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2010 Team Report: Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterbacks

Starter: Ben Roethlisberger
Backup(s): Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon, Charlie Batch

Starting QB: 2010 has not been a good year for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He was suspended for six games to start the season for violating the league's code of conduct policy. That suspension can be reduced to four games if Roethlisberger completes his treatment and stays out of trouble. Fantasy owners need to take note that he will miss at least the first month of the season, and may take some time to catch up to speed once he returns. Fantasy owners also must note that the Steelers are shaping up to be a more run heavy team this year. When he does come back he may not be passing the ball as much as he did last year. We believe his numbers will be more in line with what he produced in 2005, when he went 168-268-2385 with 17 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Because of his suspension and the Steelers looking to be a more run heavy team fantasy owners shouldn't rely on Roethlisberger to be more than a QB2 or QB3.

Backup QB: The Steelers brought Byron Leftwich back after one season away with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to compete for the starting job while Ben Roethlisberger is suspended. He will compete for the starting job with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said that he expects to have a starter named before training camp, so minicamp is where the battle will be won. Leftwich could win the job because of his experience in the league and familiarity with the offense. Dixon looked good in one start last year against the Ravens, and could win the job because of his athleticism and upside. Charlie Batch is the long shot to win the starting job, but can be a capable backup like he has for years in Pittsburgh. When Ben Roethlisberger comes back from his suspension the Steelers may choose to cut one of these quarterbacks and only carry three on the roster.

Running Backs

Starter: Rashard Mendenhall
Backup(s): Mewelde Moore, Jonathan Dwyer (R), Stefan Logan
Fullback(s): Carey Davis, Frank Summers

Starting RB: Pittsburgh is expected to go back to "Steelers Football" this season, which is great news for Rashard Mendenhall. The former first-round pick stayed healthy during his second season, and had the best year of his career gaining over 1,100 yards rushing. With Ben Roethlisberger suspended for at least the first four games we expect Pittsburgh to lean on the ground game more than ever -- regardless of who is named the starting quarterback. Even when Roethlisberger comes back Pittsburgh may still be a run heavy team. The Steelers selected Center Maurkice Pouncey in the first-round of the 2010 NFL Draft, and he's likely going to be a feature on the offensive line for years to come. Mendenhall only had three 100-yard rushing games last season, which he could easily surpass this year with a re-dedication to the run. He improved his yards per carry last year, and with an improved offensive line he could have a career year in 2010.

Backup RBs: Mewelde Moore will once again be the main backup behind Rashard Mendenhall, but he will have some competition for that spot because the Steelers drafted Jonathan Dwyer in the 2010 NFL Draft. Moore is a versatile back and can be a capable receiver out of the backfield, but he's also a very willing runner between the tackles. Jonathan Dwyer was not used much as a receiver at Georgia Tech, and his game is built on power running. He is an aggressive runner with the speed to take it the distance on any carry. He reminds many in the scouting community of Falcons RB Michael Turner. We expect Dwyer to give Rashard Mendenhall a breather from time to time, and he could be a fourth-quarter closer when the Steelers are nursing a lead. Stefan Logan is a fantastic return man, but likely won't contribute much on offense.

Fullback: Carey Davis is more of a traditional FB who can block effectively and catch a few passes here and there. Frank Summers spent most of last year on Injured Reserve and will have to prove himself all over again if he wants to make the final roster. Because of his athleticism he can either play fullback or running back.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Hines Ward, Mike Wallace
Backups: Antwaan Randle El, Emmanuel Sanders (R), Arnaz Battle, Antonio Brown, Tyler Grisham, Limas Sweed (IR)

Starting WRs: Hines Ward is still one of the toughest receivers in the National Football League, and the Steelers still rely on him as their number one receiver. Even though he's a 10-year veteran Ward is not really showing his age and could have similar production to what he did last season. He finished 2009 with another 1,000-yard season (the 6th of his career) and even though he was (barely) second to Santonio Holmes in targets (138-136), he led the team in receptions (95-79). Speaking of Santonio Holmes, the Steelers grew tired of his off field antics and sent him to the New York Jets for a fifth-round pick. That opens the door for second-year receiver Mike Wallace to step into the starting lineup. Wallace splashed onto the scene last year and finished the season with 39 catches for 756 yards and 6 touchdowns. He outplayed former second-round pick Limas Sweed and became a trusted target of Ben Roethlisberger. His 19.4 yards per catch is an indication of his amazing deep speed, and Wallace can get on top of a defense in a hurry. We'll see if Wallace can continue to be productive now that he's going to go up against better coverage as a starter opposite Hines Ward.

