So among the players the Steelers brought back before the 2010 season started were former Linebacker Larry Foote, Wide Reciever Antwaan Randle El, and Cornerback Bryant McFadden. This was an unpresidented move by the Kevin Colbert and the Steelers front office; they don’t normally bring back former players and certainly not that many.
After William Gay struggled in 2009 the Steelers knew they had to bring in a quality corner to play opposite Ike Taylor. Gay is more suited for a Nickleback position rather than a starting role that he undertook in 2009. Clearly teams will generally stay away from Ike Taylor so Gay was the most logical place to go, and go after him they did. As the year went on it became more and more obvious that something would need to be done for 2010. Without addressing the need in the draft, to many fans confusion, the team decided to go the route of bringing back Bryant McFadden who left for seemingly greener pastures in Arizona the year before. A year filled with injuries limited his play, and the Steelers felt good in bringing back the former starter in hopes that he could regain his previous form. McFadden assumed the starting role opposite Taylor and finished the year with 81 Tackles, 2 Sacks, 2 Forced Fumbles and 2 Interceptions. McFadden was limited again in 2010 with various nagging injuries and was the usual target of most opposing QB’s. Overall the move to bring him back was a good one; it allowed Gay to assume a role more suited to his talents and overall Will had a solid year. The Steelers will most certainly address the Secondary though this offseason, hopefully with a high round draft pick in April.
Larry Foote, the long time starter opposite James Farrior saw the writing on the wall when Lawrence Timmons was drafted in Tomlin’s first year. Foote left after the 2008 season mainly because Timmons was ready to assume a starting role. Larry was a starting MLB for his hometown Detroit Lions in 2009. The Lions had a dismal 2-14 season that year and afterwards Foote admittedly was missing his former home and teammates. With no viable depth behind Farrior and Timmons, it was a logical move to bring back Foote. He knew the defense and was a team player ready to assume whatever role given to him. Foote was in mainly on special teams, but also spelled both starting MLB’s for the Steelers in 2010 finishing up with 21 Tackles and 1 Sack. If he is willing to return for a reasonable price in 2011, the Steelers would be foolish to not bring him back. Rookie Stevenson Sylvester is the primary backup in the middle, so Foote will be an ideal candidate again to help out in that role, and on special teams.
Super Bowl XL Touchdown tossing Antwaan Randle El was brought back in when the Steelers were suddenly faced with a serious dilemma at Wide Receiver. Santonio Holmes was traded to the Jets, the under productive Limas Sweed was headed to IR,. Ward was coming back but the savvy veteran isn’t getting any younger and has been fighting hamstring and knee issues the last couple years. Mike Wallace had a breakout year in his rookie campaign, 6 TD’s and a 19.4 yd per catch average to go along with his 39 receptions for 756 yds., but you never know for sure how well a young player will react after so much success so quickly. Tomlin drafted 2 young stud pass catchers in Emmanuel Sanders & Antonio Brown to help fortify the unit for the future but now these two would be called upon for a much bigger role. Receivers generally take about 2-3 years to really get a good grasp of the offense and learn the techniques needed to deal with NFL Cornerbacks. With so many unknowns starring at him, Tomlin brought back Randle El. He would solidify the punt return game for the time being and be a good veteran presence to help teach the new prospects about life as an NFL Wide Receiver. Antwaan finished up 2010 with 22 catches for 253 yds. He was the starting 3rd WR behind Ward and Wallace before Sanders and Brown started getting more and more playing time. By the time that the post season hit, Randle El was seeing spot duty only and filling in on punt returns when tricky situations presented themselves. Overall it was a solid move bringing back El to the team but given the productivity of both Brown and Sanders, and the possibility of Sweed making a comeback, his chances of returning in 2011 would seem to be slim.
Overall, 3 very good, strategic moves by Tomlin to fortify his team against the unknown. It remains to be seen if any or all of the 3 will return in 2011. Overall I’d say the experiment was a success!