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2013 Pittsburgh Steelers: 4 Players Poised for Breakout Seasons

If the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t see breakout performances from several players in 2013, they’ll miss the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time since 2000.

Four Steelers look to be on the verge of breakout seasons in 2013. If all of them can make that leap, the Steelers might once again play well into January.

Lawrence Timmons

It might not sound right to say that Timmons is due for a “breakout” season. According to Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider (subscription required), Timmons led or tied for the team lead in tackles (134), sacks (six) and interceptions (three) in 2012, becoming the first player to do that since Joey Porter in 2002.

Timmons has never been to the Pro Bowl. If he makes enough of an impact in 2013 to earn that recognition, it would be a breakout season. Look for the 27-year-old inside linebacker to become the same kind of disruptive, game-changing force on defense that Troy Polamalu was earlier in his career.

Cameron Heyward

Heyward provided a sneak peek of what’s to come late in the 2012 season. His best game as a Steeler came in the season finale against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field. The Steelers’ 2011 first-round draft pick made a career-high four tackles and shared a sack.

Pro Football Focus said Heyward held up against the run in that game better than Ziggy Hood. Heyward has been stuck behind Brett Keisel at right defensive end. According to ESPN.com, there have been whispers that Heyward could challenge Hood for the starting job at left defensive end in 2013. Heyward might have a better chance to beat out Hood, who has been merely adequate since the Steelers took him in the first round of the 2009 draft.

Jason Worilds

By picking Jarvis Jones in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, the Steelers sent the message that they don’t believe Worilds can adequately replace James Harrison at outside linebacker.

That will light a fire in Worilds’ belly.

No rookie has started on the Steelers defense since Dick LeBeau became defensive coordinator in 2004. Worilds is likely to start early in the season while Jones learns the system, but don’t expect him to give up the job so easily when Jones is ready.

Worilds went from two sacks as a rookie in 2010 to three sacks in 2011 to five sacks in 2012.  Meanwhile, LaMarr Woodley has had just four sacks while battling injuries for the past year and a half.

Woodley appeared to be in better physical shape during offseason activities, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. If he again forces blockers to double-team him, that will free up Worilds to get to the quarterback and continue his upward trajectory of sack production.

That doesn’t mean Jones will be a bust, but rather the Steelers might actually have some depth at outside linebacker.

Jerricho Cotchery

There will be more balls to go around now that Mike Wallace is gone, and some of those balls will come Cotchery’s way.

Cotchery has been lost in the shuffle since the Steelers signed him before the 2011 season. He caught 16 passes in 2011 and 17 last season. In his previous five years with the New York Jets, he never caught less than 41 passes in a season.

Cotchery essentially has been the Steelers’ No. 4 receiver. The Steelers drafted Markus Wheaton in the third round in April. If he develops slowly, Cotchery could move up the depth chart. But even if Wheaton earns the No. 3 spot and Cotchery remains the fourth receiver, Cotchery still could have a breakout season.

Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are the Steelers’ projected No. 1 and No. 2 receivers, respectively. Neither has demonstrated Wallace’s selfishness. Wallace, now a Miami Dolphin, held out of training camp last year before finally signing his one-year tender. Most wide receivers have a me-first streak, but Brown and Sanders don’t figure to grumble if Ben Roethlisberger targets Cotchery a few more times.

Cotchery will see the ball more in the red zone if Heath Miller isn’t able to start the season, which according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is a “strong possibility.”

Also a strong possibility is 6’5” Plaxico Burress not making the team and 6’3” rookie Justin Brown starting out on the practice squad. That could make the 6’1” Cotchery the Steelers’ tallest receiver on the roster.

Matt Spaeth, likely the Steelers’ No. 1 tight end in Miller’s absence, has six inches on Cotchery but doesn’t have Cotchery’s hands.

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