Backup WRs: The Steelers brought Antwaan Randle El back after the Washington Redskins let him go and he's going to be their starting slot receiver once again. Randle-El could also be used on some trick plays like he was when he won a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers back in 2006. In the third-round of the 2010 NFL Draft the Steelers signed WR Emmanuel Sanders from SMU. He was extremely productive his final year in college averaging over 100 yards receiving per game. Sanders has good hands, is quick off the line of scrimmage, and is dangerous in the open field because of his run after the catch ability. Arnaz Battle was signed to a contract in March after spending many years with the San Francisco 49ers. He'll give the Steelers quality depth at wide receiver, but will contribute mostly as a special teams player. Antonio Brown was Dan LeFevour's favorite target at Central Michigan, and could develop into a fine slot receiver. Limas Sweed has been put on Injured Reserve with an Achilles' injury and will miss the entire 2010 season.

Tight Ends

Starters: Heath Miller
Backups: Matt Spaeth, David Johnson, Sean McHugh

Heath Miller was a favorite target of Ben Roethlisberger in 2009, and should be a trusted receiver once again this year. With the Steelers wanting to be more of a run heavy team Miller's stats could dip slightly this year. Because of his size and ability to "box out" defenders Miller will still be a factor when the Steelers get to the red zone. Matt Spaeth had a few targets last year and should have similar production this year unless Heath Miller gets hurt. David Johnson and Sean McHugh have value as blocking tight ends.

Place Kicker

Jeff Reed : The escalated going rate for established kickers (courtesy of the Raiders) likely influenced the Steelers to place the franchise tag on Reed this year. Reed is coming off a strong three year run. He hit a career best 92.0% (23 of 25) on field goals in 2007. In each of the last two years he made 27 of 31 (87.1%) field goals. Reed had always managed to kick fairly well at Heinz Field, a place that has probably cost some kickers their job. After a three year absence from the top ten, the Steelers ranked 8th in kicker scoring last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Stefan Logan, Antonio Brown, Mewelde Moore, Mike Wallace, Joe Burnett, Emmanuel Sanders, Rashard Mendenhall, Antwaan Randle El

After several years of searching, the Steelers finally found their return specialist last year in RB Stefan Logan (55 returns, 26.7 avg.). He's the favorite to retain the job, although he'll be challenged by a rookie. Sixth round draft pick WR Antonio Brown averaged 23.3 yards on kickoff returns during his college career at Central Michigan and scored twice. Mewelde Moore was primarily used on punt returns when he was with the Vikings, although he has handled some kickoffs with the Steelers (4 returns, 11.0 avg. last year). WR Mike Wallace scored a kickoff return TD in each of his last two seasons at Mississippi. He had one 26 yard kickoff return as a rookie last year. CB Joe Burnett added kickoff returns to his resume during his senior season in college and scored two TDs. He served as a backup as a rookie last year (3 returns, 7.7 avg.). Third round draft pick WR Emmanuel Sanders had a dozen kickoff returns during his freshman year at SMU. Potential backups/upmen include RB Rashard Mendenhall (one eight yarder last year). WR Antwaan Randle El handled kickoff returns during his first three years in the league but has only two the last five years.

Punt Returners: Stefan Logan, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Mewelde Moore, Joe Burnett, Antwaan Randle El, Arnaz Battle

Stefan Logan handled the majority of the punt returns last year (30 returns, 9.3 avg.). Antonio Brown averaged 10.4 yards on punt returns during his college career and scored three TDs. Emmanuel Sanders scored once in college while averaging 6.9 yards on punt returns. Mewelde Moore averaged 11.7 yards on punt returns in 2005, 10.1 yards in 2006, and 10.0 in 2007 for the Vikings. He scored two TDs during that span. Joe Burnett scored three times on punt returns during his college career. In 2005, Antwaan Randle El's final year of his initial stint with the Steelers, he averaged 10.2 yards on 44 returns and scored twice. In 2006, his first year with the Redskins, he averaged 8.8 yards on 39 returns and scored once. The last three years his numbers have dropped off, including a 6.0 yard average on 17 returns last year. Arnaz Battle was the 49ers' primary punt returner in 2004 (31 returns, 8.6 avg., 1 TD), and for part of last year (21 returns, 2.9 avg.). After having ranked 32nd and 29th in fantasy returns, the Steelers improved to 17th last year.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Max Starks, LG Chris Kemoeatu, C Justin Hartwig, RG Maurkice Pouncey (R), RT Flozell Adams
Key Backups: T Jonathan Scott, G Trai Essex, G Kraig Urbik, T Ramon Foster

