By Jeremy Hritz
Recently, Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated provided a brief forecast for all 32 NFL teams in his “Audibles” column at si.com. On July 4th, he published his outlook for the Pittsburgh Steelers, mostly reiterating much of what you have read this offseason on Steelers Depot. However, the optimism for a championship run that has permeated the Steelers offseason moves have not moved Burke, who potentially sees 2012 as a prime year for regression. He concludes his article with the ominous statement, “If ever there were a year to take a step back, though, it would be this one.”
His reasons for skepticism are nothing shocking, as they are the questions we have long been debating. Burke’s uncertainty focuses on leadership voids, Isaac Redman’s new role as starter, and the undetermined effectiveness of rookies David DeCastro and Mike Adams. Burke acknowledges that the Steelers have enough to make a playoff run, but considering the competition in the division with the Baltimore Ravens and the emerging Cincinnati Bengals, he feels they have their “hands full.”
Just what if the answers to those questions all worked out against the Steelers? Would it make for a long season, reminiscent of the ones that followed the 2005 and 2008 Super Bowl victories, or even worse, an abysmal repeat of the 6-10 season from 2003.
Let’s take a look at each of Burke’s concerns.
First, lack of leadership.
Sure, familiar faces like Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith have departed, and there is no question that their leadership qualities will be missed on the field. Fortunately, the Steelers have several veteran players with multiple Super Bowl victories on their resume who watched those gentlemen lead. And just as it was done in the past, new leaders will emerge. Troy Polamalu’s attendance at OTAs shows how seriously the veterans perceive the leadership of the team, and with such fixtures as Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, James Harrison, and LaMarr Woodley, it is highly unlikely that leadership will be an issue.
Second, can Redman be successful?
Burke asserts that it has yet to be determined whether or not Redman can carry the load for an entire season and goes on to say that if he cannot do it, the drop-off at the position will allow defenses to put a greater emphasis on stopping the passing game. Apparently Burke didn’t watch the Steelers at all in 2011, as they struggled the entire season to run the football consistently with Rashard Mendenhall. But he does make a solid point about Redman and his durability which has yet to be tested, and to draw any hard conclusion about Baron Batch, Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay, or Chris Rainey would be hasty. This could potentially present problems for the team; however, if it does, they are more than capable to deal with them.
Lastly, can the rookies ratchet it up?
This is the ultimate question for the Steelers this offseason. If DeCastro and Adams can prove to be formidable players from the outset, the offense will have a tremendous opportunity to be explosive. Yet if they don’t, it can be more of the same old song and dance on Ben’s face. Additionally, if the team can get role contributions from Sean Spence and Alameda Ta’amu, they will be able to keep players fresh as the season progresses. This is the question that Steelers fans across the world want resolved because it will be a huge determinant in the success of the team.