NFL Team Report - Pittsburgh Steelers - INSIDE SLANT
The Steelers reach a fork in the road for 2013; they can either take another dip from its disappointing 8-8 season or many of their questions can be answered and they can compete for a division title again.
The Steelers were right in the thick of things until they lost to Cincinnati in the closing seconds of the 15th game of the season. Injuries took their toll. They lost some key veterans, such as linebacker James Harrison, wide receiver Mike Wallace and nose tackle Casey Hampton but believe they have found their replacements.
Health and youth are the main issues. They need linebacker LaMarr Woodley and safety Troy Polamalu to play fulltime, and they desperately need a young line to come together quickly, stay healthy, and give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger some time to throw and room for their backs to run.
They wanted to improve their ground game in 2012 under new coordinator Todd Haley - one reason Bruce Arians was fired after 2011. Instead, they took a dive. It's why they drafted Le'Veon Bell in the second round. They also have invested four draft picks on the offensive line in the first or second rounds since 2010 and all four will start.
Their defense is old, but it has been No. 1 in the NFL the past two years in fewest yards allowed. Now they must find a way to make the big plays - sacks and turnovers, which they've been terrible at doing the past two years. Coordinator Dick LeBeau emphasized that part of the game throughout the spring.
Strengths: Quarterback remains among the best in the league with Ben Roethlisberger. Secondary has been solid and will remain so with one new starter, cornerback Cortez Allen and three longtime veterans - corner Ike Taylor and safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.
Weaknesses: Defensive line and linebacker, two of the team strengths from the past, are in transition and could become a weakness. Offensive line is young and has little depth, but with high draft picks getting their chances.
NFL Team Report - Pittsburgh Steelers - NOTES, QUOTES
--A judge rejected a claim by the Steelers that the taxpayer-funded city-county Sports and Exhibition Authority must pay most of the estimated $30 million cost to add 3,000 seats to Heinz Field. The seats originally were supposed to be installed for the 2013 season; now even having them for 2014 is in doubt.
--The Steelers announced they will wear their throwback jerseys - the 1934 "bumblebee" shirts they wore for two games last season - for one game this season, at home, but did not yet identify the game.
--Steelers president Art Rooney would like to see Pittsburgh host an NFL draft.
"Sure, I'd like to see the draft move around, and I would love to see it come to Pittsburgh some time," Rooney said. "It's a great event and attracts tremendous fan interest. It would be a fun event for Pittsburgh to host, and I think our city could do a great job with it."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's still learning, but he's learning at a quicker pace than most guys we drafted at that position as a defensive end." - LB coach Keith Butler on prized pupil, rookie Jarvis Jones.
NFL Team Report - Pittsburgh Steelers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Cause for concern: Tight end Heath Miller, voted by his teammates as the Steelers MVP in 2012, is still rehabbing from three torn knee ligaments, including his ACL. He may not be ready for the season and they do not have another tight end anywhere near his ability.
Position battles: Jarvis Jones vs. Jason Worilds at right outside linebacker. If Jones can pick up the defense fast enough, he could unseat James Harrison's heir apparent and a four-year vet who has never won a starting job.
Plaxico Burress vs. Jericho Cotchery for No. 3 wide receiver. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders will start and there's room for one of the two veterans.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--QB Charlie Batch (not tendered as UFA).
--NT Casey Hampton (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Brandon Johnson (not tendered as UFA).
--P Jeremy Kapinos (not tendered as RFA).
--QB Byron Leftwich (not tendered as UFA).
--TE Leonard Pope (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS (1)
--CB DeMarcus Van Dyke was claimed off waivers from Oakland before the season began and they believe he has enough talent to keep.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED (all picks signed).
--LB Jarvis Jones (1/17): $8,705,502 all guaranteed/4 yrs, $4,711,272 SB.
--RB Le'Veon Bell (2/4: $4,120,600/4 yrs, $1,376,800 SB/$97,300 RB 2014.
--WR Markus Wheaton (3/79): $2,811,376/4 yrs, $591,376 SB.
--S Shamarko Thomas (4/111): $2,613,152/4 yrs, $453,152 SB.
--QB Landry Jones (4/115): $2,599,220/4 yrs, $439,220 SB.
--CB Terry Hawthorne (5/150): $2,350,052/4 yrs, $190,052 SB.
--WR Justin Brown (6/186): $2,264,072/4 yrs, (104,072 SB.
--RB Vince Williams (6/206): $2,238,680/4 yrs, $78,680 SB.
--DE Nick Williams (7/223): $2,217,848/4 yrs, $57,848 SB.
--RB Baron Batch: ERFA; terms unknown.
--WR Plaxico Burress: Potential UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--RB Jonathan Dwyer: Potential RFA; $1.323M/1 yr.
--LB Larry Foote: Potential UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--G Ramon Foster: Potential UFA; $6M/3 yrs.
--TE David Johnson: UFA Steelers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Justin King: Potential UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--NT Steve McLendon: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation); $7.25M/3 yrs, $1.67M SB.
--RB Isaac Redman: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation); $1.323M/1 yr.
--WR Emmanuel Sanders: RFA tendered at 1.323M with third-round pick as compensation); matched Patriots offer $2.5M/1 yr.
--LB Stevenson Sylvester: Not tendered as RFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LS Greg Warren: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB William Gay: FA Cardinals; $4.5M/3 yrs, $500,000 SB.
--QB Bruce Gradkowski: UFA Bengals; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--P Brian Moorman: UFA Cowboys; terms unknown.
--QB John Parker Wilson (waivers Jaguars).
--TE Matt Spaeth: FA Bears; $2M/2 yrs, $250,000 SB.
--RB LaRod Stephens-Howling: UFA Cardinals; terms unknown.
--OT Guy Whimper: FA Jaguars; terms unknown.
--S Will Allen: UFA Cowboys; $905,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--G Willie Colon (released/post-June 1 designation).
--LB James Harrison (released).
--C/G Doug Legursky: Not tendered as UFA/Bills; terms unknown.
--CB Keenan Lewis: UFA Saints; $26M/5 yrs, $6M SB/$11M guaranteed.
--RB Rashard Mendenhall: UFA Cardinals; $2.5M/1 yr.
--S Ryan Mundy: UFA Giants; terms unknown.
--RB Chris Rainey (released).
--T Max Starks: UFA Chargers; terms unknown.
--WR Mike Wallace: UFA Dolphins; $60M/5 yrs, $11M SB/$30M guaranteed/$27M fully guaranteed.