Chris Burke Of SI Thinks Safety Is An Improved Position For The Steelers

By Jeremy Hritz

The season previews for NFL teams continue, and the most recent one regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers comes from Sports Illustrated online by writer Chris Burke. Burke previews the entire AFC North for the 2013 season and has some unique takes on what he sees as the weaknesses and strengths of this year’s edition of the black and gold. While Burke doesn’t come out directly and say that the Baltimore Ravens are the clear favorites to repeat as AFC North Champions, he does say that they have “the pieces necessary to capture a second straight title,” while about the Cincinnati Bengals, he asserts that if Andy Dalton is “up to the task,” that they can take over the division as the front runners.

As far as the Cleveland Browns are concerned, Burke says that they will be improved, but that in a competitive division, it is uncertain how much of an impact that improvement will have.

Regarding the Steelers, Burke believes that they have “ample playmakers” on defense and that “Roethlisberger’s offense should be better.” He concludes his piece by saying that he would not be surprised if “Pittsburgh gets up off the mat and returns to the postseason.”

What is interesting about Burke’s article is his viewpoint of where the Steelers have improved and where they have regressed. He also selected a player that he believed would “breakout” for the team during the upcoming season.

So where did the Steelers improve? According to Burke, it is at the safety position, citing the health and conditioning of Troy Polamalu and the “steal” of Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round of the draft. Burke refers to a report from early this offseason about Polamalu’s health and states that “having him on the field completely alters the dynamic of the defensive unit.”

The area where he believes the Steelers have gotten “worse” is a bit surprising since many, myself included, see it as a potential position of strength. According to Burke, the offensive line is an issue. He states that “barring significant improvement from pretty much everyone on this line (save center Maurkice Pouncey), though, Pittsburgh might spend the year lamenting the losses of tackle Max Starks and imposing guard Willie Colon.” Overall, he describes the unit as a “question mark at best.”

Lastly, Burke identifies Antonio Brown as being the breakout candidate for the season as a result of the departure of Mike Wallace, and he says that he is “on the verge of stardom.”

Burke’s commentary is thought-provoking, but it seems that he is placing too much stock in the report of Polamalu’s health and putting too little faith in the potential of the offensive line. His analysis does indicate a trend that we are seeing from writers about the Steelers performance in the 2013 season, and that is that they will rebound to make the playoffs.

Based on the criticism that the Steelers faced at the end of last season as a team on the backslide, it appears that assessment is reversing, and the team is becoming somewhat of a “dark horse” pick for the postseason in 2013.

  • VaDave

    Seems like every year these talking heads project to be in third place or worse, but every year we manage to be in the thick of things by year end. I agree with his assessment of our safeties, but our corner situation has improved as well. If Hawthorne burnishes as Lake has suggested, he could be the real steal of the draft.

    As for the OL, although I have reservations about Foster at LG for the long haul, how can you miss a guy ( Colon) that’s played about 10 games over the last 3 years? We will miss Starks, but I’m not so sure he would have beat out Gilbert, especially with the new blocking system coming. Keep in mind, Max’s run blocking never was real good. If we have an issue with the OL, it’s with depth. If either Gilbert or Adams, go down, or heaven forbid they both do, it’s all over but the shouting.

  • Denny Heimbach

    Gilbert scares the S*#% out of me. I don’t think he’s ever play a game without getting hurt and having to sit a series or two out. Just don’t see Gilbert keeping Ben upright. IMO he is the weakest link! OL depth is unknown, and being the Steelers are always one of the top teams in the NFL with starting combo at the oline position, that’s gotta be a major concern. Cant wait for camp!

  • steeltown

    Well said

    Miss Willie Colon? Really??? I do however and will miss Max, he was a true Steeler and he was underappreciated, i’m happy he got paid somewhere, he deserves it. Yes, the concern is depth, if Adams or Gilbert go down and Foster and/or Beachum kick out then the whole OL will suffer

    I love the Hawthorne pick, I hope he is recovered fully from his minor surgery and is primed for a good training camp. He’s a solid looking athlete, really good build and speed. I would love to hear some news on him and his rehab and overall health.

