Ten Young Pittsburgh Steelers That Need to Step Up in 2013
1.) Marcus Gilbert - Gilbert has played well as the Steelers right tackle, but he hasnít been a dominate player in his first two years. That will need to change in 2013 if the rumors that Gilbert is moving to left tackle are correct. During his college career Gilbert player left tackle and he has the skills to play the position, but he will need to play very well in 2013 if he is indeed protecting Roethlisbergerís blind side. The Steelers have been without Roethlisberger in too many games during his career due to injury and it will be Gilbertís job to keep him from taking any big hits in the pocket. The left tackle position is considered one of the hardest positions in the NFL because they consistently go up against the opposing teams top defenders. Gilbert will need to be up to the task in 2013 or it could be another long year for Roethlisberger.
2.) Antonio Brown - During the 2012 off-season the Steelers were trying to work out a deal with wide receiver Mike Wallace, but he wanted $11 million a year and the Steelers were only willing to go to $10 million a year, according to sources. When Wallace turned down a new deal the Steelers decided to turn their attention to Brown and lock him up long-term. In doing so Brown became the highest paid receiver on the team and was expected to play like it. However, Brown saw almost all of his stats decrease from the year before and he fumbled the ball four times in 2012 after not fumbling a single time in 2011. Two of those fumbles were turnovers and both may have cost the Steelers wins.
One of those fumbles came in week 3 against the Oakland Raiders and the other against the Dallas Cowboys and both changed the momentum in the game. Had Brown not lost those two fumbles and if the Steelers had won both those games they would have finished 10-6. That would of put them in a three way tie for the division and they would have been AFC North Champions. Not to mention the fact that the actual AFC North Champions, the Baltimore Ravens, went on to win the Super Bowl. Brown is now being paid to be a top offensive weapon and with Wallace on his way out of Pittsburgh he will need to return to form in 2013 and show the Steelers that they made the right decision signing him over Wallace.
3.) LaMarr Woodley - Woodley has received a lot of malcontent this off-season from fans and analysts. 2012 marked the second straight season that Woodley was hampered by injuries and his production has not been the same. During the 2011 off-season the Steelers signed Woodley to a 6-year $61.5 million deal and expected him to be a dominant force on the defense. However, the two years since have been full of disappointment for Woodley and the Steelers. In 2013 Woodley will need to return to form to show that he is deserving of the money he is getting paid. Also, with the impending loss of James Harrison the Steelers are going to be relying on Woodley to bring the pass rush back to the Steelers defense. Hopefully Woodley will be up to the challenge.
4.) Emmanuel Sanders - Sanders has shown flashes that he could be a very good receiver in the NFL, but like Brown he had multiple mental lapses in 2012. Sanders, like Brown, also had two fumbles lost this season and one of them almost cost the Steelers yet another game. In the third quarter of the Steelers week 13 win over the Ravens Sanders caught a ball over the middle from Charlie Batch with nothing but daylight in front of him. However, he lost the handle on the ball without even being touched and the ball was recovered by Ed Reed. That turnover led to a Ravens touchdown and was a 14 point swing. Luckily for the Steelers they overcame that mistake, but it should never have happened in the first place. Hopefully new receivers coach Richard Mann can get the receiving core back on track because without Wallace they will need Sanders and Brown playing at their best.
5.) Ziggy Hood - The Steelers used two first round picks in three years on defensive ends in hopes of seamlessly replacing Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. Hood was the first of those two picks and although he is now a starter the Steelers are hoping to see more production from him. In Smithís fourth season he had 60 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks, and four pass deflections. 2012 was Hoodís fourth year and he totaled 42 combined tackles, three sacks, and three pass deflections. Now seeing these comparisons it is obvious that Hood is not where the Steelers want him to be. There is also the fact that Smith was a fourth round pick and had much less experience his fourth year than Hood has.
There has been some talk of switching Hood and Steve McLendon because Hood may be more suited for the nose tackle position, but right now that is purely speculation.
