not have enough depth; however, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown silenced these claims almost immediately.
The Steelers 2010 campaign was defined by a bunch of almost unknown players making major contributions when they were called upon.
The Pittsburgh Steelers coaching staff has an uncanny ability to get every player on the roster to play to their full capacity.
Here are seven players who will have important impacts this season, even if you haven't really heard of them.
Baron Batch RB
This year, the Steelers used their seventh-round pick to select Texas Tech running back, Baron Batch. The Steelers always seem to use a late-round pick on a running back with potential.
Last year, the Steelers selected Jonathan Dwyer in the sixth round. Unfortunately, he did not work out too well. This is partly due to the fact that he has a very similar skill set to Isaac Redman, who will be discussed later in this slideshow.
However, I think Batch will be a different story than Dwyer. He should compete for a roster spot with Dwyer, but Batch will win the spot. Batch will fit in great with the Steeler's current running backs, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman. Mendenhall will be the every down back while Redman will be the bruising, power running back that he established himself as last year.
Batch will be more of a scat back. He will be the perfect addition to the Steelers running back combo. He is a great open field runner, who excels when he is used out of the shotgun formation and will be used in a number of screen passes this year. His combination of power and pure speed will help the Steelers keep defenses off balance.
Marcus Gilbert OT
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Marcus Gilbert was the Steelers' second-round pick this year and he might be the most influential player the Steelers took. He will be the third Steelers offensive lineman to hail from the University of Florida, along with Maurkice Pouncey and Max Starks.
Gilbert will start the season behind Flozell Adams next season, but I believe he has the potential to take his starting job before the end of the season.
Pouncey was excellent last season and Gilbert played alongside him at Florida. Gilbert has great size, standing at 6'6" and weighing 330 pounds. He is also surprisingly quick.
Gilbert will be one of the most surprisingly successful players this season. He will help restore the Steelers offensive line to a respectable line with help from the returning Willie Colon.
Limas Sweed WR
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Limas Sweed has been a disappointment for the Steelers thus far. He missed the entire 2010 season with an injured Achilles tendon. The former second-round pick was even a disappointment in his healthy seasons.
However, while healthy, he did show the ability to beat defensive backs on deep routes. His inability to make easy catches was the only reason he was not a real threat.
Hopefully, in his time off, he has realized how potentially deadly he can be. He stands at 6'4" and has exceptional speed. He reminds me a little of Plaxico Burress.
Luckily, there will be relatively little pressure put on Sweed this season. At best, he will be the fifth wide receiver on the depth chart. However, this works in his favor. In four and five receiver sets, he will be able to stretch the field vertically with Michael Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.
I would like to see any team try and defend that.
Crezdon Butler CB
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The Steelers' biggest question mark heading into the 2011 season is the cornerback position. It remains to be seen if the Steelers will re-sign Ike Taylor, which I believe they will.
William Gay, who finally played well in the playoffs, will also be a free agent.
Butler has great size at 6'1" and I believe he will be the Steelers nickel corner this year. This position has been a huge liability for the Steelers in the past. However, I think Butler will be able to change that. Although he only played in three games for the Steelers last year, he did not show any huge problems. It has also been reported that the coaching staff really likes this kid.
Butler will compete with Curtis Brown and Keenan Lewis for the position. I believe that Butler will narrowly edge out Curtis Brown for the role. Brown will be breathing down Butler's neck all season so Butler will force himself to play well in order to hold his position.
Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith S
Cromartie-Smith spent last season on the practice squad. He is reported to have great atheticism and I think that his time on the practice squad has helped him refine his ability to play both safety positions.
Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu play the game with an incredible amount of energy and heart. Unfortunately, their willingness to make big hits can sometimes resut in injuries.
If one of these guys goes down for any time next season, the Steelers will have to look to their backups for help. Ryan Mundy did a serviceable job last season, but I think that Cromartie-Smith, who is taller and more athletic than Mundy, has the potential to become the primary backup next season.
Keyaron Fox/ Stevenson Sylvester ILB
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One of these two guys will see increased playing time at the ILB position as Larry Foote and James Farrior are getting up there in age.
Timmons is blossoming into one of the best inside linebackers in the league. James Farrior will start next to him next season. Farrior silenced critics last year who claimed he was getting too old to be effective. However, the defensive leader will need to take some plays off next season.
Fox and Sylvester will compete for this playing time.
Fox has been one of the best special teamers for a while now. He is a fiery player who has to control his emotions at times but he has played well and does deserve some time at linebacker.
However, Stevenson Sylvester is athletic and understands how to play the position. He is also young, and has the ability to take over for Farrior after he retires.
Look for these two to compete for playing time this season. I suspect that Sylvester will get more time due to his age and potential.
Matt Spaeth TE
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Spaeth had a disappointing season in 2010. He only scored one touchdown and recorded only 80 yards.
He competed with David Johnson for playing time as the second tight end behind Heath Miller.
Spaeth saw limited playing time because he was not as good a blocker as David Johnson. I do believe, however, that the offensive line will be better this season with the addition of Marcus Gilbert and the return of Willie Colon.
This could lead to more playing time for the extremely tall Spaeth.
Standing at 6'7", Spaeth can become a big target for Roethlisberger in the red zone. He should score more touchdowns and should see more playing time with a strong offensive line.
Look for Spaeth to grab four or five touchdowns this season.