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NFL Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers: Players Who Need to Step Up in 2013

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Players Who Need to Step Up in 2013

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After looking at the overall performance of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2012 season, it’s safe to say that there is much room for improvement. The organization seems to be doing what they can to make the needed adjustments to recover from the team’s 8-8 year. Contracts have been restructured, early additions have already been added to the team and much-needed releases have been made to prepare for the future.

Along with attempting to improve the team, there are some players who need to make some improvements themselves. On both sides of the ball, there is a lot of potential that hasn’t been fully tapped into.

The offensive line is young,and could be one of the best in the league for years to come. The defensive line has first-round talent that needs to live up to expectations. The linebacking corps has some big shoes to fill with the absence of one of the franchise’s best pass rushers. Pittsburgh’s group of receivers are soon-to-be shorthanded and lacking a big-play threat. Finally, the offensive backfield has to figure out a way to improve on last season’s lackluster rushing performance.

Though free agency and the draft are ways to make a team better, turning to current players and challenging them to be the best that they can be is another way to make a team more relevant. Just about every position on the Steelers’ roster has room for improvement and some positions need more work than others.

After looking down Pittsburgh’s current roster, I’ve made my selection of players who must step up to the plate and deliver in 2013.

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Mike Adams

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Mike Adams’ rookie season was a rocky one. After being selected in the second round by the Steelers, he was thrown into the fire early after injuries on the offensive line. He struggled at the right tackle position and his inconsistent play and injury sidelined him for a while in 2012.

Going into his second season, he will more than likely have the duty of protecting the blindside of his quarterback at the left tackle position. In potentially having the most important position on the offensive line, he will have to make huge strides from his performance as a rookie in order for the Steelers to have any success in 2013.

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Jason Worilds

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Now that 10-year veteran linebacker James Harrison is no longer a Steeler, the responsibility of rushing the quarterback from the right side of the line of scrimmage will fall solely on the shoulders of Jason Worilds. The third-year pro started only three games in 2012 and finished the season with a career-high five sacks, which was second on the team.

The fact that Pittsburgh may draft another outside linebacker in the first round of the draft could spark a fire under Worilds and hopefully bring out the best in him to help revive a Steelers pass rush that was average at best last year.

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Ziggy Hood & Cameron Heyward

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Both Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward were first-round draft picks for the Steelers in 2009 and 2011 respectively. Hood has been a starter for Pittsburgh at defensive end over the past couple of years and in his four years with the team, he has recorded only 8.5 sacks. In Heyward’s two seasons in the Steel City, he has been buried under the depth chart and has tallied 2.5 sacks.

The two defensive ends will be highly depended upon in Pittsburgh’s rotation along the defensive line. It’s about time for both Hood and Heyward to start living up to their first-round billing.

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Steve McLendon

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Nose tackle Steve McLendon has not done anything to put any doubt into the minds of anyone in Steeler Nation. Since joining Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent in 2009, he has steadily improved and is one of the most consistent players along the Steelers’ defensive line.

With the strong possibility of veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton not returning next season, he will have to serve as the defense’s primary space filler in order to free up the linebackers behind him to stop the run and to make rushing the passer much easier. Considering that he has gotten better over time, stepping up shouldn’t be a problem.

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Emmanuel Sanders

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Wide receiver Mike Wallace has all of his bags packed and is ready to leave Pittsburgh. This will leave fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown as the team’s primary target in the passing game. Looking at the production over the past two years, Brown’s game shouldn’t be a concern. However, who will take on the role as the number two receiver should.

Emmanuel Sanders is next in line to take on that responsibility. Sanders did start seven of 16 games last season and finished the year with 44 receptions, 626 yards and one touchdown. Production from him will be greatly needed since there is a strong possibility that the Steelers could be without tight end Heath Miller at the start of 2013.

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Isaac Redman & Jonathan Dwyer

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There is a good argument for blaming the offensive line for the 26th-ranked running game of the Steelers last season. However, overall, the performance of Pittsburgh’s running backs didn’t go over well with Steelers fans. More than likely, Rashard Mendenhall will be gone soon and the focus will be on running backs Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer.

If a new zone-blocking scheme is implemented in Pittsburgh’s offense, then Redman and Dwyer will have to adjust quickly to improve on the Steelers’ ground attack. Along with the offensive line, both Redman and Dwyer definitely need to step up their game to help an already shorthanded passing game.

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Leonard Pope & David Paulson

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Starting tight end Heath Miller will more than likely be sidelined at the start of the 2013 season due to reconstructive surgery on his torn ACL. The Pro Bowl tight end was the team’s leader in receptions (71) and touchdown (eight) in 2012, and his presence will be missed on third-and-long situations, as well as in the red zone.

The Steelers will have to turn to backup tight ends Leonard Pope and David Paulson in the meantime. Both Pope and Paulson combined for just 10 receptions for 60 yards and two touchdowns this past season. Until Miller returns to the lineup, their production in the passing game will be crucial to the success of Pittsburgh’s offense.

Clyde A. Speller is an NFL writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClydeASpeller, or add him to your network on Google