By Jeremy Hritz
Recently on ESPN.com, a video was posted of a discussion between Mel Kiper, Trent Dilfer, and Chris Mortensen that was focused on the topic of whether or not the Steelers are still relevant. While Kiper and Mortensen were somewhat pessimistic about the 2013 version of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dilfer believes in the team’s ability to replace the departure of such stars as James Harrison. Dilfer goes on to say that by the end of the new season, the NFL will be familiar with several new names on the Steelers roster.
When the 2013 season does conclude, who will have had the better prognostication? Kiper and Mortensen, or Dilfer?
There is no question that age is still a concern for several players on the Steelers defense, as Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel, and Larry Foote are all over 30 years old. Whether or not the aging of these players also results in a decline in skills remains to be seen.
There is also the injury factor that has plagued the team over the past two seasons, especially Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger. It seems that every year Polamalu is destined to miss a few games, as is Roethlisberger who has taken a pounding throughout his career, a result of his gunslinger mentality and mediocre offensive lines. Heath Miller is also recovering from a torn ACL, and the timetable of his return next season is uncertain. Will the team be able to avoid the bumps, bruises, and tears that have hindered their competitiveness?
Lastly, there has been a lack of emerging stars waiting in the wings behind players that have been fixtures on the team, and players that have been drafted with the expectation that they will contribute have not lived up to their potential. This season, two such players will get the opportunity on defense to showcase their development as they assume starting roles. Cortez Allen and Jason Worilds have earned opportunities to be in the starting lineup, and hopefully they are poised to become the next big superstars that have characterized the Steelers defenses in recent years. The Steelers also need to get production out of players like Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, David DeCastro, and Mike Adams, as they were all high draft picks for whom expectations were high. If they do not deliver, Kiper and Mortensen will have been correct.
If the Steelers can still get quality production out of their elders, and if they can avoid any serious injuries, on top of getting their youngsters to emerge, they can push their way back into the discussion of relevancy. In the video, Dilfer says “At the end of the day the Pittsburgh Steelers develop talent. And there are players on that roster that we don’t know their names…. That will be productive at the end of the year.” While the former Ravens quarterback may more optimistic than many in the Steelers Nation, the team’s history of churning out stars is well documented, and 2013 may just be the year where players like Worilds and Allen take the torch and carry the team forward to another championship.