  • SteelSpine

    Regarding improvement at safety: Finally losing Mundy is the improvement:) The other backups were Golden & other guys (Cromarti-Smith etc) who odds-are will be better with that year of experience.
    The exception is losing Will Allen, but the Cryboys only gave him a 1 year deal which tells me the Cryboys honchos & Colbert&Co know something about WillAllen that me & others were not in a position to know about. Also I wouldn’t be surprised if WillAllen is back with the Steelers down the road after some humble pie, or like Gay & Foote did. That wont be this year tho because Cryboys’ need for safety this offseason was even more than ours.

  • steeltown

    I think im finally giving up on Cromartie-Smith.. ive been a supporter of his since we signed him, but he seems a bit slow for the position.. and now that we have Golden and Shark its a no brainer… DCSmith to the practice squad (again) this year

  • Christopher Wilkes

    I love the Shark pick, but unless there’s an injury, which is probably very likely, then he’s not gonna play much this year. Clark and Polamalu have been there for years, so not sure how that’s seen as an improvement. I am a little worried about the O line tho. It’s gonna be boom or bust, but I’m counting on boom. But, if we get an injury it could fall apart real quick. Adams is already going to be behind on his conditioning. BTW, any update on him?

    Also, I heard the Steelers were in attendance at the workout for Stony Brook O lineman Mike Bamiro. What’s our chances of signing him?

  • Christopher Wilkes

    If any position is going to be most improved it has to be the Running Backs. Considering they can’t get much worse then they were last year they win by default.

  • craig newhouser

    You on here too , dave ?

  • Brendon Glad

    I think that should be a pretty easy assessment. Any time Troy P. is truly healthy, then it kind of goes without saying how different the Steelers are. Because the smart people like the fans and media in Steelers Nation, and a few select national media types, understand that Defensive Performance is NOT measured by that stupid YPG stat which is used. It is measured by IMPACT (ie the ‘eye-ball test’)…and W/L.
    And on Shamarko…I gotta give my long-time buddy Tracy B.(& HUGE Steelers fan) an early “shout-out” at this point. He told me about his hopes for Shamarko before the draft…we watched it together…and he was ecstatic when it happened. He knows his NCAAF WAY better than me, so I’m now equally excited about it.
    We were definitely due for a Safety to be addressed…hopefully it will provide a smooth transition when our 2 great safeties hang it up.
    ****Has it been projected which Safety position Shamarko will be focusing on at this point? Or is it a “wait-and-see” approach til the pads come on.

  • steeltown

    I was equally excited about Shamarko.. was actually thinking (hoping) they’d go Shark in the 3rd Rd, the fact that he fell to the 4th is just crazy. I had Wheaton and Shark as two of my sleepers in the draft (also Aaron Dobson, Barrett Jones and Sio Moore) and I cant believe we got two of them!

    I think they see Golden as the eventual Clark replacement, so I think Shark will mostly be seen as Troy’s understudy..but when thinking about the Steelers its really a moot point, most of the guys are interchangeable. I think Golden will be taught to play either spot and I see Shark as the same type of player. Both played multiple positions in college (including CB)

  • JohnnyV1

    No doubt Willie Colon brought toughness to the line, but that doesn’t add much when he’s frequently on the bench, injured. We’ll miss Starks as a top backup, the projected OT starters have what Willie Colon had, injury issues. I don’t think Antonio Brown will be a star, really good, but not a star. Shamarko Thomas is my favorite draft pick of 2013 class. I like the guys that might be labeled as too short, too slow, not big enough, but have a heart and work ethic the size of Texas (see Hines Ward – too slow, 3rd Rd pick, jack of all trades, master of none, missing knee ligaments….1,000 catches). Shamarko reminds me of that type of guy. Don’t sleep on Golden at the other safety spot.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Our O-line’s improvement depends a lot on the new zone-blocking scheme. We don’t have a line built for guys to stand tall (ala Max Starks) down after down, while Ben looks around for an open receiver. This line has to keep defenses guessing and force them to MOVE side-to-side. (The best answer to QB pressure, after all, is redirecting the play somewhere else. I, for one, also hope Ben becomes a better “actor” on play action. It’s a fake, but he has to make it look real.)

