By Cody Strahm @CodyJStrahm on April 28, 2014
The Pittsburgh Steelers will need improvement at several positions in 2014 in order to rebound from a disappointing .500 campaign. Here are five players who are facing a make-or-break season.
Despite averaging 5.0 yards per carry in 2013 with the Patriots, LeGarrette Blount wasn't a highly coveted runner in free agency this offseason. His age (27) and questionable character may have been to blame. The Steelers signed Blount for two seasons, but 2014 might be his final chance to prove he can be a highly productive co-starter.
The former No. 7 overall pick is running out of opportunities to solidify himself as a starting-caliber receiver. He failed to so in Indianapolis despite playing with a very good quarterback and on a injury-depleted corps. Pittsburgh might be the better fit, though. Ben Roethlisberger's tendency to keep plays alive on his feet could bode well for Heyward-Bey's ability to run open.
Marcus Gilbert moved to right tackle for the Steelers last summer and didn't do a bad job there in 2013. Pro Football Focus slotted him as the league's 44th-most efficient tackle. He's entering the final year of his contract, though, and he'll need to emerge as more than merely average to generate significant interest next offseason.
Cortez Allen arguably outperformed fellow starter Ike Taylor a year ago. And given Taylor's declining play and age (turns 34 next week), Allen might be asked to cover the opposition's No. 1 receiver in 2014. Allen is entering a contract year, so doing so effectively could pay off in a big way.
Second-year tackle Kelvin Beachum was far from perfect protecting Roethlisberger's blindside in 2013, giving up six sacks in 12 starts, but he showed enough promise to earn a one-year trial at the offensive line's most important spot in 2014. If he continues to develop, the job could be his to keep for years into the foreseeable future. Not bad for a former seventh-round pick.
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