The Steelers offensive line is in a transitional state. Usually a strength of the team, the talent isn't as strong as years past and the unit is struggling to find itself. The season-ending loss of Willie Colon set them back even further, but they smartly signed 12-year veteran Flozell Adams to step into the role. Adams is no longer an elite tackle, but he's still an effective run blocker and should have a few good years left as a right tackle. Max Starks started in all sixteen games at left tackle last year. It was only the second time in his career he was able to play in all sixteen games. He is a decent left tackle but is not considered to be a top player. Chris Kemoeatu started 12 games at left guard but was ineffective in 2009. He has started 28 games over the last two years but there is no guarantees he starts in 2010 after his poor play last season. Trai Essex started all sixteen games at right guard last year but was terrible. One of the worst guard performances in the NFL last season. As a result, expect rookie Maurkice Pouncey to emerge as the starter this season. Justin Hartwig is a nine-year veteran at center but he did not play up to expectations last season. In fact he was downright brutal at times in 2009. If Pouncey does not earn a nod as starting guard, there is a real chance he'll push Hartwig out at center. Overall, the Steelers offensive line just doesn't look very good heading into this season. The glory days as a top-tier blocking team are in the rear-view mirror.

Team Defense

Pittsburgh is the birth place of the 3-4 zone blitz defense. It's an aggressive attacking style of play which at its best, forces offenses to react to the defensive scheme rather than the other way around. By its design the zone blitz is meant to create a lot of big plays. Thus over the years the Steelers have been one of the most consistently productive options in the fantasy game. The '09 season was no exception as Pittsburgh was solid once again. they boasted the #3 run defense and were #5 in yards allowed. They were second in the league with 47 sacks while finishing in the top half of the league in scoring defense (12th) and pass defense (16th). The one area that the club is looking to improve is takeaways where there un-Steeler like 22 turnovers ranked just 27th. The Steelers have an excellent front three and arguably the best group of 3-4 linebackers in the league. If there is to be improvement in 2010 it will have to come from the secondary where corner Bryant McFadden returns after a year in Arizona and a healthy Troy Polamalu will be back in the lineup. Polamalu is a one man wrecking crew and will make a huge difference in the takeaway columns if he can stay healthy. The lack of takeaways caused the Steelers to drop out of the top 10 in many scoring systems a year ago but they should rebound in 2010.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Aaron Smith, DE Evander Hood, NT Casey Hampton
Backups: DE Brett Keisel, DE Travis Kirschke, DE Nick Eason, DE RaShon Harris, NT Chris Hoke

Starting DL: In a 3-4 scheme the defensive line gets little glory but sets the foundation for the scheme to be successful. Nose tackle Casey Hampton is a 4 time pro bowler who may well be the best 3-4 nose tackle in the game. He doesn't put up great numbers but his contribution to the perennial success of this defense is unquestioned. He is the quintessential 3-4 nose tackle, a massively strong fireplug of a player with a very low center of gravity, whose responsibility is to tie up multiple offensive linemen and clog up the middle of the field. Eleven year veteran Aaron Smith is the Steelers longest tenured lineman. With an outstanding mix of quickness, power and size, Smith is an excellent fit at end in the Steelers 3-4. He can hold ground at the point of attack and tie up multiple blockers but is also an above average pass rusher who has contributed 32.5 sacks over the past 8 seasons. Smith missed much of 2009 with a shoulder injury but has not been limited during the offseason and should be 100% for camp. Second year man Evander Hood is expected to replace veteran Brett Keisel as the starting DE opposite Smith. Hood was the first day one draft pick the club has used on a defensive lineman since they took Hampton in the first round nine years ago. The rookie is a high motor guy with both strength and mobility. He should fit well in the scheme.

Backup DL: A 7th round pick in '02, Brett Keisel saw very little action prior to '05 but became a solid contributor over the past five seasons. He will continue to see action as the third DE and could be called upon to spell the 34 year old Smith often. Chris Hoke is an excellent backup for NT Casey Hampton. It was business as usual for the Steelers when he replaced and injured Hampton for the final 10 games of the 2004 season. Hoke hasn't seen a lot of action since but is proven capable if called upon. Travis Kirschke is a steady veteran presence. He's not a flashy player but the club doesn't loose much if he is called upon. Nick Eason was a backup in the Browns 3-4 before joining the Steelers heading into the '07 season. He will contend with 6th round pick RaShon Harris for a spot in the pecking order and possibly a roster spot. Harris is a developmental guy who will be given time before being asked to contribute. The Steelers rarely spend early picks on the DL but they do a great job of getting their kind of guys in the late rounds and then developing them. Prior to the selection of Hood, Hampton was the only first day pick the team had on the DL. That has never stopped them from putting together a very strong and deep defensive line. This year is no exception.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB James Farrior, ILB Lawrence Timmons, OLB James Harrison, OLB LaMarr Woodley
Backups: ILB Keyaron Fox, ILB Larry Foote, OLB Jason Worilds, OLB Thaddeus Gibson

