View Full Version : Steelers' depth a key to success in a long season

08-28-2009, 11:41 PM
Steelers' depth a key to success in a long season
By Scott Brown
Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tyrone Carter serves as the Steelers' primary backup at both safety spots, and his preparation leading up to games includes extra film work in case he is needed because of an injury to Troy Polamalu or Ryan Clark.

"I watch how (opponents) are attacking the free safety and how they are attacking the strong safety," the 10th-year veteran said. "You go into it like 'Hey, if something happens I've got to play.' So I prepare just like I have to play that week."

Such attention to detail and the ability of reserves such as Carter to play at a high, or at least acceptable, level when they are thrust into action loomed large in the Steelers winning a sixth Super Bowl title last season.

The depth the Steelers had in 2008 may have been one of the most overlooked factors in their success. And if they are to make another run at the Super Bowl they will again need to be able to call on their reserves at any moment given the roster limitations in the NFL and the inevitability of injuries.

"No question, if we're going to be a team that's in the mix in January, it will be because we have starters and starters-in-waiting," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "That's one of the things we talk about quite a bit in our team-building sessions is that the standards of the Pittsburgh Steelers are just that. If you're in the huddle, you're a starter. That's not just lip service."

It wasn't last season, which is why the Steelers were able to negotiate perhaps the hardest schedule in the NFL with just four losses in 16 games.

The Steelers weren't decimated by injuries but they were hardly immune to them.

They lost two starters along the offensive line for the season well before Halloween. Meanwhile, key starters such as running back Willie Parker and defensive end Brett Keisel missed five and six games respectively because of injuries.

The Steelers didn't falter because of contributions they received across the board from players who opened the season as backups.

Mewelde Moore served as a prime example of why Tomlin puts his players into the categories of "starters" and "starters-in-waiting."

Moore entered the season with just one career rushing touchdown.

He had five of them in 2008. And during a three-game stretch after the Steelers had lost Parker and Rashard Mendenhall to injuries, Moore averaged 101 rushing yards.

Not bad for someone who opened the season at No. 3 on the depth chart at running back.

"The coaches do a great job of coaching everybody -- coaching the backups, coaching the third-string, fourth-string guys," said nose tackle Chris Hoke, who for long has been one of the most valuable backups on the team. "They're not third-team players. They're Steelers, and when you're needed on the field you play and you play at a high standard."

With precious few starting jobs up for grabs during preseason practice, one of the top priorities for the Steelers is making sure they have the kind of depth that can sustain them when injuries hit.

"That's what this whole training camp is all," wide receiver Hines Ward said, "about finding those guys on the 53-man roster to go out and get better."

Indeed, there is so much of a link between a team's success and the quality of its depth that Tomlin said, "The jury's still out on our depth and the jury's still out, quite frankly, on us."

Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.