The offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers now enters its second week and there still is a long wait until the start of free agency and the draft. Over the course of the next 10-15 weeks the team will be facing question marks at five positions on offense that need to be answered and below is a recap of those five positions.
Starting Left Guard – The Steelers have spent four early draft picks on offensive linemen over the course of the last three drafts. Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert will man the two tackles positions should Max Starks not be brought back, while David DeCastro will handle the right guard spot alongside center Maurkice Pouncey. That leaves the left guard spot as the only position with a question mark as we sit here in January. Willie Colon is under contract, but there is some uncertainty as to whether or not he will be retained after winding up on injured reserve for a third consecutive season. Ramon Foster is an unrestricted free agent and there is no guarantee that he will return either. The good news is that we should know the future of Colon as it relates to 2013 within 10 weeks. Should both he and Foster not return, however, that would leave Kelvin Beachum as a prime candidate to battle for the spot. The Steelers might add a guard late during the draft, but I would not expect that to happen in the first five rounds if they do.
Starting Running Back – Both Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are restricted free agents who should be easily retained with tenders. Rashard Mendenhall looks as if he has had his unrestricted bags packed for some time now and it will be very surprising if he returns. Should either Dwyer or Redman be considered starters? Do they get a pass for last season because of the play of the offensive line? I think it is safe to say that this position will be addressed in the draft at some point. First round? I don\’t think so, but any round after that certainly seems to be a possibility at this point. I suspect that we are set for a good training camp this year as I just do not see them adding a quality starter-type during free agency.
Third Wide Receiver – Like Mendenhall, Mike Wallace is eager to test free agency and is unlikely to be back in 2013. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders will of course be the starters but there is no clarity as to who the third receiver will be at this time. Jerricho Cotchery is under contract, but his most productive days are long behind him. Since coming to Pittsburgh he has all of 33 regular season receptions and does not play on special teams. At best he a slot receiver that can be used to spell Sanders on occasion. Plaxico Burress is an unrestricted free agent who will turn 36 in August. While he is certainly still a player that can be used in the red zone, he is not one that can be relied heavily on outside of that. He can no longer stretch the field and is a liability in the blocking department. Like Cotchery, he also doesn\’t play on special teams. The Steelers in all likelihood will draft at least one receiver in April and might also try to pluck a younger free agent off the scrap pile later on in free agency in addition.
Backup Tight End – You can almost certainly plan on Heath Miller starting off training camp on the PUP list with his surgically repaired knee and we must keep our fingers crossed that he will be ready to go by the start of the season. Miller was a huge part of the offense in 2012 and the thought of him possibly missing some games at the start of the season is a scary one. David Paulson will of course be back but he showed no signs that he can be the heir apparent to Miller. His run blocking needs major improvement as does his ability to gain separation out in routes. Leonard Pope is an unrestricted free agent and a player that was barely used in 2012 with good reason. David Johnson, who is mainly considered a fullback, is also an unrestricted free agent and not really an option here. At this point you have to think that the Steelers will address this position in the top half of the draft. They almost have to thanks to Miller going down. You think that they regret turning Weslye Saunders loose now?
Backup Quarterback – The Steelers can\’t put themselves in the same position that they were last season as it relates to the backup quarterback position. Byron Leftwich, an unrestricted free agent, can\’t seem to make it through a season healthy, and Charlie Batch, also an unrestricted free agent, is 38 years old. The Steelers might decide to keep one of the two as the No.3 quarterback, but neither should be considered as the backup to Ben Roethlisberger. They need to either draft one or sign one on the cheap via free agency. Perhaps even do both.