The Steelers, fresh off the loss in Super Bowl XLV, now begin their preparations for the offseason. Most other NFL teams have been in full swing for weeks now, and now the Steelers begin their work. Based on what we know now and what we figure will happen, the Steelers core for 2012 is intact and is solid indeed.
As far as coaches go, every NFL head coaching job is filled and the majority of the assistant positions are filled too. Today we learned that Steelers Defensive Back’s Coach Ray Horton has offers on the table from both Arizona and Dallas. There may be more on the way as well. The Steelers have denied permission for anyone to speak to Linebackers Coach Keith Butler at this point, who is widely considered the heir apparent to Dick Lebeau when he decides to hang it up. Since Coach Dad is on a year to year deal, it’s up to him if he wants to return. He has made it perfectly clear that he will only be in Pittsburgh if and when he returns in 2011. More than likely he will come back but sooner or later he’ll step down and the Steelers want to make sure they have a good replacement ready to go. The 34 Zone Blitz scheme is not exactly an easy defense to master and the best in the game, and probably in NFL history in perfecting it are Coach Lebeau and Green Bay’s Dom Capers. The rest of the Steelers coaching staff will more than likely return intact for 2011. Sean Kugler who came over from Buffalo to coach the Offensive Line has done an outstanding job, and was the big reason that the weekly game of musical chairs didn’t completely crumble on the Steelers.
As far as players what we’ve heard since the Super Bowl is that Hines Ward and James Farrior have both said they are returning. Both are still under contract but the elder statesmen may have been considering retirement if the Steelers had brought home #7 last weekend. Lamarr Woodley let the Steeler Nation know via his Twitter and Facebook accounts that there was no doubt that he would be back in Pittsburgh in 2011. Woodley is one of 2 key Free Agents in a laundry list of players that could be become available to the rest of the NFL world. Ike Taylor is the other, and news broke before the Super Bowl that initial contract talks were underway to keep him in Pittsburgh. Losing both of these guys would be devastating to the defense. Taylor has been the Steelers best CB for years, and 2010 was no exception. He’s much better than people give him credit for as evidence by the fact that teams rarely go his way in passing situations. Woodley had 50 Tackles, 10 Sacks, 3 FF, and 2 INT in the 2010 regular season. He also had 3 sacks in the Post Season. Both are top priority for the Steelers to retain.
The Secondary is potentially where we could see change. How much faith do they have in William Gay? Bryant McFadden came back to the Steelers this past offseason to help bolster a unit that struggled in 2009. BMac’s deal runs out in 2012 but he struggled at times and fought through a series of nagging injuries that caused him to miss significant time. Both of these guys got the brunt of the opponents passing attack, and while Gay did show great improvement in 2010 you have to wonder if the Steelers will keep them both. Backup Anthony Madison is also up for a new deal. Defensive Back is widely considered to be a focal point in the draft and free agency for the Steelers, so while Polamalu and Clark will return, the guys playing to either side of them could be very different.
Aaron Smith will return, but the emergence of Ziggy Hood has given the Steelers some much needed depth on the line. Nick Eason, who was solid in 2010 would most likely return for a decent price. At some point soon, the team will need to draft a top Nose Tackle, as Casey Hampton is entering the twilight of his stellar career. The Big Snack still has a couple years left in him and Chris Hoke is a solid backup.
On the offensive side, Tackles Jonathan Scott and Willie Colon are both Free Agents. Colon missed all of the 2010 season but is considered one of the Steelers best lineman. Flozell Adams signed a 2 yr. deal so assuming he comes back in 2012, the Steelers will have a real nice offensive line in the works. Pouncey is the anchor no question, and Max Starks will resume his duties at Left Tackle. Jonathan Scott would be a good choice to keep around for the right price. He struggled early but the last half of the season he really started coming on. The real question for the Steelers is at Guard. Ramon Foster had a very good year at RG, both he and Adams worked very well together opening up lanes every week for Mendenhall to hit. Chris “Big Juicy” Kemoeatu had an up and down year and has been known to have a hot temper that flares at the wrong time. He is a good Guard but I look for the Steelers to bring in another candidate at this position in the draft.
The wide receivers are in good shape. This young, talented, group has a tremendous upside and the return of Hines Ward just solidifies them even more. Heath will be back at his usual spot, but backup Matt Spaeth’s contract is up. Mendenhall is the main workhorse, but 3rd down specialist Mewelde “Memo” Moore will be a question mark that the front office will have answer. Isaac Redman could see an increased work load if Moore isn’t brought back. Memo showed his importance especially in the post season this year and bringing him back would be a wise move in my opinion.
Special Teams wise, the Steelers will most likely bring in another PK to compete with Suisham who was solid in relief of Jeff Reed. I would imagine Kapinos will get a shot in training camp against Dan Sepulveda as well. Danny’s multiple ACL injuries have hindered his availability but make no mistake when Sepulveda is healthy he is as solid as they come. The coaches will have to make a decision if it’s worth keeping DSep around given his injury history.
As far as Quarterbacks go, Dennis Dixon’s deal is up but it’s a fair assumption that the Steelers will bring him back as the #2 guy. If Batch retires I’m sure the Steelers would love to see Leftwich stick around but he probably won’t want to be the #3 guy. Either way Dixon is the obvious backup to Big Ben.
So overall, the Steelers have a lot of work ahead and some tough decisions to make. How much they can spend will also be affected by the potential new deal, atleast at some point, with the CBA. The Rooney’s will not over extend themselves regardless of what the new salary cap will be. However being the masters of getting every last cent out of the cap, virtually anything is possible as we move ahead in the coming months. It should be one exciting off season and based on the information now, the Steelers would absolutely be in a good position to field a competitive, post season, caliber team in 2012.
Here is a list of the potential free agents the Steelers will have to deal with going forward towards the draft:OT Willie Colon QB Dennis Dixon DE Nick Eason
OG Trai Essex
ILB Keyaron Fox
CB William Gay
CB Tuff Harris
OT Tony Hills
NT Chris Hoke
CB Anthony Madison
RB Mewelde Moore
OT Jonathan Scott
P Daniel Sepulveda
TE Matt Spaeth
PK Shaun Suisham
CB Ike Taylor
LS Greg Warren
OLB LaMarr Woodley PK Sean Suisham P Jeremy Kapinos