Stillers Position-by-Position 2000 Outlook
QB: No mystery here � this situation is as murky as the waters of the Mon River. Graham will start, and be evaluated on a game-by-game basis. Stewart presumably might play a few snaps per game, and of course serve as the backup and be inserted if Graham falters. Barring injuries to the other QBs, Martin will only play sparingly in mop-up, if at all. Outlook: Questionable. Graham present a glimmer of hope, based on his height, and willingness to go downfield & also zip the ball to a semi-covered but still open receivers.
RB: Bus will start, but Huntley will see plenty of action, to spell Bettis, provide a change of pace, and play in passing situations. Amoz will likely only see time in passing situations, or if injuries creep in. Fu serves as both backup FB and RB, but likely will be lost in the shuffle unless injuries occur. Outlook: Good. Bus and Hunt give the team depth and skill. Ideally, Hunt will see a good deal of PT, since Bettis lacks speed and receiving ability, and this stagnant offense needs diversity to counteract the heavy doses of run blitzing and 8-man fronts it will see right from Week 1. Hopefully both Amoz and Hunt will be used in the passing game downfield, rather than only on short piss-ant dumpoffs. Bottom line, is if the team cannot pass downfield, none of these men will have much success on the ground.
FB: Jon Witman will start for 3rd consecutive year, all of which have occurred with zero challenges from any other legit FB. As ESPN The Magazine said about Witman in their player-by-player preview, "We know fullbacks need to block. Why doesn't he?" Good question. Unfortunately, nobody knows the answer. Outlook: Poor. Witman is supposedly a "multi-purpose back who can do multiple things". Ed Bouchette�s ludicrous article aside, Witman serves no purpose -- multiple or otherwise -- and, of the multiple things that he can do, none of them are done well at all.
WR: 1st rounder Plexico Burress joins last year�s 1st rounder Edwards in the starting lineup. This will be a tandem long on potential and short on experience and rapport. Burress gives indication that he may dominate some DBs with his size, but at the same time he inexplicably struggled against the bump-and-run. Edwards has a miserable preseason in which his hands resembled frying skillets. Ward, Shaw, and M. Johnson back up the starters, along with Cowher-favorite Pee Wee Hawkins. Outlook: Questionable, but with some hope. Edwards can�t keep up his Kevin Young imitation for much longer, and Plex should continue to learn and progress. Shaw came on strong last year and has good RAC skills. Ward, whom the staff has refused to use as a slash, is ok on underneath stuff but lacks speed and go-get-the-ball ability. Hawkins is a solid slot receiver on 3rd down situations, and nothing more. Johnson could contribute if the staff uses his size.
TE: This position really is tackle eligible, not tight end. Bruener, the slowpoke with mediocre hands, will start, but Jerame Tuman, if healthy, will serve as the "pass catching TE". Breuner is a good, solid blocker. Outlook: Same old stuff. Graham will likely make more use of the TE than Stewart. Still, with Breuner�s poor speed and inconsistent hands, there won�t be loads of production. Tuman may help, but he�s apparently only going to be used in passing-type situations, and much of a TE�s passing utility is done on running downs when LBs get too overzealous with stuffing the run.
LT: Wayne Gandy returns for his 2nd year with the Stillers. Gandy played ok for the most part last year, but did struggle sometimes with both power run-blocking and pass protection. Pourdanesh backs up. Outlook: Decent. Gandy should be a bit more comfortable and have more consistency. He�ll never be a pro bowl caliber starter but should be capable and competent.
LG: Faneca, a former 1st rounder, returns for his 3rd season and 3rd season as a starter. This is one guy who�s clearly plateaud. Duffy and Myslinski back up. Outlook: Promising, but hesitant. Faneca must show improvement this year. Otherwise, it�s a slap in the face to the OL coach for a failure to groom and develop such a talent.
C: Dawson, hobbled last season and all summer with a ham injury, returns. The whole OL is dependent on him to provide the anchor of stability. Vets Duffy and Myslinksi serve as backups. Outlook: Good, but hold your breath. One pulled hamstring, and Dawson will be done, not just for this year, but for his career.
