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Pittsburgh Steelers: 2012 Team Needs

February 22nd, 2012 By DraftNasty Staff Reports

For a team that went 12-4 a year ago, the Steelers have a lot of unanswered questions heading into the 2012 offseason.

2012 Pittsburgh Steelers

Team Needs

 

Key Notes

  • QB Ben Roethlisberger is just 3,421 passing yards shy of reaching the 30,000-yard plateau in his career
  • The Steelers finished 10th in passing yards per game (253.4)
  • The team's turnover ratio (-13) ranked 29th in the NFL
  • Despite making just one start, former Bowie State RB Isaac Redman ran for nearly 500 yards (479) and averaged 4.4 yards per carry
  • 14-year veteran WR Hines Ward averaged a career-low 8.3 yards per catch on his 46 receptions in 2011
  • 3rd-year LB Lawrence Timmons finished 3rd on the team in tackles (94 tackles, 2 QB Sacks)
  • OLBs LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison combined for 18 sacks despite missing 11 games collectively
  • The Steelers own the 24th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft

 

Potential Free Agents: Charlie Batch, QB, Dennis Dixon, QB, Byron Leftwich, QB

Mewelde Moore, RB, Issac Redman, RB, Jerricho Cotchery, WR, Mike Wallace, WR (Restricted), David Johnson, TE (Restricted), Jeremy Kapinos, P, Daniel Supelveda, P, Trai Essex, OT, Jamon Meredith, OT (Restricted), Max Starks, OT, Ramon Foster, OG (Restricted), Doug Legursky, OG

Positions of Need: QB, RB, OT

Offense

Quarterbacks

Even though many believe OC Todd Haley was hired to take the football out of Big Ben’s hands, it is important to remember that he was the offensive coordinator during Kurt Warner’s Super Bowl run with the Cardinals.  Haley is very adept and capable of using multiple open formations to attack defenses with a plethora of passes. 

What the team needs to guard against is approaching free agency too loosely at this position.  With Roethlisberger’s injury history, it would be extremely necessary to perhaps look at a viable backup option early in free agency.  Someone like former Philadelphia QB Vince Young has proven capable of adjusting to an offense and winning a game or two in this scenario. 

With that said, the Steelers have three free agent QBs who all have earned starts during their tenures in the Steel City.  At least one of the QBs in the group may return.  

Running Back

Rashard Mendenhall was just beginning to round into his 2010 form when he suffered a torn ACL late in the year.  The team has already said he may not be ready to start in the beginning of the year.  If pending free agents like Mewelde Moore and Isaac Redman depart, the Steelers would lose over 85% of its 2011 ground production. 

It’s important to remember, however, that the team does have two young backs in Jonathan Dwyer and John Clay.  Both are big, physical 240-plus pound backs who are built for the cold weather in December.  One or both should remain in the team’s plans.  Moore’s receiving skills (99 receptions in four years with the team) should not be discounted when looking at who comes and goes at this position. 

Without Mendenhall’s burst, this position is devoid of legitimate speed.  If the team looks at this position in the draft, players such as Texas A&M’s Cyrus Gray could get attention.  Gray won’t run in the 4.3s, but he’s got legitimate jump-cutting skill and natural forward body lean.  He’ll provide 4.45-type speed, but his injury (shoulder) and ball security issues are question marks. 

Offensive Line

It’s time for the Steelers to draft a left tackle.  Right? 

Not so fast.

Former Florida Gator Marcus Gilbert started 13 games at right tackle and did not look out of place.  There have been talks about a possible move to left tackle –the position he played his senior year in Gainesville- since RT Willie Colon has been re-signed.

The return of Max Starks was just a stopgap measure.  The unrestricted free agent may not even return.  When you combine that with Trai Essex being unrestricted, this is still a position worth taking a look at in the mid-rounds.   It should be noted that despite being a backup, Essex has averaged four starts a season during his seven-year Steeler career.  Over the last three years, that number has risen to eight starts a year. 

Multi-purpose OL Bob Legursky did his best at center when Maurkice Pouncey went down to another high ankle sprain, but he also got starts at both guard spots.   The unrestricted free agent may get looks from other teams because of that type of positional versatility. 

Wide Receiver

Normally, a team would have minimal concern over keeping a restricted free agent. An opposing team would have to give up a first round draft pick if the Steelers placed the high tender (1st round) on a specific player. With the team’s current cap situation, it should not be taken lightly the fact that Mike Wallace is a pending restricted free agent.  Would the Steelers be able to match an offer sheet from another team within the division?  Could the Browns potentially forsake one of its first round picks to push the division rival to the test? 

