The Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Biggest Questions for the Steelers' Preseason
The preseason is under way, and the start of the regular season is just around the corner.
If Pittsburgh wants to return to the Super Bowl—and come out victorious—they need to find the answers to some serious questions.
5) Third Receiver
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Last season, the rookie duo of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders impressed, especially towards the end of the season. The clones (both are about 5’10”, 180 lbs.) combined for seven catches and 128 yards in the playoff matchup against the Ravens.
Sanders got more work in 2010 than Brown and seemed set to lock down the third spot behind Hines Ward and Mike Wallace. However, Sanders injured his foot in one of the first practices and will be out for the next few weeks after surgery.
That opens the door for Antonio Brown, but the Steelers signed veteran receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Cotchery is a seven-year vet and a classic third, slot receiver. Cotchery did not see the field against the Redskins, while Brown led the team with four catches for 64 yards.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, especially when Sanders returns. Cotchery is the most accomplished, Brown knows the system and the team was expecting big things from Sanders before his injury.
4) Running Backs
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There is no doubt about who will be the starting back this fall. That job belongs to Rashard Mendenhall. The question is where the rest of the guys fall in behind him.
Third-down back Mewelde Moore was losing playing time to Isaac Redman last season, and now, Redman looks ready to accept an even larger role. The big back came into camp at a sculpted 245 lbs., as opposed to last year’s draft pick, Jonathan Dwyer, who showed up out of shape and is in danger of being cut.
Redman led the team in rushing against the Redskins, with 42 yards on 8.4 yards per carry. Coaches rave about his blitz pickups, and he runs good routes and has decent hands, as well.
Through the playoffs, Mendenhall had 409 carries. The Steelers’ philosophy seems simple enough, as running backs coach Kirby Wilson said, “I never worry about a running back getting tired.”
Still, with speed and power, Mendenhall has the ability every team covets, and it would be unwise to “run him ‘til his wheels come off” like the team did with Willie Parker a few years ago.
If someone like Redman can step in and take some of the burden off of Mendenhall, it could extend the talented back’s career.
3) Right Guard
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The Steelers have two huge holes in their offensive line, one of them being the guard on the right side of the ball. The battle seems to be between Ramon Foster, Doug Legursky and Chris Scott.
Foster started the final 10 games of last season, including the playoffs, and was passable, but certainly not a strength. The Steelers are taking a serious look at the massive (6’5”, 340) Scott. The team’s sixth-round pick in 2010, the Steelers kept the rookie on the 53-man roster in spite of missing camp and the first six weeks of the season due to injury.
Now that he is back on the field and with noted quickness, especially for his size, Scott seems to be the favorite to lock down the right guard position.
2) Left Tackle
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And then there is the other hole on the line. Unfortunately, left tackle is the line’s most important position, at least if you want to keep your quarterback healthy. Jonathan Scott seems to be the favorite for to start, if only by default.
In an ideal world (I would like to think this is Pittsburgh’s plan) the team would bring back either Flozell Adams or Max Starks. The team released both tackles earlier in the offseason to get under the salary cap. Perhaps, after testing the waters and finding no takers, one or both would return for the veteran’s minimum.
Scott has started some games for Pittsburgh as an injury replacement. He has ideal size for the position (6'6", 318 lbs.) but tends to be beaten by quicker ends and linebackers.
The line did not look impressive against Washington, as Roethlisberger was sacked in one of the five plays he was in and was seen icing his arm after being removed.
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And of course, no article on the Steelers is complete without questioning the secondary. Unfortunately, the unit did not do itself any favors against a Redskins team that featured former Bears castoff Rex Grossman as its starting quarterback.
It was extremely disturbing to see the woeful ‘Skins' offense line up on their own 2-yard line, only to find a quick-hitter to Santana Moss in a play that looked all too similar to Aaron Rodgers’ Super Bowl performance.
The hated-rival Baltimore Ravens have completely overhauled its receiving corps in the last two seasons, and now feature two former pro bowlers in Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans. There is little doubt the Ravens will try to air it out against Pittsburgh after seeing the success the Packers had doing the same.
Adding even more to a messy situation is the injury to Ike Taylor, who now needs surgery to repair a broken thumb. The little good that can come of this is it bumps everyone up a notch on the depth chart for the remainder of the preseason.
Bryant McFadden has had an impressive camp and is reportedly making steps towards being the player the team always knew he had the ability to be. He will get the chance to show his stuff in the remainder of the preseason, as he will be matched up against the likes of Desean Jackson, Roddy White and Steve Smith through for the next three games.
Crezdon Butler, Keenan Lewis and Curtis Brown, all of whom are pushing William Gay for the nickel spot, will see more action against first team offenses as well, and Pittsburgh will know exactly what the team is working with in 2011. So will their opponents, and that may not be such a good thing for the Black and Gold.