6.) Cameron Heyward - Heyward may see his first year as a starter in 2013 if the Steelers are forced to release Keisel. In 2012 Heyward played as Keiselís back-up and only saw 263 defensive snaps compared to Keiselís 858. If you take Heywardís stat line from 2012 and project it for 858 snaps his stat line would have looked something like: 65 tackles, five sacks, and three pass deflections. Keiselís stat line in 2012 was 46 tackles, 4.5 sacks and one pass deflection. Now projecting stats like that isnít fully accurate, but given 858 snaps Heyward would have projected to have a season that would be arguably better than the best statistical season of Keiselís career. Now in the Steelers 3-4 the defensive ends have more to do than just rack up stats and Heyward will need to be able to do those things as well, but he should be a solid starter in 2013 if Keisel is released.
7.) Jason Worilds - Worilds seems to be the odd-man out in all of the James Harrison talk. Many believe that Harrison is on his way out of Pittsburgh this off-season due to salary cap issues and for most that means drafting a first round outside linebacker, but the Steelers may have a starter in waiting in Worilds. During the 2012 season Worilds played very well as a back-up to LaMarr Woodley and he would be the most logical options as of now to replace Harrison if he leaves. The problem with this scenario is that Worilds has played better on the left side when replacing Woodley then on the right side in place of Harrison.
Therefore, I believe the Steelers should consider moving Woodley to the right side. Woodley is a very good pass rusher when healthy and with Worilds speed on the left side the Steelers may get their pass rush back. So before we go looking for a Harrison replacement we may want to give Worilds a shot.
8.) Jonathan Dwyer - Dwyer has a chance to be the starting running back in 2013. It will all depend on what the Steelers do this off-season, but with their cap issues and the lack of top-tier running back talent in the 2013 Draft they may end up sticking with Dwyer. During the 2012 season Dwyer had multiple ups and downs, but with a very inconsistent line in front of him itís hard to put all the blame on his shoulders. In fact, during the only two games that Dwyer played behind a consistent offensive line he ran for over 100 yards and was dominant in both contests. If the Steelers can get their offensive line figured out and keep them healthy they may already have their running back in Dwyer. Even if the Steelers find another running back in the off-season Dwyer is sure to get carries and the Steelers will need him to be on top of his game and running well. Had the Steelers had more balance on their offense in 2012 things may have gone a lot differently.
9.) Curtis Brown - Brown may be the Steelers nickel corner in 2013 if Keenan Lewis leaves in free agency. Even if Lewis stays Brown should see more playing time in 2013 after a strong finish to the 2012 season. The Pittsburgh Steelers used a third round pick in 2011 on Brown in hopes that he could help add depth to the defensive back-field, but it has been 2011 fourth round pick Cortez Allen that has stood out. Brown struggled during the 2012 season, but during the last few games he started to show flashes and he may finally be turning the corner. It took Lewis a while to figure things out in the NFL as well and if Brown is finally coming around the Steelers will have a very good, and young, group of corners moving forward. That of course all hinges on Lewis returning in free agency.
10.) Any Young Safety - The Steelers are going to have to find replacements for the aging Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark sooner rather than later. In 2013 they could really benefit from a young corner stepping up and showing they are ready to take over. Clark is a free agent after the 2013 season and Polamaluís contract is up after the 2014 season. There is some speculation that both could be gone after next season and that would mean finding two new starters for the defense. Some want Will Allen, who is a free agent, to return to the team, but he will be 31 next season and dosenít help alleviate the age problem. Ryan Mundy could return for another season, but he is already 28. A safety will likely be drafted by the Steelers in one of the first few rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft in April. It will be up to that player, Damon Cromartie-Smith, or Robert Golden, a 2012 undrafted rookie free agent, to fill this need. If the Steelers donít find a young safety capable of starting in 2014 they may have to look at free agency once again as they did when Chris Hope left and Clark was signed.