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2006 Team Report: Pittsburgh Steelers

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Starter: Ben Roethlisberger
Backup(s): Charlie Batch, Omar Jacobs [r], Rod Rutherford, Shane Boyd

Starting QB: The Steelers breathed a collective sigh of relief after Ben Roethlisberger's injuries from his motorcycle accident on June 12th turned out to be much less serious than expected. The young QB is expected to miss some time during training camp and could possibly be held out for a few games early in the regular season. The timing of the accident was unfortunate in that Roethlisberger's continued growth seemed inevitable. He continued his incredible run last season, adding a Super Bowl championship to his growing list of accolades. His growth and development as a quarterback was apparent in the playoffs when Roethlisberger essentially put the team on his back and carried them to wins over Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Denver. In his first two seasons, he has compiled a passer rating of 98.3 and has led all starting NFL quarterbacks in yards per attempt with an 8.89 yard average. His combined win-loss record as a starter is 26-3 including a playoff record of 5-1. At the same time, Roethlisberger has shown considerable durability issues, missing a quarter of the 2005 regular season and being hampered by knee and thumb injuries during the Steelers' late season playoff run. Roethlisberger has also shown a tendency to tire out at the end of both of his first two seasons. Still, the young QB's development had been phenomenal and following the Steelers' success in the playoffs with a more wide open offense and considering their selection of two deep threat wide receivers inside of their first three picks in the 2006 draft, the signs had pointed toward the Steelers relying more heavily on Ben Roethlisberger's arm this season. Now it is unclear how much the Steelers will be able to count on Roethlisberger's arm, particularly early in the season.

Backup QB: Because Roethlisberger is expected to miss relatively little time, the Steelers are not expected to add any additional quarterbacks to the roster. If he misses more time than expected, former Steeler backup Tommy Maddox is still available in the free-agent market. But it is likely that the Steelers will count on Charlie Batch to fill in until Roethlisberger is ready to return. Batch took over as the Steelers backup QB following Tommy Maddox's implosion during the week six overtime loss in Jacksonville. He looked good in limited duty in 2005, leading the team to a win over Green Bay in his first game as a starter since December 2001. The following week against the Browns, Batch looked very comfortable in the Steelers Roethlisberger-tailored offense. He went 13/19 for 150 yards and a rushing touchdown, but broke his throwing hand extending the ball over the goal line. Expect Batch to be a capable replacement for Ben Roethlisberger. Fifth round draft choice Omar Jacobs is a pocket passer with some mobility who holds the NCAA Division 1-A TD-INT record with a 41-4 mark he set in 2004. He came out as a junior, however, and will need seasoning. Jacobs will likely win the QB3 role in training camp. Rod Rutherford, who played collegiately at Pitt, will compete with Jacobs. Shane Boyd from Kentucky has had some success as the starting QB for the Cologne Centurions in NFL Europe this offseason but may project best as an NFL RB.

Running Backs

Starter: Willie Parker
Backup(s): Verron Haynes, Duce Staley, Cedric Humes [r]
Fullback(s): Dan Kreider, Verron Haynes, Cedric Humes [r]

Starting RB: Willie Parker exploded on to the scene in 2005 by posting 210 combined yards against the Titans in week one. He remained the starter for the entire season and missed only one game due to injury. Parker was very productive despite being spelled regularly by Jerome Bettis -- 255/1,202/4 rushing for a 4.7 yard average and 18/218/1 on 24 targets as a receiver out of the backfield. Because of the Steelers' tendency to pull Parker in favor of Bettis at the first sign of a struggle, Parker's durability is still a bit of a question mark. Jerome Bettis has since retired, but it is likely that the Steelers will still pull Parker at the goal line for a big back, so his touchdown numbers will likely remain somewhat low. At the same time, though, look for Willie Parker's share of the offense and productivity to increase in 2006 because none of Bettis' potential replacements will have the gravitas of The Bus.

Backup RBs: Who will emerge as Bettis' replacement in short yardage and goal line situations? Duce Staley entered training camp as that man, but has been upstaged by Verron Haynes. Staley was used very sparingly last season and saw action in only five games, but in the two games he started he was quite effective -- 32/140/1 rushing (a 4.3 yard average) and 4/25 receiving. But he has not been impressive so far in this year's training camp or preseason. Verron Haynes is the Steelersí designated third down back. Like Staley, Haynes is a big back who has good hands and can run well in space as well as between the tackles. With his third down role secure, Haynes appears to also be winning the short yardage duties. The Steelers selected Cedric Humes, another big, bruising back (6-0, 227) from Virginia Tech, in the seventh round of the draft. Humes posted 11 touchdowns his senior season and spent time at both fullback and tailback during his career with the Hokies.

