Heading into the 2013 off-season there are a lot of questions surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many of those questions pertain to the salary cap issues that the Steelers are sure to face, but there are also many questions regarding young players who may or may not be ready to step into prominent roles with the team moving forward. That said it is hard to decipher what decisions the Steelers will be planning to make this off-season. Here is a list of players that the Steelers will need to discuss before they make decision in free agency and the 2013 NFL Draft:
NT Steve McLendon - McLendon, as of now, is in line to replace Casey Hampton, who is an unrestricted free agent, at nose tackle in 2013. During the 2012 season McLendon did not see much playing time behind Hampton, but he made an impact when he was on the field. After a very impressive training camp many fans and analysts believed that McLendon should have become the starter over Hampton.
If the Steelers believe that McLendon is that answer at nose tackle it would save them a spot they have to worry about in free agency or in the draft. However, with the limited amount of snaps he saw during the 2012 regular season it is hard to say whether the Steelers don’t trust him or whether they just wanted to keep Hampton on the field.
NT Alameda Ta’amu - For Ta’amu there are legal questions to be answered in the off-season. Ta’amu could be facing jail time for an October incident that included a DUI charge among others. However, if he remains with the team throughout the off-season and into the 2013 season he is another option at nose tackle. At the very least he could be the back-up to McLendon and play the role McLendon played in 2011 and 2012.
Ta’amu’s future with the Steelers depends on two things: 1.) his legal future and 2.) if the Steelers want to and are willing to keep him around.
LB Stevenson Sylvester - Sylvester could go two ways in 2013. To start the Steelers are almost guaranteed to retain Sylvester, he is an unrestricted free agent, but beyond that there are no guarantees. Sylvester is the type of player who could finally put it altogether and be a stud middle linebacker next to Lawrence Timmons for years to come or he could continue to be a back-up linebacker and special teams player.
If the Steelers think that Sylvester can be a starter at middle linebacker and replace Larry Foote, who is a free agent, they may not target a middle linebacker early in the draft as many think they will. However, if they are done with waiting on Sylvester they could look at linebackers in the draft, free agency, or turn there hopes to Sean Spence.
OL Mike Adams - Adams played well when he was inserted into the line at right tackle during the 2012 season, but the Steelers have bigger hopes for Adams’ future. They draft Adams in the second round of the 2012 draft to be their left tackle of the future and help solidify a young and up-coming offensive line. It is unlikely that the Steelers will target a left tackle in free agency or the draft with Adams and Marcus Gilbert both on the roster, but if they aren’t convinced they can get the job done they could take a look at Max Starks once again.
OL Kelvin Beachum - When Adams went down injured late in the year the Steelers turned to their third right tackle, Kelvin Beachum. Many fans were worried that Beachum, a 2012 seventh round pick, would fall flat on his face in the NFL, but he played very well. During the 2012 off-season Steelers GM Kevin Colbert said that Beachum could be a player that is capable of playing all five positions on the offensive line. If the Steelers think Beachum can be a quality back-up at guard and tackle it could change their plans in free agency.
LB Sean Spence - Spence was drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft and Steelers coaches were excited about getting him onto the field. There was talk that they may be looking to move him to safety, but nothing was confirmed on that front and all signs point to him playing middle linebacker. After missing the entire season with a torn ACL there are still many questions surrounding Spence.
If the Steelers think Spence is there middle linebacker of the future and are willing to give him a shot in 2013 they may just pass up the position in the draft. However, after not seeing him play at all in 2012 they may be forced to take an inside linebacker early in the draft especially if a top tier player falls to them at #17.
DE Cameron Heyward - Heyward was the Steelers number on pick in 2011. He has been stuck behind Brett Keisel so far during his young career, but at some point the Steelers will have to see what Heyward and Ziggy Hood can do on the offensive line. There has been talks of the Steelers potentially cutting Keisel to save money (nothing from the team, however) and if so it would push Heyward into the starting line-up.
A decision on Keisel would only come if the Steelers have faith in Heyward starting. Once again the coaches and front office will have a tough decision to make on whether to go with the young player or to keep the veteran around for another year.