RG: Tylski, a former Jaguar, assumes the starting job vacated by Brendan PigStai. Myslinski and Duffy back up. Outlook: OK. While Tylski is no superstar, as long as he refrains from committing the plethora of boneheaded holds, false starts, and general gaffes that PigStai did, he should be acceptable.
RT: Rookie 2nd rounder Marvel Smith, from ASU, gets the nod at RT. Veteran doughboy Larry Tharpe, who actually looked at least serviceable (other than stamina), will back up. Outlook: Questionable. Rookie tackles, unlike guards and centers, are alone on their own island, facing fire-breathing DEs and OLBs. Smitty will get help from the TE and RBs, who will chip-block on many a pass and running play.
DE: Kevin Henry will assume the starting chores again. He missed most of camp with a small knee problem, but appears fully recovered. Backups include Staat, rookie Combs, and 2nd year man A. Smith. Outlook: OK. Henry is far from top notch, but provides adequate, solid plugging, which is all ya need in the 3-4 defense.
NT: Kimo VH moves into the starting job after coming over from Cinci. Rookie Clancy, who has shown some nice quickness, backs up. Outlook: Good. I am really high on Kimo, despite an abundance of lukewarm reports on him. Kimo is a savvy scrapper who combines good quickness, toughness, and an ability to slice thru gaps and off of blocks. This guy gave Dawson fits for a couple years, and had a very stellar preseason. Compared to last season�s pathetic combo of Fat Steed and Prone Staat, Kimo is a huge upgrade.
DE: Chris Sullivan, signed from NE, was slated to start, but a back injury will hold him out of the season opener, and he might return after the week 2 bye-week. Backups include Staat, rookie Combs, and 2nd year man A. Smith. Outlook: Questionable. Sullie could be hampered if the back problems linger. Staat is a worthless sack o� dung who has no business being on an NFL roster. Combs and Smith really came on at camp, so they could see considerable PT in a platoon.
LOLB: Jason Gildon, who has never been challenged for the starting job in his previous 4 years as a starter, returns again unchallenged as the starter. Mike Vrabel, coming off his best camp ever, serves as backup, and hopefully will see some occasional snaps to provide a breather for Gildon. Outlook: Poor. Gildon is unquestionably one of the most overrated players in the NFL. His run stuffing is sub par, his ability to cover TEs and RBs downfield is poor, and his pass rushing, despite some gaudy numbers, is soft and anemic.
ILB: Team captain Kirkland is in shape, for the 1st time since the �97 season. Fiala and Thompson serve as backups. Outlook: Superb. An in-shape Kirk should provide the kind of impact he used to make.
ILB: Earl Hit Man Holmes, who really was the defensive MVP last season, appears ready for another rock-solid year. Fiala and Thompson serve as backups. Outlook: Superb. Holmes is as close to being a Pro Bowler as you can get.
ROLB: 2nd year man Joey Porter gets to play this year, after rotting last season behind the pitiful Carla Emmons. Rookie and fellow CSU alum Clark Haggans backs up. Outlook: Very promising. Porter possesses the electric speed and quickness, and the non-stop motor, that has been sorely lacking at this impact position every since Lloyd got injured. The only problem for Porter, is that offenses are now aware of his skills, and will shade their blocking toward Porter and happily leave Gildon untouched or blocked with a RB.
CB: Veteran DeWayne Washinton gets the nod at one CB spot. Washington had a pretty solid year in �99, both in the coverage and tackling departments. Townsend, Simmons, and rookie Poteat back up. Outlook: Good. DeWayne should have a good season, and if the pass pressure improves, should even give a lil� bit better result.
CB: Chad Scott resumes his starting job. He�s now fully recovered from the May �98 knee injury, and looks very confident. Townsend, Simmons, and rookie Poteat back up. Outlook: Good. It almost always takes 2 full years to recover from a serious knee injury. Chad has that, and will be expected to provide sound coverage and sturdy run support.
