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For the Steelers, it’s time to let the young guys play

It’s been quite the interesting offseason for the Steelers. Cutting ties with long time veterans and fan favorites like Hines Ward, James Farrior, and Aaron Smith is never easy. Many so called experts seem to have it in their minds that the Steelers are in some sort of trouble heading into the 2012 season, and it’s not even into the summer yet. I’ve heard everything from drafting a wide receiver or running back in the first 2 rounds, to bringing in free agents the team could never afford. The answers to the issues, potential or otherwise, are largely on the roster now or awaiting a tender to be signed.

The departure of those iconic veterans is not going to have the affect on the team the way that so many seem to think it will in my opinion. The veteran leadership will be somewhat of a question mark for next year but really that’s about it. One can’t fully discount the importance of that leadership however, but in recent years others have stepped up and will continue to do so. James Harrison, Ryan Clark, Casey Hampton, Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, and others will likely take on a bigger vocal role both on and off the field. The Rooney’s always surround themselves with quality players and potential leaders.

With the losses sustained by the team this year the speculation is all over the place with free agents that the Steelers should be targeting to help “fill the void”. We’ve said from the beginning that Jerricho Cotchery is the one free agent the team should be trying to bring back this season. With Ward gone and backup Arnaz Battle as well the receiving corp is very talented but also still green. They can use a guy like Cotchery to help them out on the practice field and the game field. That idea is still up in the air right now though as Cotchery has visited or considered several teams this offseason; the Chiefs, Jets, and Steelers most notably.

So why all the fuss over Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart for example?  According to Len Pasquarelli via Yahoo Sports, the Steelers could show some interest in him soon. What about the somehow pending need to find another cornerback in the draft since William Gay is unrestricted and currently mulling over offers from several teams? For my money, bringing back Gay even as much as he improved last year, shouldn’t be a viable solution. They’ve got three young cornerbacks available already, which we’ll get to shortly.

There’s no need to bring in Jonathan Stewart right now, although I wouldn’t complain if they were to pull it off simply because he is a hard runner with home run speed. Right now as much as any of us would like to have a guy like Stewart, he would be a luxury more than a necessity.  The cap situation alone is enough to stay away simply because they’d likely have to do another restructure to free up additional money for draft picks if that were to go down. Isaac Redman should be given the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. Jonathan Dwyer and John Clay showed enough in limited action to be given a chance to play. Baron Batch was drafted to eventually take over for Mewelde Moore so why not let him do so?

All these young players, including Keenan Lewis, Curtis Brown, and Cortez Allen all have shown solid potential. Keep in mind too that all of them come at a decent cap value, which is always a very good thing.  Bringing in Carnell Lake to coach the secondary has been one of the best coaching moves that Mike Tomlin has done since he came to Pittsburgh. The evidence of his coaching was seen in just the one season, even with the lockout, with the improvement of Gay, Lewis and the two rookies.

There are some areas that need to be addressed in the draft of course; nose tackle, potentially middle linebacker (for depth and to compete with Stevenson Sylvester), and offensive line continues to be an issue. With those areas of need far more important than defensive back and running back, it seems evident to me that it’s time to let the young players you do have step up. Let’s face it, if you really don’t have that much faith in them, than perhaps it’s time to rethink the draft and free agent strategy.

Pittsburgh loves it’s veterans, everybody knows that. It’s rare to see them enter a season with a young player at starter if there is a veteran incumbent or free agent who either held the job last year or was brought in to compete for it. You can argue that it’s hard to discount the success of that method, and I’m not going to say it’s a bad idea either. However there comes a time when you let the young guys go and trust the system.

Letting young guys go out and compete, trial by fire, isn’t always a bad thing.

 

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