This is like throwing a bucket chum to a group of hungry sharks who haven't eaten (anything football) in several months.
Without further adue ..... your 2007 Steelers prospectus:
2007 is a year of rebirth for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After an eventful 2006, Ben Roethlisberger is looking to start fresh and, more importantly, healthy as he tries to regain the brilliance of his first two seasons in the league when Big Ben could do no wrong. This season also marks the end of an era and the birth of a new one as far as coaching goes. Mike Tomlin will be trying to fill one of the largest pairs of shoes in the NFL as he takes over the reigns of the Steelers dynasty from the indomitable Bill Cowher after his successful 15-year career at the helm. The Steel Curtain defense will also attempt to reshape its image after the departure of one of its most outgoing and vocal figures, linebacker Joey Porter. After a disappointing 8-8 campaign last season, 2007 looks to be an uphill struggle as Pittsburgh begins its climb back into the playoff picture.
2007 Draft Review:
Pittsburgh began its 2007 draft by taking the heir-apparent to Joey Porter’s vacant linebacking throne with the selection of Lawrence Timmons out of Florida State. They gave the defense sharper teeth in the second round as well after picking Michigan standout LaMarr Woodley. The remainder of the draft seems to be solid, but lacks the mythical “wow” factor. I really question trading up to take a punter in the fourth round, but I also applaud their choice of WR Dallas Baker from the defending champion Gators in the seventh round. Draft Grade: B
First round draft choice Lawrence Timmons will have some big shoes to fill at linebacker for the Steelers. He has to live up to the legacy of greats like Jack Lambert, but he also has to step in immediately to replace Joey Porter. The production from Timmons and fellow draftee LaMarr Woodley will speak volumes about the Steelers defense.
Obviously, losing a player of Joey Porter is a key loss, but I think the biggest departure for Pittsburgh is Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Cowher. For 15 years, Cowher was the general of great football teams and he was able to motivate players with his mighty chin like few coaches ever have in the NFL. Bill would chew you out, make you feel guilty for screwing up, and then have you fired up and ready to give your heart and soul for him all in the span of one sideline conversation.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is healthy and on a mission to start the 2007 season. I look for him to get back to the dink-and-dump passing offense that worked so well during his first two years in the league. Big Ben will once again focus on managing the offense and limiting turnovers while relying on Willie Parker to drive the ball down the field. There are much fewer questions offensively this year compared to 2006. With Holmes and Ward on the outside, the Steelers will have a strong presence of speed to stretch the field allowing Miller to roam the middle and opening up holes for Parkers patented break-away runs.
Defensive/Special Teams Preview:
Troy Polamalu, James Farrior, and company are still a formidable defense even without Joey Porter. After focusing on defense in the draft, the defense looks well-equipped to enter the year as one of the best units in the NFL. The big question will be the play of the cornerbacks. Deshea Townsend and Ike Taylor will need to be able to shut down the opposing team’s wide receivers so that Polamalu is able to roam freely and be the ball-hawking headhunter that we all expect him to be. Santonio Holmes will enter his second year as the primary return man on both kicks and punts. He averaged a solid 24.2 yards per return on kickoffs and 10.2 yards per return on punts while taking one punt the distance for a touchdown during 2006. Jeff Reed will handle the placekicking duties once again for the Steelers. Then, Chris Gardocki’s days as the Steelers’ punter look to be over as Pittsburgh traded up in the 2007 draft to select punter Daniel Sepulveda.
This team has some definite question marks going into the season. How will Mike Tomlin do in replacing Cowher? Will Big Ben return to his Super Bowl-winning form? How much of a loss will Joey Porter really be? Look for this team to be primed for a solid season and it is likely that they’ll sneak in to claim one of the two Wildcard slots in the AFC Playoffs after finishing second in the division to the Baltimore Ravens.
10 Wins, 6 Losses (2nd in the AFC North)
During his first season as a starter, running back Willie Parker helped win a Super Bowl. In his 2nd year, he improved his rushing totals to 1494 yards and 13 touchdowns. It will be interesting to see what he’ll do to improve in 2007. With 4.3 speed and a knack for breaking big runs, Parker is a sure-fire first rounder. Also of note, Willie doesn’t produce as much in terms of catching the ball as LT or Steven Jackson.
After a fine rookie season, tight end Heath Miller fell off of the radar during his sophomore campaign. I believe that the decline was at least partially due to the instability at the quarterback position. Ben Roethlisberger loves to dump the ball off to his tight end and running back, so with a healthy Big Ben headed into this season you should expect Miller’s production to elevate once more. The beauty is that you should be able to pick him up pretty late in your draft.
We saw flashes of brilliance out of WR Santonio Holmes last year, but not enough consistency to warrant much play on your fantasy roster. The former Ohio State standout is entering his second year with the Steelers and he’ll either be the starter alongside Hines Ward or he’ll be the slot receiver. Either way, he is a great sleeper candidate as a wideout. Look for him is a third or fourth wide receiver and then expect him to become more and more involved in the offense as his chemistry develops with Roethlisberger.
Every year Hines Ward is listed by football experts as one of the top wide receivers. Statistically however, Ward just doesn’t stack up with the rest of the elite receivers. For each of the last two seasons, Ward has failed to reach the 1,000 yard plateau and last year he managed to catch only 6 TD passes. You would think that Ward should be taken as a number one receiver on your fantasy team, but the numbers don’t support such status. Let somebody else use up an early pick on Ward.