There aren’t many times when all the “experts” agree or can pinpoint what kind of team the Pittsburgh Steelers will end up being in any given year.
Most of the time, even if the Steelers are predicted to finish third within the AFC North, the “experts” always include: “Never fully count out the Steelers so long as No. 7 is on the field.” This is because the last time the Steelers were predicted to finish third, they not only made the playoffs but they won the Super Bowl.
It’s understandable that Ben Roethlisberger would make any team better and he is generally capable of putting a team on his shoulders and win a few games. It’s also understandable that when you have a team that is consistently one of the best defenses in the league, even with their advanced years, they are usually good for a few wins.
It’s those other guys between Big Ben and the great ‘D’ that makes the difference for the Steelers and their ability to make the playoffs and contend for the Super Bowl. This coming season will be no different, the Steelers still have No. 7 and still have a really good defense that should get them to six or seven wins.
The black and gold is generally one of the better teams to find talent in places most others either ignore or don’t get lucky. The No. 3 pick in recent drafts have been great for the Steelers in the past. Guys like Hines Ward and Mike Wallace have helped propel the team to additional wins after being third-round picks. Of course, the Steelers have been generally unlucky with their second-round selections but that’s another story for another time.
This year’s No. 3 pick is wide receiver Markus Wheaton from Oregon State. He is not a tall guy at 5-foot-11 and only weighs around 180 pounds, but he has been productive and got better with each season before leaving the Beavers after his junior season. In 2011, Wheaton had 55 receptions for 675 yards. In 2012, he boosted his stock by grabbing 91 receptions for 1244 yards and 11 touchdowns. Could Wheaton eventually become a starter after adjusting to the pros? Absolutely. Will he? We shall see.
With the second-round selection this year, the Steelers grabbed running back Le’Veon Bell out of Michigan State. A ton of Steelers fans had to be questioning the pick with Alabama star Eddie Lacy still on the board; however, Bell might be the more complete back and more the bruiser the Steelers desire to have. Bell may also be a superior blocker compared to Lacy and the Steelers simply love the guy. As other No. 2 selections have gone before him, the Steelers are counting on Bell to be a “no miss” guy.
Everyone already knows plenty about first-round pick Jarvis Jones and fourth-rounder Shamarko Thomas, but the Steelers have also been very good about undrafted players making an impact on the team. Willie Parker is one of those names who stands out as not only helping the team but impacting the team in winning a Super Bowl.
This year, a couple guys to keep an eye out for is receiver/kick returner Reggie Dunn out of Utah. Dunn runs a 4.3-second 40-yard dash and with Chris Rainey no longer on the team, the Steelers need an exciting return guy. The other undrafted player to watch would be Mike Golic, Jr., son of the former Houston, Philadelphia and Miami defensive lineman. Golic comes out of Notre Dame and plays on the offensive line. He’s a big guy at 6-3, 300 and can play center and guard.
Where do the Steelers get those extra three to four wins needed to get them into the playoffs? You could say that one win can come from luck and/or coaching. Does re-signing Plaxico Burress add enough red-zone firepower to generate another ‘W?’ What tight end will stand up to replace the injured Heath Miller (assuming Miller is out for some time)?Which running back will win the starting job? Which linebacker between Jones and Jason Worilds replaces James Harrison? Which remaining cornerback will win the starting job? Can Brett Keisel and Troy Polamalu stay healthy and play at a high level? Where do Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward go from here?
Can the O-line stay healthy and does it have enough depth if a starter goes down? Who will be the Long Snapper?!?!?
Too many questions and not enough answers yet, but one thing is for sure. This year’s training-camp battles will be epic. Which players can step up to win those remaining two or three games necessary for a return trip to the postseason? Stay tuned.