Pittsburgh Steelers Team Report
While the focus has been on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger all spring, the Steelers' defense likely will decide whether the team is back in the playoffs at the end of the season.
Pittsburgh's defense did not slip much statistically, from No. 1 overall in 2008 when they went on to win the Super Bowl, to No. 5 last season. However, it is what they did not do that helped lead to a 9-7 record and a seat out of the playoffs.
A unit that had been known for slamming the door in the fourth quarter in 2008 lost fourth-quarter leads in five losses last season. The Steelers did not get an interception from any cornerback until the final game and managed only 12 interceptions as a team all season (compared to 20 in '0.
The '09 defense was heavily wounded by the losses of safety Troy Polamalu and end Aaron Smith to injuries for 11 games apiece and by poor play at left cornerback after Bryant McFadden left as a free agent. To a lesser extent, inconsistent play at inside linebacker after Larry Foote left as a free agent was damaging.
Both McFadden and Foote are back and Polamalu (knee) and Smith (shoulder) have returned to full health.
What will it take for Pittsburgh's defense to return to more dominant play in 2010?
"I think health, for one," Polamalu said. "Other than that, I think we mesh really well together."
Critics claim the defense has gotten too old. The starters in the D-line are all over 30. Captain and inside linebacker James Farrior is 35. Foote is 30, safety Ryan Clark will be 31 and cornerback Ike Taylor is 30.
Coach Mike Tomlin said he's not concerned about the age of his defense.
"No I'm not. When you look at the talent that we have infused over the years, I think we are doing a nice job of infusing guys that go along with some veteran guys, and that has been ongoing since I have been here," he said. "Going back to Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, and as recently of course as Thaddeus Gibson and Jason Worilds, Ziggy Hood, the young comers. We have done a nice job of adding young guys to the mix at virtually every level of not only our defense but our offense as well."
"I don't think anybody's getting old that I see," Polamalu said.
With Polamalu out last season, several crucial communications breakdowns on defense cost the team a victory and the Pro Bowl safety acknowledged as much.
"I think when new guys are in the mix it's tough to get a lot of those communications things down," Polamalu said. "The whole defense has to communicate."
Tomlin said he's seen good things in that area this spring.
"I'm not concerned about the miscommunications and things that happened in the past," Tomlin said. "It's about being on the details so that we can be a solid unit here in 2010. That will always guide our decision making and actions. I like the way the guys have communicated at this juncture. You don't have a play clock, some of the urgency things at this time of year. We will turn the volume up on that as we get into training camp and of course the preseason will add a significant element of that puzzle. But there is no question that we desire to be sound and have clear communication not only in the back end but all over our defense, offense and special teams units."
—Steelers president Art Rooney received the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee's Community Impact Award "for his professional and philanthropic contributions over the years."
—QB Charlie Batch, the team's player rep to the NFLPA, believes the owners will lock the players out in March if there is no CBA extension. He said as much last summer, too.
"Nothing has changed. We're still there," Batch said. "The players continue to hear nothing different than what I've been relaying over the last year and that's that the players anticipated a lockout."
—Coach Mike Tomlin said he would settle on his starting left cornerback before the start of training camp, and left little doubt that would be re-acquired veteran Bryant McFadden, who ran with the first team throughout the spring. William Gay started in 2009 after McFadden signed as a UFA with Arizona. The Steelers traded for McFadden during the draft.
—Rookies OL Maurkice Pouncey and LB Jason Worilds are the only two of the team's 10 draft picks who remain unsigned.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Well it wasn't the field-goal block team that got my leg injured it was me missing picking up the fumble." — S Troy Polamalu, who sprained his knee in the '09 season opener, on whether he will continue to play on special teams.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
MEDICAL WATCH: DE Nick Eason missed the final two weeks of OTA practices after having an appendectomy. He should be ready for training camp.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: PK Jeff Reed (tendered at $2.814M); signed tender April 13.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
—LB Rocky Boiman (not tendered as UFA).
—SS Tyrone Carter (not tendered as UFA).
—RB Carey Davis (not tendered as RFA).
—DE Travis Kirschke (not tendered as UFA).
—OG Darnell Stapleton (not tendered as RFA).
—CB Deshea Townsend (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (*indicates restricted because of uncapped year): None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
—WR Emmanuel Sanders (3/82): $1.801M/3 yrs, $586,000 SB).
—LB Thaddeus Gibson (4/116): 3 yrs, terms unknown.
—OT Chris Scott (5/151): 3 yrs, terms unknown.
—CB Crezdon Butler: 3 yrs, terms unknown.
—LB Stevenson Sylvester (5/166): $1.336M/$116,500 SB.
—RB Jonathan Dwyer (6/18: $1.293M/3 yrs, $77,800 SB.
—WR Antonio Brown (6/195): $1.288M/3 yrs, $73,000 SB.
—DE Doug Worthington (7/242): 3 yrs, terms unknown.
—LB Patrick Bailey: ERFA; terms unknown.
—QB Charlie Batch: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
—FS Ryan Clark: UFA; $14M/4 yrs, $3M SB.
—DE Nick Eason: UFA; 1 yr.
—NT Casey Hampton: Potential UFA; $21.3M/3 yrs, $11M guaranteed/$6.5M SB.
—*OT Willie Colon: RFA; (tendered at $2.521M with first-round pick as compensation); $2.521M/1 yr.
—CB William Gay: RFA; (tendered at $1.101M with fifth-round pick as compensation); $1.101M/1 yr.
—PK Jeff Reed: Franchise FA: $2.814M/1 yr.
—P Daniel Sepulveda: RFA; (tendered at $1.101M with fourth-round pick as compensation); $1.101M/1 yr.
—TE Matt Spaeth: RFA; (tendered at $1.101M with fifth-round pick as compensation); $1.101M/1 yr.
—S Will Allen: UFA Buccaneers; $4.4M/3 yrs, $950,000 SB.
—WR Arnaz Battle: UFA 49ers; $3.975/3 yrs, $975,000 SB.
—LB Derrick Doggett: CFL FA; terms unknown.
—LB Larry Foote: UFA Lions; $9.3M/3 yrs, $1.8M SB.
—QB Byron Leftwich (trade Buccaneers).
—CB Bryant McFadden (trade Cardinals).
—WR Antwaan Randle El: FA Redskins; $7M/3 yrs, $900,000 SB.
—OT Jonathan Scott: Not tendered as RFA by Bills; $545,000/1 yr.
—LB/LS Matt Stewart: FA; terms unknown.
—WR Joey Galloway: UFA Redskins; terms unknown.
—WR Santonio Holmes (traded Jets).
—RB Willie Parker: UFA Redskins; 1 yr, terms unknown.
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