RB Jonathan Dwyer - Dwyer is a restricted free agent, but may be the best bet to be the Steelers feature back in 2013. Dwyer’s running style reminds many of Jerome Bettis and if the offensive line can continue to improve, and if they can stay healthy, Dwyer can be a successful back in the NFL. Targeting a running back in free agency or the draft may happen no matter what due to depth problems, but the quality of player the Steelers sign will depend on their faith in Dwyer.
WR Emmanuel Sanders - Mike Wallace is considered as good as gone at this point which means a replacement has to be found. Antonio Brown will likely become the Steelers number one receiver and Sanders is the best bet to replace Brown as the number two guy. However, after both players struggled in 2012 the Steelers may be forced to find another quality receiver if they are worried about their receiving corps.
WR David Gilreath - Gilreath was the offensive stand-out among young players during the pre-season. When he was cut before the regular season many fans questioned the move. Gilreath then spent time on the practice squad, active roster, was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then returned to the Steelers. If the Steelers are comfortable with a receiving corps of Antonio Brown, Emmnauel Sanders, Jerrico Cotchery, Plaxico Burress and David Gilreath it would only require them to re-sign Burress which should be too hard.
However, if they aren’t comfortable with that group they may have to look at resigning Mike Wallace or finding a play-maker in free agency or the draft.
FB Will Johnson - When David Johnson tore his ACL in the pre-season it opened the door for Will Johnson to be the Steelers fullback and he played well. Johnson will most likely be back in 2013, but the Steelers faith in Will could determine what their plans are for David who is a free agent. The Steelers could bring David Johnson back as a back-up tight end and fullback.
S Ryan Mundy - Mundy has been the Steelers primary back-up to Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark for a couple of years. However, Mundy is most comfortable when replacing Polamalu because it is his natural position. With Polamalu and Clark both likely to be gone following the 2013 season it’s time for the Steelers to find their replacements and groom them for the future. The Steelers also must decide if Ryan Mundy is in those plans. If he is they may want to lock him into one position (free safety or strong safety) and start readying him for 2014.
LB Chris Carter - Chris Carter had a good training camp and pre-season in 2012. With Jason Worilds and James Harrison both battling injuries Carter won the Steelers outside linebacker job alongside LaMarr Woodley to start the season. However, during the regular season Carter struggled in three starts and was eventually replaced. Carter will need to continue to improve and add some weight if he wants another shot at starting at outside linebacker. And depending on whether or not the Steelers decide to part ways with James Harrison he may just get it.
LB Jason Worilds - Along with Chris Carter Worilds helped replace Harrison when he was out injured and then played in place of an injured LaMarr Woodley. Worilds finished the season second on the team in sacks and may be the most likely option to replace Harrison if he is in fact gone before the start of the 2013 season.
The Steelers will have to decide what they have in Jason Woirlds, Chris Carter, Stevenson Sylvester and Sean Spence before they can attack free agency and the draft. If they draft a linebacker in the first round, which many think they will, it will show their lack of faith in these young players.
DBs Robert Golden, DeMarcus Van ****, Josh Victorian, and Justin King - All four of these players came to the Steelers in 2012 and all four saw the active roster. Golden can play safety and corner which makes him valuable; as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012 he still has time to be groomed into a starter. As for Van ****, Victorian and King all three have had other stops in the NFL, but all three also have talent. This will be a hard group to evaluate, but the potential the Steelers currently possess at corner is promising; as long as they resign Keenan Lewis that is.
Mundy and McLendon are the oldest players on this list at 27 and McLendon was just turned 27 five days ago. In all the Steelers have a lot of young potential on the team, but they will have to decide who they have faith in and who they don’t. Their 2013 first round pick will show us how they feel about at least one of their young players.
If they draft a nose tackle early it will show a lack of faith in McLendon and Ta’amu. A middle linebacker would show they aren’t sure what they have in Sylvester and Spence and so on. However, if they Steelers draft a safety in the first round as an eventual replacement for Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark it would show their faith in these young players. Unless of course they re-sign Casey Hampton, Larry Foote, Will Allen, and others in which case we would just have to ask all these questions once again next off-season.
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