View Full Version : Ward & four other story lines

07-31-2005, 01:55 PM
1. HINES WARD'S CONTRACT: The Steelers are hoping Ward will report today despite his threat to hold out.

Based on past dealings with the few Steeler holdouts over the years, it's hard to imagine the Rooneys budging on their initial offer that would make the four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver the highest-paid player in franchise history.

Ward will only help his own cause - and ultimately the team - by getting to camp as soon as possible. Because if he holds out as he threatened Thursday, the situation will get uglier each day he's away.

Surely, coach Bill Cowher will be testy every time he's asked about Ward.

2. THE ROETHLISBERGER ERA: YEAR 2 Last summer when the Steelers' No. 1 pick of the 2004 draft signed his contract and reported to camp, his agent called him "a potential franchise player" and compared him to ex-greats John Elway and Troy Aikman.

At least as a rookie, Ben Roethlisberger proved Leigh Steinberg right. He won all 13 of his regular-season starts and was a landslide NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year winner.

Will Roethlisberger pick up where he left off? Or will he experience the so-called sophomore jinx?

Cowher and his staff see no reason why Roethlisberger will falter. He's a big, strong, confident athlete who looked sharp in all the off-season workouts.

Sure, there's some concern about the passing game because of the loss of Plaxico Burress during free agency and Ward's murky contract status. But if the Steeler wideouts - whoever they may be - get open, Roethlisberger will get them the ball.

And just as a footnote, consider what Dan Marino did in his second year with the Miami Dolphins. After throwing for 20 touchdowns in nine starts as a rookie, Marino set an NFL record a year later by throwing 48 TD passes.

3. YOUTH MOVEMENT AT CORNERBACK? As of now, Deshea Townsend and Willie Williams are the starting corners. But will they start on opening day of the regular season?

Both Townsend, who turns 30 just three days before the opener against the Tennessee Titans, and the 34-year-old Williams played well last year. But they'll be pushed in camp by third-year pro Ike Taylor, second-year pro Ricardo Colclough and rookie Bryant McFadden, this year's second-round draft pick.

Last year, youth was served at safety when Troy Polamalu (strong) and Chris Hope (free) became starters, and their stellar performances played a big part in the Steelers leading the NFL in defense.

In Taylor, Colclough and McFadden, the Steelers have as fast and athletic a trio of corners as they've had in years. If any or all can use their athleticism to make plays, they'll be starters sooner than later.

Plus, the Steelers think Townsend might be better as the third "slot" corner in nickel and dime packages.

4. DEPTH ON THE O-LINE: In center Jeff Hartings, guards Alan Faneca and Kendall Simmons and tackles Marvel Smith and Max Starks, the Steelers could have one of the NFL's best front lines.

Sure, Starks is only a second-year pro who didn't play much last year and Simmons missed the entire 2004 season with a knee injury. But Starks has made significant progress during the off-season and Simmons looks to be completely healed.

So there's no reason to believe those five won't block and protect. However, what happens if one of the starters gets hurt?

Chukky Okobi has proven to be a dependable backup at center and can also play guard. But beside Okobi, the Steelers just might have the worst cast of second-string offensive linemen in the league.

Two of those backups include a pair of rookies, tackle Trai Essex (third round) and guard Chris Kemoeatu. If Essex and Kemoeatu - or any of the backups - have to play much this season, the Steelers are in serious trouble.

5. BIG BEN'S TARGETS: Who will replace Burress in the starting lineup, Antwaan Randle El or Cedric Wilson?

Will fourth-round pick Fred Gibson, the big wideout from Georgia, make an impact as a rookie? Did drafting tight end Heath Miller in the first round mean the Steelers will throw more to their tight ends? And has Matt Kranchick progressed enough to warrant playing time?

The guess here is that Randle El and Wilson, a free-agent acquisition who excelled in off-season workouts, will split time and each get their fair share of touches.

Because he's still learning his playbook, Gibson appears to be a project who's a year away.

Miller, the 2004 winner of the Mackey Award (given to the country's best tight end), will start the season as Jerame Tuman's backup and will be hard-pressed to win the starting job. So his impact this year might be limited. Don't expect Miller to catch 70 passes as he did as a junior at Virginia.

As far as Kranchick is concerned, he's an intriguing wildcard. He's a lanky 6-foot-7 freak who runs like a deer. On the pecking order, there are several targets ahead of Kranchick, who was seldom used by Joe Paterno at Penn State. But it will be interesting to monitor his progress.

07-31-2005, 03:10 PM
Yes no. 4 is a big concern......... Our season will go as far as a few backups development IMO......

07-31-2005, 04:43 PM
I am with Slash. Number 4 is a concern for me. I am confident in our starting guys, but I do wonder how well our backups will play if they end up getting called upon. One of the strong points of last year was our depth at positions. I hope this year is the same. The depth we had last year was outstanding in my opinion.