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Old 07-26-2005, 02:11 PM   #1
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Default Vic Carucci's take on AFCN

- Pittsburgh:
Second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has two new targets to help him step up his game in first-round draft pick Heath Miller, a tight end from Virginia, and free-agent receiver Cedrick Wilson, formerly of the 49ers. Miller provides the athleticism the Steelers have not had at tight end in recent seasons. With good speed, reliable hands, and a knack for finding holes in coverage, Miller should help Roethlisberger's confidence because the young quarterback will know he should have somewhere he can go with the ball when other options aren't available. Miller has good speed and could develop into a play-making threat, especially with a big-armed and accurate passer.

The Steelers like the aggressiveness second-round draft pick Bryant McFadden, a cornerback from Florida State, has displayed in offseason workouts. Third-rounder Trai Essex (Northwestern) has good enough overall skill to push Max Starks at right offensive tackle.

- Position battles:
Pittsburgh: Starks versus Essex for the starting spot at right offensive tackle. Starks has shown good run-blocking ability in short-yardage situations, but it remains to be seen whether he can handle the position on a full-time basis. Essex's footwork, which is exceptional for a rookie, should help him wage a strong challenge.

- The early read:
The Steelers remain the team to beat in this division and should again contend for the AFC title. Roethlisberger's standout rookie season was no fluke. He has the arm and mobility to remain every bit as effective as he was last year. And with the Steelers' coaches expected to take the handcuffs off and allow him to be more aggressive in the passing game, Roethlisberger is likely to put up more impressive numbers. Pittsburgh's defense still might allow too many big plays, but its offense has enough playmakers to carry the load.

The Ravens should be in the hunt, provided Boller can build upon the strong finish he had at the end of the '04 season. They have added enough talent on both sides of the ball. They also made good coaching moves by appointing Jim Fassel, who worked as an offensive consultant for the team last year, their new offensive coordinator, as well as hiring former University of Washington coach Rick Neuheisel as their new quarterbacks coach and making Ryan their new defensive coordinator.

The Bengals need to become much stronger on defense to be a factor in the division, and it remains to be seen whether they've achieved as much. The Browns have made numerous necessary changes from top to bottom, but how quickly they take hold and the right chemistry develops is unknown.

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