Starting LBs: By design the linebacker position is the heart of any 3-4 scheme and the Steelers are loaded at the position. James Farrior has been a mainstay at ILB for the last 8 seasons. He's been durable having missed just 4 games over that span, and has been a playmaker totaling 22.5 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, 9 recoveries and 8 interceptions since 2002. At age 35 Farrior is in the twilight of an excellent career but he has shown very little sign of decline thus far. Lawrence Timmons was the 15th overall pick in '07 and has not disappointed. He was eased into the lineup in 2008 season when he shared time with Larry Foote. Last season was Timmons first as an every down player. He battled an ankle injury that slowed him for much of the season and hkept him out of two games but still managed 56 tackles, 7 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. He's just 24 years old and has only begun to tap his potential. He will work alongside Farrior for now but there is little doubt that Timmons will soon be the centerpiece of the Steelers defense. Strong as the team is on the inside, it's their outside linebackers who steal the show. James Harrison Over his three seasons as a starter Harrison has racked up huge big play numbers including 34.5 sacks, an amazing 19 forced fumbles, 5 recoveries and a couple of picks. The Steelers used a second round pick on Jason Worilds who may be the eventual replacement for the now 32 year old Harrison, but for now it should be business as usual for the veteran. LaMarr Woodley who quietly piled up 11.5 sacks and 5 takeaways as a first time starter in '08, proved that it was no fluke by bettering his numbers in '09 when the totaled 50 tackles and a team leading 13 sacks. There are some 3-4 defenses in the league who are very strong at OLB but no tandem in the NFL is better than what the Steelers put on the field.

Backup LBs: The Steelers do an outstanding job of picking up young, under the radar players who fit their scheme, then developing them for a couple of years before eventually getting a quality return on their investment. The perfect example being James Harrison who was an undrafted free agent in '04 and didn't start until '07. This year's additions of Jason Worilids in the second round and Thaddeus Gibson in the 4th, fit the profile. Both are talented young players with the skill set to be successful outside backers in the Steelers complicated scheme. It will take them a couple of years to get comfortable and up to speed but there is a great deal of potential between them. The return of Larry Foote makes a great deal of sense. He knows the scheme and for this season will provide quality depth. However, with James Farrior turning 36 next January, the long term plan maybe for Foote to eventually return to the sidekick role he played for several years with Lawrence Timmons moving into Farrior's lead role. Keyaron Fox is one of the few free agents the Steelers have signed at the LB position over the past several years. With Foote back in the mix Fox may be consigned to special teams duty but is a solid veteran contributor when called upon.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Troy Polamalu, FS Ryan Clark, CB Bryant McFadden, CB Ike Taylor
Backups: CB Keenan Lewis, CB William Gay, CB Joe Burnett, FS Will Allen, SS Ryan Mundy

Starting DBs: The nature of Pittsburgh's zone blitz scheme puts a lot of pressure on the secondary. Corners are often left on an island and must be able to handle man coverage while the safeties have to make split second decisions in a system that is very complicated. Of course it's much easier to do these things when the team racks up 47 sacks. Ike Taylor fits the bill well and is entrenched at one corner position. His best season came in '07 when he recorded 69 tackles, intercepted 3 passes and defended 16. Those numbers have slipped a bit over the past couple of years and the Steelers would like to see more big plays from him. Bryant McFadden returns after a year in Arizona and is a very similar player to Taylor. Good cover skills, a sure tackler who allows few big plays but makes few as well. At this point there is no immediate danger of either starter being bumped from the lineup but the club may look for a playmaker in the near future. After battling injuries for a couple of years Troy Polamalu changed his training program heading into '08 and it worked. At least for one season. His '08 campaign was among the best of his career including a personal best of 7 interceptions. Polamalu was on fire early in '09 with 17 tackles and three picks in his first 4 games before landing on IR. He's a phenomenal player when healthy and is instrumental to the success of the Pittsburgh defense. He will enter camp healthy and be very productive if he can stay that way. Ryan Clark doesn't have impressive statistics but his steady presence and solid tackling allows the Steelers to turn Polamalu lose a little more.

Backup DBs: 2007 5th round pick William Gay stepped into the starting lineup last year when Bryant was in Arizona. He did a solid job in coverage and was a solid tackler, but his complete lack of big play ability had the coaching staff looking for a better option. Gay will compete with second year players Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett for the nickel corner duties. Neither Lewis nor Burnett saw much playing time as rookies in the Steelers complex scheme but with a year under their belts they may be ready to step up. Likewise former Dolphin Will Allen and last year's 6th round pick Ryan Mundy will compete to establish the pecking order behind the starters at safety. Mundy has more potential but Allen is a veteran.

Last modified: 2010-07-29 23:33:15