09-05-2006, 04:09 AM


The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the 2006 season with a lot of question marks. The one major question is, can they re-peat as Super Bowl Champions. Another major question is, how will quarterback Ben Roethlisberger bounce back from his off season motorcycle accident.


Last season, the Steelers seemed to be a team of destiny. The Steelers entered the 2005 season as one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl, following a 15-1 regular season record in 2004. Although they ultimately did win the Super Bowl, it was an uphill battle the whole way. Injuries to Roethlisberger caused the team to look to veteran back-up Tommy Maddox. With Maddox at the helm the Steelers dropped two games taking their total losses on the year to three. They finished the season with an 11-5 mark, making the playoffs as the number six seed in the AFC. The rest is history.


The 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers return nine starters on defense and ten starter on offense from the Super Bowl Championship team. Defensively, free safety Chris Hope is gone (FA Tennessee), and defensive end Kimo Von Oelhoffen (FA NY Jets). Von Oelhoffen will be replaced by fifth year player Brett Kiesel. Kiesel, a former McDonald?s All-American high school basketball player was a seventh round pick of the Steelers in the 2002 NFL Draft. Kiesel will add more quickness and athletism to the left defensive end position. He is a player that knows the system, and has steadily show improvement each year he has been in the league. At the free safety position, there is an open competition to replace the spot vacated by Hope. Rookie Anthony Smith, Ryan Clark, Tyrone Carter, and Mike Logan will battle for the starting job.


The only vacant spot on offense from last season is the void left by wide receiver Antwaan Randle El (FA Washington). Although Randle El only posted 35 receptions for 558 yards and 1 touchdown, his versatility will be missed. In addition to his receiving stats, he added 73 yards rushing and a touchdown pass. He also threw a huge touchdown pass to Hines Ward in Super Bowl XL. There is also an open competition for the starting job here. Rookie first round pick Santonio Holmes, Cedric Wilson, and Nate Washington appear to be the favorites to grab the starting job. All three player present a good case on why he should get the job. Santonio Holmes was the top prospect in last April?s NFL Draft. The sure handed speedster could be the favorite, as long as he can grasp the playbook. Cedric Wilson is in his second year with the Steelers after signing with them as a free agent in 2005. Wilson was the third receiver on the depth chart last season, and came on strong in the playoffs last season. Nate Washington made the roster in 2005 as an undrafted rookie free agent from tiny Tiffin college. Early reports from training camp say Washington has been extremely impressive thus far.


Offensively the Steelers appear to be solid and have good reason to be optimistic for the upcoming season. The team is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. If Roethlisberger experiences no set backs from his motorcycle accident, the quarterback with a career 27-4 record should have a big year. Now in his third season Roethlisberger was among the league leader in quarterback rating in his first two seasons. Willie Parker enters his second season as a starter after rushing for 1,200 yards in fifteen games last season. The team still has their all-time franchise leading receiver Hines Ward. Ward not only helps the team on the field with his abilities as both a receiver and a blocker, but is a leader in the locker room. The offensive line is anchored by three pro-bowler, Jeff Hartings at center, Alan Faneca at guard, and Marvell Smith at left Tackle. Tight End Heath Miller was also a bright spot in 2005. Miller their first round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft posted 39 reception for 459 yards, Miller proved to be a valuble target in the red zone, posting six touchdowns last season.


Defensively the Steelers as always are solid, and among the leagues best as a unit. The strength is at the linebacker position. Pro Bowlers Joey Porter and James Farrior headling the unit. Porter had 10.5 sacks in ?05, and Farrior led the team with 121 tackles to go along with two sacks. Outside linebacker Clark Haggans was a bright spot in his second year as a starter by recording 9 sacks. Middle line backer Larry Foote was second on the team with 101 tackles to go along with 3 sacks. 2005 team co-MVP nose tackle Casey Hampton anchors the line. His disruptive style of play makes it tough for opposing teams to run the ball on the Steelers. Hampton is joined on the line by 2003 and 2004 pro bowl selection Aaron Smith at right defensive end, and Kiesel on the left. In the secondary All-World strong safety Troy Polamalu creates confusion for opposing offenses. His unique ability as not only a cover guy, but a tackler and a pass rusher makes the Steelers defense hard to game plan for. Ike Taylor will enter his second year as staring cornerback. Taylor came on strong last season, proving he has the ability to be a shut down cornerback in the league. Veteran cornerback and long time Steeler Deshea Townsend could be supplanted as a starter by second year player Bryant McFadden (2nd round pick ?05). McFadden got on the field more and more as the season progressed. Reports from training camp have McFadden ahead of Townsend at the moment.


In the special teams area rookie speedster Willie Reid, will handle much of the kick return duties. Kicker Jeff Reed has proven to be Mr. Reliable making 24 of 29 field goal attempts last season. At punter there could be a change. The aging Chris Gardocki in his fifteenth season could be replaced by second year punter Mike Barr.

Overall the Steelers should be a team to be reckoned with. They look to be very solid on both sides of the ball, as well as on special teams. The team also has a lot of depth at just about ever position. Head Coach Bill Cowher will ?keep things in perspective,? and coordinators Ken Wise hunt (offense), and Dick
LeBeau (defense) will keep teams on their toes.