SS: Flowers returns for this 2nd season as starting SS. He played fairly well in �99, but often was in poor position on downfield passes, usually from being too overeager to provide run support. Rookie A. Battles, who hit like a demon in preseason, is the backup. Outlook: Good. Flowers is a gritty, never-quit kind of player. His 2nd year as a starter should bring a bit more consistency and veteran savvy.
FS: FA pickup Brent Alexander edged out 2nd year man Shields for the starting job. Alex played fairly well in preseason. Outlook: OK. Visions of Travis Davis still haunt me, so I need to see Alex play against starters for 4 full quarters before I get a full read on him. Shields could supplant Alex if he maintains consistency and hits hard with his huge frame.
K: Kris Brown had a stellar rookie season. Outlook: Good. Field Goal Bil absolutely loves to give his kicker plenty of work, and Brown showed good reliability. His KOs were a bit shallow last year and even this year in preseason, which is a bit perturbing.
P: Josh Miller seems poised to become the offense�s best weapon. Outlook: Good. He�s become adept at placing normal punts near the sideline, which hems in the returner, as well as placing pooch punts out of bounds near the GL.
LS: Mike Schneck resumes his chores as snapper. Outlook: Good. Schneck is quick and reliable.
Punt/Kickoff Returners: These chores will be done by a committee, and from the sloppy preseason production, we don�t even know who will do what. Punt return chores will likely be split among Poteat and Hawkins, with the oft-shaky Edwards available to provide a spark. Kickoff returns will be handled by a host of guys, including Amoz, Ward, Poteat, and perhaps Huntley (on a more limited basis). Outlook: Spotty. Poteat was drafted with the thought of being a spark for one of the NFL�s sorriest return units, but he struggled badly in preseason. Don�t count on too many games being helped by the return teams.
Coverage Teams: The team has added some solid youth to chip in on coverage, such as Haggans, Battles, and Thompson. However, they lost probably their best coverage man from last year, Porter, who is now a full-time starter. Outlook: OK. Vets like Fu, Amoz, Ward, Fiala, and Townsend will need to step up and provide strong coverage. There�s not an abundance of speed for our coverage, which is a grave concern.
HC: It�s put up or shut up time for Bill Cowher. He�s got a cupcake schedule, he�s gotten loads of high draft choices the past 3 drafts, and he�s got a pretty healthy team going into the season. He�s seen this team flat-out smell the past 2 seasons, and he should know what has worked and what hasn�t, and why. The OC and the DC both have a boss, and his name is Bill Cowher. Outlook: Poor. Cowher is as stubborn as he is dumb. Furthermore, he�s indecisive and is far too incestuous in terms of falling in love with veterans who have been with him more than a couple years. Finally, Cowher has proven to be overly poor at developing young talent. The last Pro Bowler he developed was Levon Kirkland, who was drafted in �93, seven years ago. He has yet to fully develop an offensive lineman who arrived after he took over the team from Noll. The paradox this team has been fighting for over 3 years now, is that they won�t pursue upper-echelon free agents, and yet at the same time the coaching staff is unwilling and incapable of developing talent obtained from the draft.
OC: Like Cowher, it�s put up or shut up time for Gilbride, who last season simply took Ray Sherman�s �98 offense and did absolutely NOTHING with it. Outlook: Poor. The offense looked like dog droppings in preseason. Part of it is this fascination by Gilbride to have at least 17 different permutations of each pass play, all of which must be decided on by BOTH the WR and QB within 2 seconds after the snap. Gilbride has also not shown that he�s developed anything to counter the heavy run blitzing and 8-man fronts he�ll see.
DC: New DC Lewis takes over from the Vanilla Man, Jim Hasslet, who loved employing soft, vanilla defenses. Outlook: Good. Lewis has quickly canned the Vanilla Defense and has insisted on playing rugged, aggressive, in-your-face defense, which SHOULD have been used regardless of who was the DC. Look for Lewis to use innovation, as well as work in multiple players rather than using the same front 7 play-in and play-out.