Fullback: Dan Kreider is one of the preeminent blocking fullbacks in the NFL. Kreider was picked up by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent out of New Hampshire in 2000. He beat out incumbent FB Jon Witman for the starting job and has been a fixture in the lineup ever since. Kreider only rarely touches the ball, however -- in his 87 NFL games he has seen only 29 rushes, 51 receptions, and two touchdowns, averaging less than a touch per game and less than a touchdown every 40 games. With Kreider and starting RB Willie Parker, the Steelers have the NFLís only starting backfield comprised entirely of undrafted free agents. Versatile Verron Haynes backs up Kreider at fullback in addition to playing the one-back in single back sets. Rookie Cedric Humes has the skills and the size to play fullback in the NFL and could fill in there if needed.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Hines Ward, Cedrick Wilson
Backups: Santonio Holmes [r], Willie Reid [r], Quincy Morgan, Nate Washington, Sean Morey, Lee Mays

Starting WRs: Hines Ward's MVP performance in Super Bowl XL enshrined him as a Steeler legend on par with the players of the Steel Curtain era. Ward led the 2005 Steelers in receptions (69), touchdowns (11), and receiving yardage (975) and is still unquestionably the team's WR1. He is a clutch receiver who is the team's first option in the red zone (24/58 for 41% of the Steelers' red zone targets) and on third down (32/81 for 39%). However, Ward's productivity has been in decline -- his statistics have decreased for the last three consecutive years, and he spent several games on the injury report this season, missing the first game of his eight year pro career. But with the retirement of Jerome Bettis, Ward will assume Bettis' position as the emotional leader of the Steelers offense. With the offseason departure of Antwaan Randle El, Cedrick Wilson will enter training camp as the team's WR2. Wilson is similar to the departed Randle El -- his build (5'10/183), his speed, and his quickness are all on par with Randle El's, and Wilson also has much more experience as a wide receiver. Wilson came on strong down the stretch last season for the Steelers, scoring twice and catching nine passes for 219 yards during the team's four game playoff run. However, he will need to have a strong training camp to remain the Steelers' WR2 as the team used two of their first three draft choices on wide receivers.

Backup WRs: The Steelers were so impressed with Ohio State's Santonio Holmes they traded up seven spots in the first round of the draft to snag him. Since then, Holmes has been arrested twice before even signing a contract with the team. On the field, Holmes is the complete package as a receiver with home run speed, great quickness, and good hands. He runs crisp routes, blocks very well for a receiver, and also returns punts and kicks. Holmes was expected to compete with Cedrick Wilson for the Steelers' WR2 position, but now it remains to be seen how much responsibility he will be given during training camp. Willie Reid is the Steelers other speedy rookie receiver -- he was chosen in the third round out of Florida State. In college, Reid was known for his versatility and selflessness as well as his return abilities. He will likely return punts and kicks for the Steelers in 2006 and should see action in four receiver sets. Quincy Morgan is the largest and strongest of the Steelers receivers (6'1"/215) and is the team's incumbent kick returner. Nate Washington made the team in 2005 as an undrafted free agent. Washington impressed coaches with his performance in the AFC Championship game where he converted a key third-down and knocked away a potential interception in the end zone on the Steelers' first scoring drive. Sean Morey is the Steelers' special teams captain.

Tight Ends

Starters: Heath Miller
Backups: Jerame Tuman, Charles Davis [r]

