With new coordinator Todd Haley installing his own offense, look for a few hiccups early as the Bill Cowher Era slips deeper into the rearview mirror.
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The Steelers also lost some longtime leaders, but Brett Keisel, Troy Polamalu, Larry Foote, Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark and Maurkice Pouncey are among the next wave of leaders stepping up into those roles. If Ben Roethlisberger picks up the offense, the Steelers have the weaponry and the defense to win it all.
The Steelers are using their first complete offseason since Super Bowl XLV to reconstruct their offensive line, using their top two draft choices on linemen. The end result should include two No. 1 picks, two No. 2 picks, and former right tackle Willie Colon (fourth-rounder) at left guard. In Super Bowl XLV, the starting O-line consisted of a fifth-rounder, a sixth-rounder, two undrafted players, and a 35-year-old free agent.
The most notable loss was four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Hines Ward, who announced his retirement in March. Also in March, the Steelers released two-time Pro Bowl linebacker James Farrior.
Ben Roethlisberger will be tasked with a new offensive coordinator in 2012.
No. 1 pick David DeCastro likely will win the right guard job over Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster, while No. 2 pick Mike Adams will compete with Trai Essex and possibly Max Starks for the left tackle job. Third-round pick Sean Spence will help as a sub-package coverage linebacker, and fifth-round pick Chris Rainey will compete with Baron Batch to give Haley a speedy receiving back. Fourth-rounder Alameda Ta’amu likely will “redshirt” behind Casey Hampton and Steve McLendon at nose tackle. Seventh-rounder Toney Clemons appears to be a big, fast and physical find and likely will be the team’s No. 5 wide receiver. Undrafted Drew Butler could unseat Jeremy Kapinos as punter.
This year's schedule is reminiscent of the 2008 schedule, and why not? The Steelers are up against the NFC East again, just as they were in some of those classic games down the stretch of their last championship season. And, as in 2008, the Steelers will host San Diego and travel to Tennessee. In place of 2008 powerhouses New England and Indianapolis, the Steelers this year travel to Denver and Oakland and host the Jets and Kansas City.
The schedule is very strong and has an early bye, which is never preferred. But guess what? That grueling 2008 schedule forged the Steelers into a championship team. Perhaps iron will sharpen iron once again.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback. At the age of 30, he's at the convergence of physical prime and veteran wisdom. The question with their franchise quarterback is how soon he will pick up Todd Haley's offense.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Troy Polamalu, strong safety. At the age of 31, Polamalu reported for voluntary spring workouts for the first time, but was overweight and noticeably stiff. He downplayed it by saying he never begins conditioning so early in the year.
WILL WIN DIVISION IF ...
Roethlisberger adapts to the new offense, the offensive line comes together, and Mike Wallace doesn’t waste the year in a contract squabble. Wallace was in the midst of a holdout at press time because he –- like the Steelers -- wants a long-term contract instead of $2.72 million from his tender in restricted free agency.