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Pittsburgh – A Team in Transition

Change with all sides has to happen over time, and there has been a gradual change in the personnel at the Steelers over the past few years. The challenge ahead this year for head coach, Mike Tomlin, will be getting back to having a winning season after a 12-4 record and a playoff loss to Denver in 2011 turned into an 8-8 season in 2012.

Defensively, the biggest loss was linebacker, James Harrison, who was released after salary-cap issues (and is now with the Bengals) but it was the offense that saw the biggest changes, with new back-ups behind quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, a new backfield, a much-changed receiving corps, and a new look on the offensive line.

The steady part of the Steelers offense is Roethlisberger; he is the main constant in the attack and, with a new supporting cast this year, fans betting on the NFL will be hoping that he (for once) can stay healthy this year and play all 16 regular season games, something that has happened only once in all his seasons as a starter.

His fitness is vital, especially with veteran backups, Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, gone and replaced by another veteran, in Bruce Gradkowski and fourth-round draft pick, Landry Jones, who must be considered a work-in-progress. Jones went from a potential first-round pick to a fourth-rounder after a disappointing senior season; he certainly isn’t NFL ready – yet.

Pittsburgh has always been considered a team that can run the football but, last year, they couldn’t accomplish that, mainly due to injuries. This year, they certainly expect improvement to come in that department, as they have drafted Le’Veon Bell in the second round; he should quickly take over as the featured and starting back.

He’s a workhorse back with good size (6-1, 244); he’s durable, and can take tacklers a few yards; he’s also very powerful and relentless, a good acquisition for the Steelers’ style of running game that they like to play.

Bell should have solid support on the ground with Issac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer competing for the number two spot on the roster. As things stand, it looks as though Redman will get the nod. Bell is likely to see the field on 3rd down as long as he continues to improve his pass blocking & blitz pickup. Will Johnson returns at fullback and will be a good addition in a mainly blocking role.

Question marks must remain over the receiving corps though, especially as Heath Miller at tight-end, their leading receiver in 2012 (71 catches), is not yet slated to return after injury. With him missing, the receivers look like a weaker group, especially as Mike Wallace was also lost to the Dolphins.

So, what have the Steelers got in this department? Well, Emmanuel Sanders, who was a nice slot receiver last year is going to have to step-up and improve his numbers for a start.

Although he did well in 2012 (44 catches for 626 yards), he will have more pressure on him this year and will be expected to produce more; it remains to be seen if he can handle that situation. Antonio Brown needs to improve again after his form rather levelled off in 2012. After those two, the Steelers receivers are a mixture of draft picks and veterans and it remains to be seen who of those make the full roster for the season. Offense is one area where the Steelers are looking a little light, unless Sanders or Brown really engage overdrive this year.

The offensive line gets a very new look and protecting Roethlisberger will be all important; two starters are gone from the “new look” – guard, Willie Colon, and tackle, Max Starks, and it will be three-time Pro Bowl center, Maurkice Pouncey, who anchors the line.

Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams are being lined up as the tackles but there is still some doubt from NFL betting pundits over who will play left and who will play right. Guards, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, complete the front five and it looks like the Steelers have a real belief in this line as a unit that could stay together for years – it certainly looks solid enough, providing a platform from which Roethlisberger has time and room to operate.

All in all, ‘transition’ is the right word to use about the Steelers offense – there are elements of stability there, Roethlisberger, for instance. However, much of the cast is new and it may take a while for it all to knit together.

This year, with an increased running game, we can see the Steelers getting back to their “ground and pound” style as the staple for whatever success may come their way, a return to their roots and some “blue-collar football”.

Replacing Mike Wallace’s Productivity

After going just 8-8 last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost key wide receiver Mike Wallace to free agency. He was the Steelers tAntonio Brownop receiving threat and a particularly strong deep threat as well as being the Steeler top ranked in fantasy football in 2012. As the team tries to get back into the playoff hunt, will Ben Roethlisberger have enough reliable targets to throw to?

With Wallace gone, the Steelers now have Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders as their top two options. Jerricho Cotchery will more than likely slot in at the #3 option, with Plaxico Burress and Markus Wheaton likely battling for the #4 spot. While all five of those receivers are talented, no single player is going to be able to replace Wallace’s productivity. Instead, it is going to take a collective effort to boost the passing attack.

At 5’10” and just 186 pounds, Brown does not have the size of most #1 receivers in the NFL. However, Todd Haley’s offense calls for a lot of short passes, and that is one of the strong points for the quick receiver. His numbers were down last season, but with the high-ankle sprain behind him, he could be a solid target.

Sanders seems like the player most likely to breakout as a true Wallace replacement, and Roethlisberger was so found of him that he begged management to match his offer sheet from the Patriots. He is not a big play type of guy just yet, but he does have some impressive quickness to go with reliable hands.

Of course, for the Steelers to really have a solid passing game, they will need to have things balanced out by a decent running game. Last year, they were awful running the ball, but Le’Veon Bell has a chance to help turn around that part of the offense. His running threat can open up things for Roethlisberger when the game is on the line.

Wallace is a tough player to replace, but the Steelers feel as though they have enough depth to make up his production collectively. With a healthy Roethlisberger, the passing game should be just fine in 2013.

Can the Steelers replace Mike Wallace's productivity in 2013?

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Is Mike Wallace Worth It?

Over the past 3 years, Mike Wallace has been one of the most productive receivers in the NFL.  Now, Wallace wants to be paid like one.  There is little doubt that the Steelers are a better team with Mike Wallace but at what cost?  Do you jeopardize future signings such as Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders?  I don't think so.

Wallace has been rumored saying he wants to be paid like Larry Fitzgerald who signed a 8 year, 128.5 million dollar contract.

The Steelers won't pay Wallace, Larry Fitzgerald money.  That would be a poor decision and that is not the way the Steelers do business.  They won't overpay for a wide receiver (see Burress, Randle El, etc) and they never let a player (see Santonio Holmes) jeopardize the future of the franchise.  And quite frankly, Wallace isn't worth Fitzgerald money.  Wallace has elite speed but he's not close to being a Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald talent.  They are in a class of their own.  Wallace is in the next tier of wide receivers.  He's still a 1 trick pony that disappeared towards the end of last year.  He might not be the best overall wide receiver on the team.  That title probably goes to the Antonio Brown.

With that being said, I want Wallace on the Steelers if the price is right.  What's the right price?  I think 5 years, 45 million seems about right.  The contract will be back loaded and much less than that will be guaranteed.  If Wallace doesn't agree to a contract similar to that, he won't be a Steeler after this season.

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