The Pittsburgh Steelers will once again be one of the favorites in the AFC with all virtually all of their starters returning from last season.
Only Jonathan Scott and Willie Colon were not in the opening day lineup, but both have had plenty of starting experience.
It is through this continuity that Pittsburgh is able to compete for championships on nearly a yearly basis.
The continuity also means that you have players comfortable in a system, which usually results in big seasons.
Several players have looked outstanding in camp and appear to be poised for big seasons.
Let’s take a look at five Steelers who have big seasons on the horizon.
There may be no more motivated player on the Steelers’ roster than Ben Roethlisberger. Using the loss in Super Bowl XLV as motivation, Roethlisberger has had his best training camp to date.
“The first loser, and that kills me. Until I can get back to that point, I want to remember the pain, and it's going to burn in me until we can get back and win one. If it never happens, I'll be killed, but I'm going to do my best to get back there,” Roethlisberger told the Post-Gazette in April.
Roethlisberger has not shown the pain from that game, but he has shown his best so far in camp. He looks to be in even better shape than last year, which was the best of his career, and has been extremely sharp in practice.
In the past two seasons, Roethlisberger has thrown 43 touchdowns to only 17 interceptions in 27 regular season games and will only enhance those numbers this year.
Assuming he remains healthy, Roethlisberger will most certainly surpass the 3,200 yards passing and 17 touchdowns he threw in 12 starts last year.
Roethlisberger will also have a deep and more experienced receiver corps to throw to.
Mike Wallace and Hines Ward provide him with a deep threat and a top possession receiver, but he will have two other speed options with Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, who should both be improved entering their second season.
Add in Heath Miller and Rashard Mendenhall, and Roethlisberger has some of the best weapons in the league.
Once the offensive line gels, it could be better than last season under the teachings of offensive line coach Sean Kugler.
In the end, only winning and championships matter to Roethlisberger, but this season he is going to put up some of his best statistics ever.
Mike Wallace has averaged 19.4 yards per reception in his rookie year and an amazing 21 yards per reception last year, good enough for first in the AFC.
Those numbers may actually drop, but he should easily best his career best 60 receptions this season.
One could say Wallace’s receptions should increase with Ward a year old, and he should be the go-to receiver. Instead his numbers will increase because of how he is developing as a receiver.
Wallace has significantly improved his short and mid-range routes in camp this year and at times cannot be covered. He has caught everything that comes his way.
With a more diversified repertoire, Wallace should provide Roethlisberger with more opportunities to look his way.
He already has set high goals for the season. Wallace said he wants to eclipse 2,000 yards receiving this season.
Considering he has averaged approximately 20 yards per reception over his first two seasons, Wallace would need to make 100 receptions at that average to achieve his goal.
That may be a bit much to ask yardage-wise but it is not out of the question that Wallace at least approaches 80 to 90 receptions and matches his mark of 10 touchdowns that he had last season.
Over the first eight games of the 2010 season, Lawrence Timmons may have been the best player on the field for the season.
He had 74 of his 135 tackles, all three of his sacks, six of his nine passes defended and both of his interceptions.
Timmons dropped off in the second half and only reached double-digit tackles in one game.
Pittsburgh will hope that he can replicate his first half of 2010 to the entire 2011 season. Timmons will as well, as he is in the final year of his rookie contract.
By all indications at training camp, there is no reason to doubt Timmons this season.
He has been all over the field in team drills and has shown his tremendous power in pass rushing drills.
Timmons will likely continue to be used in a variety of roles, but this will be a season in which he maintains his level of play for 16 games.
Though he will be behind Aaron Smith entering the season, Ziggy Hood will still play a prominent role in the defense.
Hood finished last season with four sacks in his final five games, including the playoffs, and provides the Steelers with a pass-rushing threat from their defensive line.
Over the games that Hood started last season, he made enough of an impression that left some feeling that Smith was expendable due to his high cap hit this season.
That was not the case and Smith is with the first team defense, but it does not mean Hood will not get significant playing time.
Hood has gotten plenty of time with the first team defense, as well with the second defensive line unit being rotated into and out of the lineup.
Given the Steelers depth and talent on the line, they should have the edge on opposing offensive lines and this will give them matchup advantages.
Most importantly, though, is that Hood is entering his third season in the league, the point at which the game really begins to get comfortable for young players.
Hood gave everyone a taste of what he could bring the Steelers’ defense last season and will improve upon that this season.
The only starter in the mix was quite simply too hard to ignore.
Stevenson Sylvester was the best special teams player on the Steelers last season and should once again be one of their top players on that unit.
As he becomes more comfortable with the defense, he should overtake Larry Foote as the top backup at inside linebacker.
So far in camp Sylvester has looked dominant at times, especially in the backs-on-backers drill, where he has shown both speed and finesse to get to the quarterback.
In team drills Sylvester has maintained his position and has been strong against the run and has looked very comfortable defending the pass.
Though his numbers will not be as impressive as those previous mentioned, Sylvester will still be a stand out on special teams and will continue to work his way on the field with the defense. He looks to be Pittsburgh’s next great linebacker.
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