Steelers relying on new faces to replace old stars
It was, even by Brett Keisel’s standards, a little over the
Hard hat pulled tight over his head, thatch beard already in
midseason form, the veteran Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end
arrived at training camp last month in a mini-dump truck. Just to
prove he knew what he was doing, the 13-year veteran hit a lever
and sent his luggage tumble out of the cargo bed.
As an entrance, it was more goofy than grandiose. As a symbol of
where the franchise Keisel plays for finds itself heading into
2013, it couldn’t have been more apt.
The Steelers shed what they deemed excess baggage in the
offseason, even if the baggage included a handful of players with
multiple Super Bowl rings. James Harrison, Max Starks and Casey
Hampton, Willie Colon, Rashard Mendenhall and Charlie Batch were
either deemed too old or too expensive to keep around – or both –
after an 8-8 season while Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis found
bigger paydays elsewhere.
Though general manager Kevin Colbert shies away from the term
rebuilding – particularly for a team that hasn’t missed the
playoffs in consecutive seasons this millennium – his players are
well aware of a small tectonic shift in the locker room.
”We have a lot to prove,” Keisel said. ”The biggest thing we
need is our young guys have got to step up and seize this
First-round pick Jarvis Jones and second-round pick Le’Veon Bell
and a retooled offensive line will help lead the youth movement.
Yet Pittsburgh’s fortunes this year will ultimately rely on several
bold-faced names doing bold-faced things, and staying healthy while
they do them.
While stars Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu remain
fixtures, the Steelers find themselves trying to close the gap on
defending Super Bowl-champion Baltimore and the upstart Cincinnati
Bengals on the fly.
Consider this: starting in 2000 the Steelers have missed the
playoffs once every three years. Each time the Steelers have
responded with a bounce back season in which they won the
Five things to look for as the Steelers try to return to
DETENTE FOR ROETHLISBERGER AND HALEY? Depending on what you
believe, Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were
either at each other’s throats last season or in the midst of a
quiet cold war. Either way, both sides say they’ve made strides to
get more in tune with the direction they want the offense to go.
Roethlisberger praised Haley for opening the suggestion box during
the offseason and there’s a sense the two firebrands have found
some middle ground.
”Your big dogs have to have input,” Haley said. ”They’re the
ones out there facing the live bullets.”
The loss of Wallace leaves Pittsburgh without a proven big-play
threat, but the addition of third-round pick Markus Wheaton gives
the receiving corps a dash of speed.
WILL THE BELL TOLL? The Steelers were so high on Le’Veon Bell
they made him just the second running back they’ve selected in the
first two rounds of the draft since 1989. While he showed flashes
of brilliance during camp, the 21-year-old also struggled to stay
out of the trainer’s room.
Bell will likely miss the first few weeks of the regular season
due to a sprained right foot, an injury that came on the heels of a
left knee issue. Bell’s durability and versatility make him a great
fit in Haley’s offense but for now, the running game will fall to
holdovers Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, both of whom are in
contract years looking to prove they can be a feature back
somewhere in the NFL.
TURNAROUND TROY: Polamalu spent most of 2012 standing on the
sideline watching the league’s top-ranked defense go on without him
due to a torn calf muscle. Nearing the twilight of a Hall of Fame
career, the 32-year-old changed things up in the offseason,
switching physical therapists while trying to be more proactive
about injury prevention.
The explosion that’s made him a disruptive force over the last
decade has returned in the preseason. The Steelers need him to look
like his usual self if they want to create the kind of splash plays
they lacked in 2012. Pittsburgh generated just 20 turnovers last
fall, four of them coming in a meaningless season finale when a
decidedly nimble Polamalu threw his body all over the field like it
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES: If there’s an heir apparent to
Polamalu, it might be rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones. Taken with
the 17th overall pick in the draft as the eventual successor to
Harrison, Jones’ ability to make his way to the ball evokes
Polamalu in his prime. During one 11-on-11 drill in camp, he
swatted down two passes from Roethlisberger and intercepted
another. He recovered a fumble in the preseason opener, forced one
a week later and picked off a pass in his third game as a
”I call it lucky, man, and just doing the things that I’m
supposed to do,” Jones said. ”That’s just go all out and run to
the ball and just try to make plays.”
TERRIFIC TWENTYSOMETHINGS: Nowhere is the youth movement more
evident than on the offensive line, which includes just one starter
over the age of 25, and that’s 27-year-old Ramon Foster. Banged up
and beaten down in 2012, cohesion and chemistry will be vital to
Loaded with high draft picks – Foster is the only starter not
taken in the first or second rounds – the group needs to mature
”We know what we can do, what’s ahead for us,” center Maurkice
Pouncey said. ”If we have that lunch-pail mentality and stay
humble, I think things will work out for us.”
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