Heath Miller had an outstanding rookie season in 2005. He exceeded expectations as both a blocker and a receiver and he was named the starting tight end for the Steelers in week two. He set Steeler rookie TE records for receptions (39), receiving yards (459), and average yardage per reception (11.8). Miller quickly became a favorite red zone target for Ben Roethlisberger as he finished second on the team in red zone targets with 11. His six receiving touchdowns were also good for second best on the team and trailed only Eric Green's 1990 mark of seven in team history for a rookie TE. Miller was very durable and never appeared on the Steelers injury report. Given the Steelers' unusually pass-heavy offense in the playoffs, look for Miller's productivity and touches to increase as his familiarity with the offense grows. Jerame Tuman is a solid backup TE who will see regular action in the Steelers two tight end sets. He is an accomplished blocker and an able receiver who was the starting tight end for the Steelers in 2003 and 2004. During the offseason, Tuman signed a three year contract to remain with the Steelers as the backup to Heath Miller. Charles Davis, a fifth round draft choice out of Purdue, has prototypical TE size (6'5/264). He is a good receiver who also played basketball for the Boilermakers. However, Davis will need to show improvement in his blocking ability and toughness in order to make the final Steelers roster.

Place Kicker

Jeff Reed : The Steelers logged their second straight top ten finish in kicker scoring. Reed connected on 24 of 29 FGs (82.8%), and was good on all 45 PATs. The five missed FGs were all from beyond 40 yards, and two of those were blocked (the first of his NFL career). Reed still has four years remaining on his contract, and he isnít adversely affected by Heinz Field as others have been, so he should remain a Steeler for awhile.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Quincy Morgan; Ricardo Colclough; Ike Taylor; Cedrick Wilson; Santonio Holmes [r]

Last year, CB Ricardo Colclough (22 returns, 21.5 avg.) and WR Quincy Morgan shared the primary kickoff return duties, and may do so again this year. Morgan (23 returns, 25.3 avg.) is recovering from a broken leg suffered in the wildcard game. CB Ike Taylor was once again a backup KR last year (3 returns, 19.7 avg.). WR Cedrick Wilson was the leading KR for San Francisco in 2003, and serves as a backup for Pittsburgh (3 returns, 17.7 avg. last year).

Punt Returners: Willie Reid [r]; Santonio Holmes [r]; Ricardo Colclough; Ike Taylor; Cedrick Wilson

The Steelersí top punt returner, WR Antwaan Randle El, is gone via free agency to the Redskins and leaves big shoes to fill. Third round draft pick WR Willie Reid will very likely take over that role. He returned punts (17.5 avg., 4th) for Florida State last year, including three that went for TDs. Heís very fast. First round draft pick WR Santonio Holmes returned both punts and kickoffs during his three years at Ohio State, although he fared much better on the punt returns. The initial backup candidates have limited experience and are better suited to kickoff returns. Ricardo Colclough returned one punt for the Steelers, and did return some punts in college (10.1 avg., 1 TD his senior year). Ike Taylor returned one punt last year for 19 yards. Cedrick Wilson returned a total of 13punts while with the 49ers for four years.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: RT Max Starks, RG Kendall Simmons, C Jeff Hartings, LG Alan Faneca, LT Marvel Smith
Key Backups: T Barrett Brooks, T Trai Essex, G Chris Kemoeatu, G Willie Colon [r], C Chukky Okobi, C Marvin Philip [r]

The Steelers have one of, if not the best offensive lines in the NFL today led by coach Russ Grimm who is back for his 6th season. This unit features young players who are in the prime of their careers and are continue to grow as players. Both guard Alan Faneca and center Jeff Hartings were Pro Bowlers last year and should continue at that level for the next several years. Faneca exploded onto the scene in 1998 with the club and has been one of the best guards in football ever since. He is an incredible run blocker that never takes a play off. Hartings brings leadership and experience to the middle of the line and has only missed five games with the Steelers since the 2000 season. He is the anchor of this group. Left tackle Marvel Smith has come into his own and has become a force on the outside of the line. He is a gifted pass blocker with his good lateral movement and has become more of a force in the running game. Max Starks was a first-year starter at right tackle last season and improved as the year wore on. He has great size, plays with good aggression and his technique is getting better. If he continues to improve he may become an elite lineman down the road. Right guard, Kendall Simmons has come into his own and had a very nice season in 2005. He has excellent quickness for a big man and has been brilliant at times in his young career. Rookie center Marvin Philip isnít a physical specimen but his motor never stops running and heíll provide great depth for the club. The Steelers are blessed with a tremendous offensive line with good depth on the bench and if anything this unit will be stronger in 2006.

