Every year you’ll see teams with different starters across the board, due to scheme changes, retirements, players leaving and just plain under performing athletes. The Pittsburgh Steelers, luckily are NOT one of these teams. The starters from year to year remain fairly constant.
We’re going to take a look at the players that I expect to be starting on week one, without taking into consideration any injuries, because no one can predict those.
We’ll start with the offense and do the defense tomorrow.
QB – #7 Ben Roethlisberger
Easy enough, he won’t be dealing with a suspension this season, and will be playing with a chip on his shoulder, losing your first Super Bowl tends to do that to you after all. Commonly considered one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL today, and being poised to strike into the history books more so than he already has by getting to and winning the big game again expect a big year from the bulky passer.
RB – #34 Rashard Mendenhall
I’ve heard and read some things stating that Mendenhall will be traded, released, etc. because of his comments on Twitter. Let’s put that to rest, it won’t happen. It only happened with Santonio Holmes because he was literally talking about illegal substances, Mendenhall was simply professing a belief he holds that has it’s roots in his fate. And to be honest, a lot worse things have happened because of religious beliefs than a few ill-advised Tweets. He has gotten progressively better every year that he’s been in the league, and Head Coach Mike Tomlin has no plan to lessen the workload placed upon the back.
FB #85 David Johnson
Sure, he’s not an old school type of fullback that’s going to flatten defenders in front of him, but he is a serviceable player at two separate offensive positions with his ability to play both tight end and fullback. I gave him a rather harsh grade on the 2009 NFL Draft Grades, but that was mostly due to the fact that his stats are lethargic at best, even though I should have taken into consideration the fact that he was a 7th round pick. He’s not going anywhere next year, and will more than likely continue to improve.
WR #17 Mike Wallace
This is the year that Mike Wallace succeeds longtime number one option Hines Ward for the Steelers. That’s not knocking Ward either, he’ll likely have a better go against number two corner backs anyway. Wallace and Roethlisberger are becoming one of the NFL’s deadliest duos, with a nearly unparalleled deep threat that ranks among the best in the storied history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is Wallace’s chance to step up and take control of the receiving corps and show Ward that he’s been the best teacher #17 could ask for.
WR #86 Hines Ward
You didn’t think he wouldn’t be starting, did you? Hines Ward is as synonymous with Steelers football as blue collar workers are to the town that the team resides in. The most decorated receiver in Steelers history is back for another Super Bowl run with the team that drafted him (something that not many players can claim) and he’s not going to quit until he has three of those rings on his fingers. Not to mention, he literally just won the 12th season of Dancing With The Stars. He’s just a winner.
TE #83 Heath Miller
Miller is the prototypical tight end, and more importantly, the prototypical Steelers player. Always humble, and always leaving it all on the field I was reading an interview with him a few weeks ago, and saw a story that truly speaks for the kind of player, leader, and man that he is. Apparently while in high school (playing quarterback nonetheless) his receiver caught a pass and was thrown the ground rather roughly, had gotten up and thrown a chunk of dirt at the defender. Back in the huddle, Miller calmly looked at him and told him that if he ever did anything like that again, he was never getting another pass from him. Heath remains one of the most underrated players throughout the league, much like Houston’s Owen Daniels was underrated for years before becoming overrated. He possesses some of the softest hands for a tight end and an uncanny ability to shred zone coverage.
LT #78 Max Starks
A revolving door or not along the offensive line, Starks was one of the more consistent players on the line in the past few years, showing a vast improvement after moving to left tackle years ago. Had he not been placed on injured reserve before last season, he would have started at the position in the season opener. And while the Steelers selected Marcus Gilbert in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, they may want to allow him some time to learn the position and the offensive scheme, though it wouldn’t be unheard of if Gilbert got some heavy playing time as the year goes on.
LG #68 Chris Kemoeatu
He’s developed into one of the better pulling guards in the league, a far cry from where he started. Though, his pass protection is weak in comparison to most starting guards at the NFL level, he’s serviceable enough to remain the starter for a Steelers offense that has no elite player at the position.
C #53 Maurkice Pouncey
There are two Pouncey’s in the NFL now, but there’s only one in the hearts of Steelers fan. The Pro Bowl rookie center from Florida that reminded fans of the day of Dermontti Dawson. He suffered an injury during the AFC Championship game, missing the Super Bowl and you have to believe that like Roethlisberger he’s going to be playing with a chip on his shoulder. For a player that’s already considered among the best at his position after just one year the fact that the best is yet to come is a blessing to Steelers fans and a curse to their opponents.
RG #73 Ramon Foster
Foster stepped in and performed admirably next to Pouncey and Adams last season, and looks to take control of the position for next season. There will definitely be a heated battle between a quartet of different players during training camp, and without a doubt will be among the most interesting ones to watch when that time comes.
RT #71 Flozell Adams
Adams was a longtime stalwart along the Dallas Cowboys offensive line, failing to start only 14 games since 1998. He’s definitely sliding quickly on the slope towards retirement, but at the moment, the Steelers need him to play this position next year. He’s not the player that he was for the Cowboys, but he’s still got his noted mean streak and can still be a crushing run blocker. This is likely his last year in the NFL, and he’ll more than likely see Canton in his future.
Remember to check back tomorrow for a look at the projected defensive starters.