Steeler Season Preview
Summary: This will be an interesting year for the Steelers - Have they improved with new "Weapons" on offense with the likes of Kent Graham, Plaxico Buress and second year man Troy Edwards? Will the defense once again be ferocious and unrelenting now that Aslett is gone, Captain Kirk has slimmed down and Carla Enema as been replaced with Greg-Lloyd like Joey Porter? How loyal will Cowher be to Kordel Stewart? These questions will be answered this year but who's to say what the answers will mean for this mediocre football team. Let's take a closer look.
Summary: Sigh! Finally, Cowher is beginning to show some guts when it comes to Stewart by benching him and starting Kent Graham. Still, as bad as Stewart has been over the last year and in this pre-season, it is amazing that Stewart still has a job. The biggest problem with the QB situation will be as it was when Jim Miller started against the Jags a few years back. Will Cowher let him make any mistakes? The last thing we need is a QB controversy dividing the team. Cowher may be just itching to insert Stewart into the lineup like he was in Jacksonville. I don't believe that he is this time. I look for Graham to have a solid year in Pittsburgh and to develop a good relationship with Plaxico Burress. Graham is a much better QB than Stewart or even Tomzack - Mike didn't do too bad towards the end of last year. This leads me to believe that the Steeler offense can generate a well-balanced attack and put the ball in the end-zone. The offense will improve as the season moves on and will solidify once the line gets healthy and develops some synergy. Don't count these guys out just yet.
QB: Look above - Kent should be the QB the whole damn year! He has out performed Kordell and throws the ball much better and more often downfield. There should be no consideration given to Kordell Stewart whatsoever. If Graham does not work out - put in Tee Martin and at least give him reps at the position so we can see what he can do. It sure would have been nice to see Wright last year in those five games that Tomzack played, but Cowher was to busy trying to save face and his job.
QB Quality B-.
Offensive Line: The line is a big question this year - the key is Dermontti Dawson. Dawson should sit the first game considering we have a bye in week 2. If he is healthy all year, the line should do well enough to give us a quality running game and descent protection for Graham. If not - the Steelers could go 2-14 quite easily.
OL Quailty with Dawson B.
OL Quality without Dawson D.
RB: The running game is quite pleasing - Bettis and Huntley should be healthy since they sat most of the preseason with "injuries". Who cares about these guys? The guy to talk about is Famous Amos - some of you might recall that your truly, The Steel Tank, called him the "Steal of the Draft" last year - potentially another Terrell Davis. He should be groomed as such after having a very good preseason running the ball behind a makeshift and mediocre OL. Unfortunately, in the Cowher Union era - seniority is more important than how good you are. Look, if we were making steel or building houses - seniority should be the rule, but in football - the better players play - period. If you'll recall, Emperor Noll sent Franco Harris packing even though Franco gave us all those great years and was a few hundred yards shy of the all-time rushing record. Sorry Franco - we still love you. Still, the Bus can still be productive, but should share the load a great deal more this year than in years past and Amos should be a big part of that. Look for Amos to beat out Huntley by mid-season to be Bettis' backup. Should Bettis go down� well - who knows. I'm not going to comment on Whitman and Fu - both are very average blocking backs.
RB Quality A-.
WR/TE: Since there is no reason why we should have a "receiving" TE and a "blocking" TE, there isn't too much to say about this position except that Graham is more apt to use the TEs than Stewart. This should be good for Bruener - our "blocking" TE. Our wide-outs are a different matter - we have not had as much starting talent at WR since Louis Lipps and Stallworth played. Burress and Edwards should excel this year and steadily improve as the season marches on. Hines Ward is becoming a very good third receiver and should also contribute this year as he did last year with 61 catches. The lack of experience could be a factor with Burress and Edwards, but it seems like these guys love to play football and love to win. Many negative rumors have centered around Burress and his practice habits, but, in the games, he looks to be pretty intense at times. He did appear to be frustrated this year when Stewart was QB - on several plays he threw his hands up in disgust over Stewart not seeing him when he was wide open. This wont happen as often with Graham at QB. Again, they should develop a very good relationship. The outlook is good.
WR/TE Quality B+.
Summary: The defense will be much better this year - period. Kirkland and Holmes will have huge years for his team and I look for Holmes - not Kirkland - to emerge as the main defensive leader. I'm not sure how much the Steelers will have to pay this guy in the years to come, but he�ll be worth it. Joey Porter could also have a huge year - if the coaches let this guy play with reckless abandon as defensive football should be played. Chad Scott, D.Townshead and Kimo-therapy have all looked good this year as well. The problem area I foresee is safety.
