Shutdown Corner: Pittsburgh Steelers stand pat, hope core is good enough
The Steelers didn't make too many changes this offseason, hoping that with a little more injury luck and perhaps a better running game, they can make another playoff run.
Pittsburgh went 8-8 last year, but after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a scary rib injury, the Steelers lost two in a row by a combined nine points. Pittsburgh then won one but lost the first three games after Roethlisberger returned. That 1-5 stretch cost the Steelers a playoff spot.
So the Steelers mostly stood pat this offseason. There were no major signings. Draft picks like outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and running back Le'Veon Bell could help. But mostly, it's up to the same familiar faces to bring this team back to the playoffs.
Is the roster better, worse or about the same?: The one major move involving the Steelers was receiver Mike Wallace leaving to sign with Miami. Pittsburgh also parted ways with aging veterans like Casey Hampton, Rashard Mendenhall, Max Starks and James Harrison. Without any major additions, the roster isn't as good on paper.
Best offseason acquisition: Bell has the ability to make the Steelers a little more balanced. Pundits are split on whether the second-round pick out of Michigan State is special enough to be a top NFL back, but he should get the chance. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are still around, but if they're playing a big role it's probably because Bell failed. Maybe Roethlisberger can stay healthy if he has a running game to take some pressure off.
Related: Ben Roethlisberger could be in line for contract extension in 2014
Biggest hole on the roster: The Steelers' offensive line has been a problem for a while. The team spent high picks on tackle Mike Adams and guard David DeCastro last year, and both suffered through injuries. Adams was stabbed this offseason, a scary situation that might not keep him out of training camp but obviously could affect him for a while. The Steelers are trying to build the line, but it's still not very good.
Position in flux: The Steelers might have gotten a good value pick with the 17th pick of this year's draft, taking Georgia's Jarvis Jones. Jones was dominant as a pass rusher at times in college. Jones isn't guaranteed a starting spot, though. Jason Worilds has flashed talent here and there as a part-time player (he had five sacks and two interceptions last year) and will be motivated to hold off the rookie and finally start. There are some huge shoes to fill. Harrison might not be the same player he was in his prime, but he is a one-time defensive player of the year and was a major part of the Steelers' defense for years.
Player you might not have heard of yet, but will soon: Markus Wheaton is a third-round pick with blazing speed who can be a deep threat for Roethlisberger.
Sounds a lot like Wallace. Emmanuel Sanders was resigned to fill Wallace's role, but he hasn't done anything to prove he can produce at Wallace's level.
Wheaton is an interesting option if he adapts quickly to the NFL.
Stat fact: Roethlisberger has been in the NFL since 2004 and he has played 16 games in a season just once. Understanding that Roethlisberger is probably likely to miss games again, and that his prime years might be cut short because of the punishment he takes, the Steelers drafted quarterback Landry Jones in the fourth round. Also, Bruce Gradkowski was signed, and odds are he'll be called upon at some point this year.
This team’s best-case scenario for the 2013 season: With somewhat healthy years from Roethlisberger, safety Troy Polamalu, tight end Heath Miller and the offensive line, an effective running game and the defense performing well again, the Steelers should reach double-digit wins again. The Steelers won 12 games in 2010 and 2011. The roster is good enough for another run.
And here’s the nightmare scenario: Roethlisberger's health is a major key, obviously. It's probably fair to wonder how many games he'll miss, rather than figure he can play all 16. Without the offensive line coming around, the team effectively replacing Wallace's big-play ability and more punch from the running game, the Steelers can't win a very tough division.
The player who could swing this team’s season one way or another: Miller was near the end of a career year, with 816 yards and eight touchdowns, when he blew an ACL, MCL and PCL. That devastating injury happened on Dec. 23, and Miller is 30. Without a lot of time between the injury and the start of this season, there doesn't seem to be a lot of optimism that he'll be ready for the opener. For however many games Miller might miss, the Steelers will be missing a key piece.