    Our O-line is not a wall, they’re a battering ram — which only works well in MOTION.

  • Brendon Glad

    Yeah, I keep forgetting about Golden. He showed me a lot last year in pre-season. I think ‘we’ are in a good spot. I think both of those guys will learn from 2 tremendous (yet completely different) Safeties. I think that wide-range of styles will only make their learning more “full”. And I wonder if I can type my way through July, cuz I’m going a bit insane counting the days…lol

  • Brendon Glad

    Yeah…’toughness’ should have been in quotes, probably…smh… And I also agree that one of the primary keys to this season will be LT. We used to just always have Max Starks available to come save the day when another LT failed. It happened twice. And last year was the best I’ve ever seen Starks play. So it’s all about the LT.
    Is it Gilbert at LT and Adams at RT going into camp? I hope so. Because Gilbert looked ok at LT, and awful at RT. While Adams looked sketchy at LT, and potentially dominant at RT. So I hope that’s what they start with at least.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    Areas of improvement and areas we took a step back:

    QB: Backups are an improvement.
    RB: Bell should be an upgrade mostly in the “compete” area. Mendy wasn’t a natural competitor, despite a ton of talent.
    WR: Step back for now. Could change if we can still stretch the field.
    TE: Improved our depth adding Spaeth.

    OLIne: Pending….Depends on new scheme, health, and improvement of the young guys from last year.

    DLine: IMO, step back against run, step forward in pass, so neutral.
    LB: I will miss Harrison. At the moment, I think this must be a step back, but Worilds and Jones have potential.
    CB: Starters I think we improved as I love Allen, but Gay as the #3 is a step back. I am curious to see Brown’s improvements.
    S: Depth is less experienced, but probably more talented. If Troy stays healthy, no brainer up, if not, a step back just due to lack of experience.

  • VaDave

    Better line play = better backs. This is a good stable of backs, that just needs better blocking. ZBS should help. JMO..

  • VaDave

    I agree , but we are still a team to be reckoned with…

  • Luke Shabro

    That first sentence is spot on. I felt bad for NYG fans. That dude is a big time bust. He looked soooo awful in coverage. Sad when I was happy to see Will Allen in

  • Luke Shabro

    I think we can all agree that although Shark won’t be doing much more than special teams (barring injury Inshallah) but he might end up being one of the better picks of the draft. You look at this kid’s background and you just want to root for him. You know that like Ramon Foster he’s going to be stepping on heads to be a big time gamer


    There are obviously questions to be answered about the OL…my thinking for sometime has been that it takes an entire camp and probably 5 or 6 real football games as a unit (meaning the same 5 guys) for any OL to be productive…we haven’t seen that in maybe 3 seasons. I think Tomlin has had the most OL combinations in the league by a wide margin in his tenure…maybe this zone blocking scheme will be a welcome change…right now I’m taking a wait and see approach to the OL…but the main thing is keeping the same 5 on the field every week.

    Troy has heard the whispers…if he truly does have anything left, we’re going to see it this season…lost some weight I hear…I’m not worried about the back 4.

    BAL repeating? I think they lost too much…Dumervil is a big name, but he was single blocked a lot the last 2 yrs. That’s one reason DEN wanted him to take a big cut…I don’t see him being a huge factor for them. Lewis from an emotional leader standpoint will be sorely missed I think, and Boldin’s toughness I don’t see from the guys they have @ WR. Competitive as long as Rice there.

  • Kyle

    The line will be fine barring injuries. If the line does their job, Ben will do very well. Also, the running game was beyond atrocious last yr which forced Ben to have to convert 3rd downs at a historic rate. They need LeVeon Bell to hit the running (no pun intended) to give the BALANCE this offense has been lacking for yrs.