Team Defense

The Steelers defense remained one of the top squads in the NFL last season. Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau's zone-blitzing, attacking 3-4 scheme was on display all season as the Steelers ranked third in the league in scoring defense and fourth in the league in yards allowed. All Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu elevated his game to an elite level and became one of the sport's icons. Pro Bowl outside linebacker Joey Porter had his most productive season since 2002. Even the Steelers defensive backfield, long maligned as the team's Achilles heel, played tight coverage and finished in the top half of NFL defenses against the pass. Free safety Chris Hope and defensive end Kimo Von Oelhoffen departed via free agency in the offseason, but the team is confident that they have the depth to replace them. They re-signed Brett Keisel to a new four year contract to fill Von Oelhoffen's starting spot at right defensive end, and they signed former Redskins strong safety Ryan Clark to step in for Chris Hope. The Steelers also added Anthony Smith, a free safety from Syracuse, in the third round of the draft to provide more competition for Clark and more depth in the backfield for nickel and dime packages.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Aaron Smith, DE Brett Keisel, NT Casey Hampton
Backups: DE Travis Kirschke, DE Rodney Bailey, DE Orien Harris [r], DE Shaun Nua, NT Chris Hoke

Starting DL: Nose tackle Casey Hampton capped another successful season with his second trip to the Pro Bowl. Hampton is the quintessential 3-4 nose tackle, a massively strong fireplug of a player with a very low center of gravity, whose responsibility is to tie up multiple offensive linemen and clog up the middle of the field. Given his responsibilities, Hampton's statlines do not reflect his actual contributions on the field. With the offseason departure of Kimo Von Oelhoffen, eight year veteran Aaron Smith becomes the Steelers most experienced veteran lineman. Smith lines up at left defensive end and has been the most prominent and consistent statistical producer on the Steelers defensive line over the last six seasons. He suffered several nagging injuries during the heart of last season, however, and his numbers declined from his career-best 2004 statistics. Four year veteran Brett Keisel will replace Von Oelhoffen at right defensive end for the Steelers after signing a new four year contract in the offseason. Keisel came on strong in the playoffs and almost single-handedly snuffed out the Broncos comeback hopes in the AFC Championship game, posting two sacks and a forced fumble on two consecutive fourth quarter plays. Both Keisel and Smith will start at their respective positions, but look for the backup defensive ends to get a lot of snaps as the Steelers employ a regular rotation to keep their DEs fresh.

Backup DL: Chris Hoke is an excellent backup for NT Casey Hampton. In 2004, Hoke started the final ten games of the regular season after Hampton went on injured reserve with a knee injury and the defense didn't miss a beat. Travis Kirschke is the steady veteran of the DE group -- he should back up Brett Keisel at RDE but he may be limited in training camp after undergoing sports hernia surgery. Free agent acquisition Rodney Bailey had five and a half sacks for the Steelers in limited duty in 2002 before leaving the team as a free agent. After missing the entire 2004 season with an injury, Bailey played with Seattle last season and re-signed with the Steelers in March. Orien Harris is an intriguing prospect from the University of Miami who slid to the fourth round of the draft. Harris has first round talent but has displayed a lackadaisical attitude and does not have the typical Steelers mindset. Watch Harris' progress closely in training camp -- if he displays a good work ethic he could become the first DE off the bench for the Steelers. Second year DE Shaun Nua will be fighting for a roster spot.


Starters: ILB James Farrior, ILB Larry Foote, OLB Joey Porter, OLB Clark Haggans
Backups: OLB James Harrison, OLB Andre Frazier, OLB Arnold Harrison, ILB Clint Kriewaldt, ILB Rian "Goo" Wallace, ILB Richard Seigler, OLB/DE/ILB Mike Kudla [r]

Starting LBs: The Steelers' linebacker corps is traditionally a strength of the team, and 2005 was no exception. OLB Joey Porter led all NFL linebackers with a career-high ten and a half sacks, and fellow OLB Clark Haggans' nine sacks placed him third-best among NFL linebackers. The careers of Porter and Haggans are closely linked as both outside linebackers have manned opposite sides of the same defensive unit since their college days at Colorado State. Haggans has missed six games over the last two years with groin injuries so his health will be a concern going into 2006. Reserve OLB James Harrison will fill in capably if Haggans is out. Inside linebackers James Farrior and Larry Foote tied for the team lead in solo tackles with 76 but Farrior's 45 assists put him ahead of Foote, who had 25. Farrior's role as a stay-at-home ILB was an unfamiliar one -- he has been a versatile playmaker for the defense but was limited by a knee injury for much of the 2005 season, missing two games. Farrior was unleashed in the playoffs, however, and posted two and a half sacks and eight tackles in the Divisional Playoff Game against the Colts. While not as athletic as Farrior, Foote has made steady progress in his two seasons as a starter at ILB and is poised to surpass Farrior statistically as soon as the 2006 season. Porter has recently been rumored to be dissatisfied with his contract, but he has not threatened to hold out of training camp. Apart from that potential distraction and barring injury to the starters, the four linebacker positions are set going into training camp.

