As the Steelers head into the 2009 season that starts at home Thursday night, the only two things that stand between back to back chamionships are the offensive line and injuries. The Steelers chose to re-sign Chris Kemoeatu, Max Starks and Trai Essex instead of addressing the needs thoroughly through free agency or the draft. Guard Kraig Urbik was the only lineman drafted to make the roster and swing man Ramon Foster was signed undrafted in the offseason. Backup center Darnell Stapleton was lost for the season during training camp forcing the Steelers to keep practice squader Doug Legursky on the final 53 man roster as the backup center. The Steelers offensive line surrendered nearly 50 sacks of the quarterback last season and while offensive coordinator Bruce Arians did not blame all on the line, the number is what it is. Another brutal season total of that magnitude will surely take it\’s toll on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and must be improved on in order for the Steelers to repeat.
The Steelers rushing attacked finished 23rd in the NFL in yards gained in 2009 and 29th in yards per carry. This is another huge concern headed into the season. The run blocking must improve and running backs Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall must improve on those numbers this year.
Defensively, the Steelers look exactly like the 2009 squad minus Bryant McFadden and Larry Foote. While the defense will be hard pressed to match the 2008 season, they should be close. Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley and William Gay look to fill in the holes left by McFadden and Foote. The defensive depth looks to be a little less experienced than the 2008 team, but more than adequate to do the job.
Special teams look much improved with the finding of return man Stefan Logan and while special team aces Carey Davis and Anthony Madison are now gone, their shoes seem to be well filled. Linebackers Patrick Bailey and Keyaron Fox look anchor the kick coverages. Throw in the return of punter Daniel Sepulveda, who is returning from a missed 2008 season, and the Steelers are poised to be one of the best special teams units in the league.
As it is with most teams, injuries will play a huge role in whether or not the Steelers go back to the Super Bowl. The team starts out healthier than the 2008 team with only linebacker Lawrence Timmons expected to miss week one. The biggest blow of course would be an injury to a starting offensive lineman, wide receiver Hines Ward or quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. If that were to happen, the Steelers offense would take a huge hit and may have problems going forward.
In closing, if the Steelers can improve the play of the offensive line and stay away from injuries of key specialist players, the Steelers should be able to bring home a seventh Lombardi Trophy to the city of Pittsburgh.