Losing the league's best deep threat is one thing, but the Steelers would likely lose their Pro Bowl KOR in Antonio Brown as well.  

Why?

Brown would likely have to shift more into Wallace’s #1 receiving role (many contend he already has) and give up his kick return duties.  Not reaching an extension with Wallace could have long-standing implications. 

Veteran wideouts Jerrico Cotchery (14.7 yds/catch) and future Hall of Famer Hines Ward are not expected to return.  If they don't, expect 3rd-year man Emmanuel Sanders to have a much bigger role.  

Defense

Potential Free Agents: Steve McLendon, DL (Exclusive Rights FA), Aaron Smith, DL

William Gay, CB, Keenan Lewis, CB (Restricted), Ryan Mundy, FS (Restricted)

Positions of Need:  CB, NT

Defensive Line

Aaron Smith has been a mainstay for years on the Pittsburgh front as a team leader and good run stopper.   His neck issues from a year ago may force him to call it quits.  With Chris Hoke recently retired and Casey Hampton’s salary becoming an issue, this is by no means a stable situation.  What makes it more shaky is Hampton's ACL tear vs. the Broncos in the Wild Card Playoff game.  At 35 years old, how long will the rehab from surgery take for a 330-plus pound nose guard? 

Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy has played in cold weather, uses his hands with authority and is tough to move off the ball when motivated.  He’s even played defensive end in some of Michigan State’s fronts.  Don’t be surprised if someone like Worthy gets major consideration when the Steelers are on the clock.   DE Ziggy Hood has the quickness to potentially move inside on 3rd Downs to become an interior pass rusher.  At the same time, he’s physical enough to be a factor against nickel run schemes. 

The good news is that Brett Keisel had one of his better seasons (48 tackles, 3 QB sacks, 6 PBUs) in 2011.  Cameron Heyward was drafted to be Smith’s eventual replacement at DE and the time may be now.  Heyward showed flashes in limited action a year ago.  If he can justify his 2011 first round status, this position could have some muscle.   If a NT is taken early, however, he may have to battle Hood for the other end spot. 

 

Linebackers

Veteran James Farrior has remained a viable performer despite 15 years grinding at one of the most demanding and physical positions in the NFL. Farrior can play uncovered and still factor effectively into coverage. A big reason he’s been able to play well for so long is speed.  The former Virginia Cavalier ran in the 4.5s when he came out of college. He’s maintained his speed well over the years at 240-plus pounds. 

But, with the Steelers in a pinch to get under the cap by the start of the league year, he could become a cap casualty.  This would inevitably make this a position of high priority in either free agency or the draft. Regardless of the team's decision here, it may be time to get younger at the position.  Finding someone capable in coverage and in-between the tackles won't be easy.  

Larry Foote has not been able to regain his full-time spot with the team after a brief stint with the Lions.  At 31 years old, they have to decide whether he’s a better football player for the short term than Farrior.  If he were released, it would also allow the team to free up some of its cap space. 

Utah State LB Bobby Wagner has experience playing in multiple fronts, but it's his 240-pound frame and 32 1/2-inch arms which could project favorably in Pittsburgh.  Wagner was the most impressive special teams player on the field in the 2012 Senior Bowl.  

Secondary

For years, the Steelers have been content with avoiding the cornerback position high in the draft.  Former starter DeShea Townsend provided solid, dependable play from both the nickel and outside positions for years.  Since his departure, the team has been trying to get someone to join forces with perennial starter Ike Taylor, who struggled mightily in the team’s playoff loss to the Broncos.  Pittsburgh’s corners have to tackle and play assignment-sound football that requires an extreme amount of intelligence. 

If William Gay leaves in free agency, the onus would be on special teamer and current backup Keenan Lewis.  However, Lewis is also a free agent and he could field offers from other teams.  Coming out of Oregon State, he showed many of the characteristics you’d expect in a Steeler corner.  He could develop if given an opportunity, but his man coverage skills are good, not great. 

Montana’s Trumaine Johnson is a big, physical cornerback who tackles well enough to get looks by the Steelers.  His innate ball skills would also seem to be a good fit on a team seeking a playmaker on the perimeter.  The big question for someone like Johnson is whether he can transition well enough at 6-foot-2 to handle the poor field conditions at Heinz Field in late December or early January.  Other cornerbacks who fit the team's style are West Virginia's Keith Tandy and Presbyterian cornerback/safety Justin Bethel. 

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