Monday, May 10, 2004

Some thoughts on the Steelers
Well minicamp is over and the Steelers are already a new team. Or at least that's what they make it seem like when you read the Pittsburgh papers. Whether that's actually the case or if it has more to do with everyone just being excited about football, I thought I'd take a look at what the 2004 Steelers might look like.

Offensive line
Everyone seems excited about Kendall Simmons. The fact that he was diagnosed with diabetes during training camp last season (and lost 40lbs) created a big hole on the right side of the O-line. Marvel Smith's has recovered from a pinched nerve that kept him out most of last season and the offensive line looks revamped and ready to go. There wasn't any mention of how Max Starks performed over the weekend and the Steelers are only an injury or two away from last season's problems. But for now, this unit is an improvement over what was on the field last season

Tommy Maddox is the starter, he's no longer pouting about the Steelers drafting Ben Roethlisberger and he's getting a raise. Most of the focus was on the rookie QB and most of the comments were positive. This will be a good situation for Roethlisberger because he's under no pressure to play in 2004 and can learn from veteran QBs Maddox and Batch. Cowher has intimated that he won't keep four QBs so this could be Brian St. Pierre's swan song.

Wide Receivers
There have been several stories floating around about why exactly Plaxico Burress was a no-show at minicamp. His agent said it was for personal reasons, but he neglected to tell anyone that he wouldn't participate. Others seem to think Burress may be peeved about the Steelers moving too slowly to re-sign him. I hope it's the former, because if anything, the Steelers are notorious for not being bullied when it comes to contract negotiations. If you don't think so, ask Rod Woodson. Woodson and the Steelers were $75K apart on a contract and Pittsburgh didn't budge -- and Woodson was gone. Woodson was probably more valuable to the Steelers than Burress has been so far, and any attempt to strong-arm the Rooneys probably won't work.

Now, for the other receivers. There wasn't much talk outside of Burress, but the Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle-El lined up as the starters -- which makes them the shortest WR duo since the Redskins had the smurfs.

Running Backs
Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis were saying all the right things during minicamp, and maybe some of it is actually genuine. The good thing is that the Steelers can use both of them -- especially if: (a) the O-line holds up and (b)they can both stay healthy. Bettis pounded out a few 100 yard games at the end of the season (of course that was against the Raiders and the Chargers, but when you're 6-10 you can't quibble about details) and should have one more season in him (how many pre-seasons can you say that). Staley averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season and will hopefully help the Steelers return to a game plan that involves a run-first pass-second approach.

Defensive Backs
This may be the most important upgrade for the Steelers and it will be the position(s) that will have changed the most by the start of the season. Already the secondary has been described as 'fast' -- certainly not a word associated with Pittsburgh's defensive backs in some time. FS Chris Hope and SS Troy Polamalu (both 23), CBs Deshea Townsend (29) and Ike Taylor (24) were the starters (Chad Scott had an ankle injury and missed the weekend practices) and they drew good reviews from the coaches.

New (old) defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has already made it clear that he plans to blitz -- a lot -- and to do so will require a competent defensive backfield. If minicamp is any indication (and often it's not) these four guys (not to mention this year's second round pick, Ricardo Colclough) should make LeBeau's job a lot easier.

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