LB: The linebackers on this team can no longer be divided between the OLB and ILB. Joey Porter has changed all that, but will he be let loose? The strength of the 3-4 are the LBs and the Steelers could legitimately have 3 Pro Bowlers at this spot come next February. Kirkland, Holmes and Porter are potentially that good. That leaves Gildon. Gildon showed a couple of good signs during the preseason this year. I didn't see him get tossed around by too many RBs and there wasn't one QB hat shrugged him aside. He was also descent in coverage a few times though he did get sucked and got beat bad on a TD to the TE. The point is, Gildon is the weak link of this group and other teams know that. Steeler opponents started exploiting this fact about halfway through the '99 season and began just using a RB to mow Gildon down. This was very affective. This might not work this year with the threat of Porter coming form the other side - if the Steelers mix things up a bit and keep the pressure on the opposing offense every play. That's what makes the 3-4 so deadly - speed, blitzing and constant pressure. Not the generic, simple, ineffective, 3-man and Jason Gildon rush we saw most of last year. It will hard be hard to stop with this much talent.
LB Quality A.
DL: The defensive line doesn't do much in the 3-4 defense. Having said that, this years edition looks very good now that Staat is rotting on the pine and Kimo-therapy is eating up the middle like some cancerous tumor. Sullivan and Kevin Henry should also be productive and have solid seasons as DEs. The depth is adequate as long as Kimo can go without injury this year. Otherwise, there isn't too much to say.
DL Quality B.
DB: The defensive backs are bit of a mix this year. The safeties have looked horrendous at times in the preseason - the Steelers haven't gotten any safety help since Carnell Lake starting playing CB. Fortunately, the Steelers actually brought someone into camp to compete for a staring job - Brent Alexander at FS. If Shields would have been allowed to play as the starter, this would have been a very grim year indeed. Only time will tell how good Alexander is since he beat out a worthless piece of crap like Shields. The success of this group may then depend on how well Scott and Washington can handle opposing receivers on deep corner/sideline routes. Scott has looked very good and seems to be very healthy after his knee injury of a couple of years ago. Washington should have another solid if unspectacular year at CB. Flowers is still a mystery - he's intense and hits hard but doesn't seem to think to much and gets sucked at times. D.Townsend and Simmons add good depth to this crew as well.
DB Quality B.
Summary: The Special teams are better than last year. Speculating how kick-off coverage and punt coverage will be is a difficult - there are some new faces and I doubt Porter will get much time on SP. Look for Fiala or Haggans to be the best coverage guys this year.
K: Brown is good - I abhor field goals and I can't get too excited about the Kicking team, so that's it.
Kicker Quality A-.
Punter: Remember when Josh Miller stunk and Cowher would scream and yell - why didn't do that with Stewart? Josh is the best punter in the league these days. Wow.
Punter Quality A+.
Summary: Will Dom Capers be available next year - just a thought. The coaching/management on this team is horrid. The Steelers have squandered the talents of man great players over the past five years by letting them go to free agency. Who do they keep? Kordell Stewart, Hawkins, Gildon, the 4 worst QBs in the league last year� and yet they still manage to violate the salary cap. There's no telling how this happens. Very poor.
Head Coach: William Cowher. His time as head coach will be drawing to a close this year and he knows it. His trump card for the past 3 years was Kordell Stewart and Stewart has failed miserably. Cowher has failed to admit this to himself and yet he still wants to be one of the guys. He is unable to sit veterans and confront the right people because of this - you can't do that coach. The Steelers have not developed one player over the past three or four years and players like Porter and Holmes were forced to sit because they didn't "understand" the position. These players didn't need developing - they needed to play. Now it seems Amos will suffer the same fate - this will become evident in a year or so. Enough on Cowher for now because there are many questions that he must answer, but he will not be around to coach next year.
Head Coach Quality C+.
Offensive Coordinator: With every position being fairly well tooled, why will the offense sputter this year. Kevin Gilbride. His offensive schemes are too complicated and too numerous. A great coach once said that the job of any manager or coach is to foster an environment in which, the players/employees you do have, can excel. That coach was Pat Riley and he was right. Too many coordinators under Cowher have been too creative with the offense. This does not fit this team - or any team for that matter. Gilbride doesn't get it - football is a fairly simple game. You look at your players, you find out what their good at and then you design plays around these talents. Gilbride has his offensive philosophy, his plays, his schemes and no idea how to use the offensive talent on this team. Well, I hope you like screen plays on third and ten, hand-offs from the shotgun and five yard pass routes because that's what we're going to get most of the year if the philosophy does not change on this team. Graham's experience might rectify this because he is more of a natural and developed QB than Stewart and might be more comfortable calling an audible.
Offensive Coordinator Quality C.
Defensive Coordinator: Lewis is the new man in town - he's got the right attitude. Still an unknown and there is no way to tell how much Cowher's conservatism will influence Lewis throughout the season. At least Lewis is starting out more like Dom Capers than Asslett.
Defensive Coordinator Quality Unknown.