Backup LBs: James Harrison, the Steelers' key reserve at OLB, signed a four year deal this offseason to remain in Pittsburgh. The defense doesn't miss a beat when the athletic Harrison takes the field. Harrison is a key special teamer who posted three sacks, an interception, and 25 tackles (including taking down an unruly fan who stormed the field in Cleveland) in limited duty. Clint Kriewaldt is a special teams ace and the Steelers' primary backup at ILB. Second year man Rian Wallace will be asked to take on more of Kriewaldt's reserve ILB duties this season. Andre Frazier was promoted from the practice squad early last year and played primarily on special teams before being injured in the AFC Championship Game. Arnold Harrison was promoted from the practice squad when Frazier went down and was re-signed by the Steelers in the offseason. Mike Kudla is an intriguing prospect from Ohio State -- the undrafted Kudla is a high-energy player who tied the Scouting Combine record for bench press reps with 45. He could be tried at DE, OLB, or ILB in training camp. Richard Seigler, a 2004 fourth round pick of the 49ers, was signed as a free agent.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Troy Polamalu, FS Ryan Clark, CB Ike Taylor, CB Deshea Townsend
Backups: FS Anthony Smith [r], S Tyrone Carter, S Mike Logan, CB Bryant McFadden, CB Ricardo Colclough, CB Chidi Iwuoma

Starting DBs: The Steelers defensive backfield came together in 2005 and played tight coverage, finishing as the league's sixteenth rated pass defense. All-Pro strong Safety Troy Polamalu is the Steelers catalyst on defense, making plays all over the field. He frequently plays up toward the line of scrimmage and is just as likely to blitz as he is to drop into coverage. Polamalu tackles like a linebacker (74 solos last season) but also provides tight coverage when needed (eight passes defensed in 2005). Following the offseason departure of Chris Hope, new Steeler Ryan Clark will likely cover the middle as the Steelers' stay-at-home free safety. The hard-hitting Clark was acquired in free agency from the Washington Redskins, where he had three interceptions and two forced fumbles along with 42 tackles in only 13 games last season. Cornerback Ike Taylor made great strides in his first season as a starter, leading the Steelers with 24 passes defensed. Taylor's hands are suspect (one interception versus nine drops in the regular season) but his concentration appeared to improve in the playoffs with two interceptions in four games. He can become an elite corner if he continues to improve in 2006. Veteran starter Deshea Townsend returns at the opposite corner after re-signing with the team in the offseason. Townsend has been the steadiest member of the Steelers backfield since he became a starter in 2003. Townsend will be challenged in training camp by Bryant McFadden and Clark will face competition from veteran backup Tyrone Carter and rookie Anthony Smith.

Backup DBs: The Steelers selected Syracuse free safety Anthony Smith in the third round of the 2006 draft. Smith was rated as their fourth best safety with the top three going in the first sixteen picks. Smith is a very intelligent player with great intangibles who will compete with Ryan Clark for the starting FS position in training camp. Tyrone Carter will also be in the starting FS competition after an outstanding four game playoff run where he posted more tackles (16) than he did in the entire regular season (9). Veteran safety Mike Logan re-signed with the Steelers in April following offseason surgery on a knee he injured in Super Bowl XL. Cornerback Bryant McFadden will challenge incumbent starter Deshea Townsend in training camp. McFadden quickly became a key part of the Steelers defensive backfield as a rookie last season. In the titanic playoff game with the Colts, McFadden knocked away passes to Reggie Wayne on two consecutive plays to force Mike Vanderjagt's missed field goal attempt. Ricardo Colclough has dropped behind McFadden and needs to show improved coverage skills. Special teams captain Chidi Iwuoma had offseason shoulder surgery and may be sidelined until the start of training camp.

Last modified: 2006-09-03 06:51:21

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